Improved offence encouraging sign for Canada’s soccer women, but huge test still looms

Although the Canadian women’s team entered this month’s CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico as one of the favourites, questions still lingered about the potency of its attack

Taking nothing away from Canada’s showing at last summer’s Olympics, its gold-medal run was achieved on the back of its defensive strength. The Reds scored multiple goals only once in six games in Tokyo, and all four of their victories were either by one goal or secured via penalty shootouts. 

A 0-0 draw against South Korea in an international friendly last month in Toronto, Canada’s only tune-up match for this CONCACAF competition, raised more concerns as Christine Sinclair watched the entire game from the bench. 

But Canada found its scoring touch in Mexico, bagging 12 goals and posting four shutout wins, including a 3-0 victory over Jamaica in Thursday’s semifinal at Estadio Universitario in Monterrey. 

In doing so, Canada advanced to next Monday’s final against the United States in which the winner automatically qualifies for the 2024 Paris Olympics and the 2024 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The second- and third-place nations at this competition could still qualify for the Olympics, but they would have to face each other in a playoff in September 2023 to determine who’ll go to Paris. 

WATCH | Fleming’s early goal lifts Canada over Jamaica:

Canada shuts out Jamaica, advances to CONCACAF final against USA

Jessie Fleming’s early goal proved to be the winner as Canada defeated Jamaica 3-0 in the CONCACAF championship semi final.

Balanced attack

What’s been especially encouraging about Canada’s progression to the final hasn’t been that it has scored so many goals, but who has scored. Eight different Canadian players have found the back of the net. It’s not Sinclair who has carried the offensive load, although the iconic captain does have a goal to her credit. Rather, the Canadians have benefited from balanced scoring, with Jessie Fleming and Julia Grosso tied as the tournament’s top scorer with three goals apiece. 

“You talk about the challenges that we’ve had, but these goals are coming in from different players which is exciting,” coach Bev Priestman said after Thursday’s game.

Canada isn’t simply relying on Sinclair and other goal-poaching forwards to spearhead the attack. Instead, it’s getting offensive production from players all over the pitch — from wingers, midfielders and fullbacks. This goal-scoring by committee approach appears to be the new way forward for Canada. 

“It needs to [be like that] because coaches, teams are getting better, game plans are getting stronger. The more you play and the more spotlight you have as a team, the better scouted you are. We have to be tactically adaptable and ask different questions, and to do that, it makes [us] more difficult to play against,” Priestman said.

WATCH | Grosso nets pair against Trinidad and Tobago:

Julia Grosso bags a brace in Canada’s rout over Trinidad and Tobago

Julia Grosso scored her first two goals with Canada’s senior women’s soccer team in a dominant 6-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago at the CONCACAF W Championship in Guadalupe, Mexico.

Another positive: Six of the 12 goals have been from players coming off the bench, which underlines not only the depth of this squad, but how Priestman has managed to tip the balance of some tight matches in Canada’s favour with her series of smart substitutions.

Midfielder Sophie Schmidt sealed a 2-0 win over Costa Rica in the group stage by scoring her 20th goal, and her first in over three years. Fullback Allysha Chapman completed the scoring against Jamaica with her second goal in 91 appearances for Canada. Her only other goal came in 2015. 

Both Schmidt (34) and Chapman (33) were once automatic starters for Canada, only to be pushed down the depth chart by younger players since the Tokyo Olympics. But the veterans have taken their demotions in stride, and have produced when called upon by Priestman. 

“I’m over the moon for the people who’ve got on the scoresheet. You look at an Allysha Chapman, a warrior… ‘Chappy’ has been an incredible player off the pitch,” Priestman offered.

Of course, the Canadians’ offensive outburst in Mexico comes with somewhat of an asterisk. Ranked No. 6 in the world, Canada has yet to be seriously tested after facing Trinidad and Tobago (No. 76), Panama (No. 57), Costa Rica (No. 37) and Jamaica (No. 51), all of whom bunkered and defended in a low block against the Olympic champions. 

First match vs. U.S. since Tokyo

The top-ranked U.S will be another matter entirely, as it matches up more evenly with Canada. The Americans have so many dangerous attacking weapons, and have seen nine different players score in Mexico. Like Canada, the U.S. has scored 12 goals across four shutout victories, so it won’t sit back and defend in numbers like how the Reds’ overwhelmed group-stage opponents. 

At the same time, Priestman believes Canada’s somewhat laborious displays in breaking down their opponents in the first round has helped her team sharpen its attacking skills. 

“I can’t over-analyze in these tournaments because the styles [of teams] are so different… it’s not as plain sailing, and teams are getting more and more difficult. They’ve set up with back fives [in defence] and done different things, which is great for us because it pushed us to be better,” Priestman said 

“At the end of the day the team has delivered… I think there’s another level, and I do think playing a team like the U.S. will bring out some of our strengths that maybe teams [in the group stage] haven’t allowed us do.” 

This will be the fifth time that Canada and the U.S. meet in the CONCACAF finals since the inaugural tournament in 1991. The nations haven’t faced off since the Reds earned a dramatic penalty shootout win in the semifinals of last summer’s Tokyo Olympics. 

“You always want to test yourselves, and the U.S. are an incredible team. I know that they’ll definitely be coming into this game with Tokyo in the back of their mind, they’ll want to put that right. We won’t underestimate them. They’re a top side, but I’m really excited to go up against that challenge again. There’s a lot on the line,” Priestman said. 

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