In their 2nd game of She Believes Cup, Canada’s Women’s National Team took on Argentina on Sunday, winning 1-0 via a late Sarah Stratigakis goal. Here is what stood out from that one.
It took a little elbow grease, but Canada did what they need to do in order to win on Sunday.
Staring down what seemed like an inevitable 0-0 draw against Argentina during the second matchday of She Believes Cup action, Canada found some joy via a 92nd-minute winner, giving them their first win under new head coach Bev Priestman.
After battling hard for 90 minutes versus the US last Thursday, coming up just short via a 79th-minute Rose Lavelle winner, Canada flipped the script on Sunday, scoring a late goal of their own to down a pesky Argentinian side, who offered a stiff challenge to the Canadians.
Ultimately, you would’ve expected Canada to win this game rather handily, and based on how they controlled the balance of the game, they probably should’ve, but hey, a win’s a win, and at this stage, the process is more important than the result, and the process looked good on Sunday.
“Yeah, it wasn’t the prettiest game that I’ve ever been involved with, but I think the best teams find a way to win,” Priestman told Canada Soccer after the game. “That’s exactly what the group did (tonight).”
We’re only 2 games into the Priestman era for Canada, but you can’t help but like what they’ve displayed so far, as they’ve fought hard and played nice football despite missing several key regulars.
Heading into the Olympics later this year, it was hoped that Canada could gel enough to make a decent push in Tokyo, but if these first two games are any indication, they might have what it takes to make a lot of noise in July.
While it may seem like a bit of hyperbole to look at two games and suggest that Canada is a brand new team all of a sudden, but on the other hand, they do look like they’ve come alive through 180 minutes of play down in Orlando so far.
They have massive struggles in the final third (more on that in a second), don’t quite know what their best 11 or formation is yet, and struggle on set pieces, but despite that, they look like a team that is enjoying playing football at the moment.
Their full backs are making aggressive runs forward, their midfielders are attempting to cover every blade of grass between both boxes, and their forwards are dropping to involve themselves in the build-up play. It’s not quite coming off as of yet, but Canada is finally trying to do what many have said they should have done for years now – play modern and fluid football.
And why shouldn’t they? They have a pretty talented roster, headlined by some pretty impressive players at both ends of the pitch. That’s more than enough of an incentive to play fun football, so it’s good to see them finally take those steps towards getting there.
The finishing will come with time, as will the rest of the players missing from their roster, so to see them continue to put the building blocks in place is exactly what you want to see at this sort of tournament, so kudos for Priestman for committing to that.
Plus, with the fact that so many young players are seeing the field, with 9 players 25 or under seeing the field versus Argentina, this tournament has been a prime audition opportunity for several players, as they’ve been exposed to a good level of competition while trying to learn the Priestman system on the go.
All of a sudden, heading into Tokyo, the competition for places in Canada’s squad continues to grow, which for a head coach, is a dream scenario to have.
Adversity always forces new players to step up, and seeing how some of the players have taken to keeping their head down and stick to the process amid distractions is a good sign, one that should bode well for Canada in the long-term.
“We made the most of what we had available,” Priestman said after the game. “And for me, it was a chance to see some new faces, see the group and especially in a game like that, where we’ve got adversity, we’ve got frustration, time-wasting, that happens in tournament football, so I knew that would come, it was all about the group being patient, believing in themselves and we got the win, that’s the important part.”
That finishing touch:
But while the process was very much on display once again on Sunday, there was one big issue again for Canada, and that was their lack of finishing.
On one hand, as has been said many times this past week, results aren’t going to be the be-all, end-all determiner of how well Canada does in this tournament.
On the other hand, it would be nice to see Canada enjoy some dominant wins filled with goals, something that through 2 games, has eluded them so far.
Yes, Christine Sinclair is missing, and she’d probably have found a way to bag one or two goals by now, but seeing some of the chances Canada missed through 2 games, it is a bit of a cause for concern.
It’s not that they’re squandering opportunities, it’s that they’re not looking all that convincing when the ball sits for them in the box, either harmlessly sending shots wide or right at the goalkeeper, bailing opponents out.
Not only that, they’re at the point where they’ve even sometimes given up on shooting during what some might consider being prime shooting opportunities, trying to pass the ball into the net whenever possible.
When a team is able to successfully pull that off, it’s a sign of confidence, but for a team that has scored 4 goals in their last 7 games, you’d like to see them try to try to be more direct in the final third.
But while this may all sound like gloom and doom, let’s end this on a positive note: things should get better.
Under Kenneth Heiner-Moller, Canada had this tendency to forget how to attack, much less score, for games at a time, before rediscovering their form in bunches.
So far under Priestman, however, Canada is getting to the final third much more regularly, generating 26 shots through 2 games, as they put up 9 shots versus the US last Thursday, and 17 versus Argentina on Sunday.
For comparison, during Canada’s last 4 games under Heiner-Moller, they only generated 28 shots, including a combined 6 during games versus the US and France.
And it’s worth noting that the shot totals from the last 2 games doesn’t even include all the times during these past two games where Canada could’ve and probably should’ve shot the ball, so it easily could’ve been more.
Returning to the idea of a process, that’s where Canada’s commitment to solid fundamentals should pay off in the long term. If they continue to get to those areas with regularity, they will score. Either the players they have in camp will figure out how to score them, or players like Christine Sinclair, Jordyn Huitema and Ashley Lawrence will when they’re back in the squad in the future.
As long as they committed to getting the ball forward, good things should happen.
And although Canada’s open play finishing is certainly a bit of a worry, a big reason why they’ve struggled to breach the goal is due to their set-piece play, which has not been the greatest through 2 games.
Be it via wide set pieces, where they’ve struggled to beat the first player with their deliveries, to free kicks, which have just not been threatening enough, Canada needs to improve on set pieces ahead of the Olympics.
It’s far from a big worry, as it always takes time for a new coach to work on them, but it’s a big reason why Canada has struggled to score, while also giving them their biggest headaches defensively.
Defensively, there should be no worry, however, as Canada will A) get better at defending set-pieces, and B) have been so good defending in open play that you forgive them for switching off a bit on dead balls.
Offensively, however, there should be a little more concern, but on the other hand, you imagine that A) things will get better with time, and B) will get better with the likes of Sinclair, Lawrence, Huitema and Kadeisha Buchanan in the mix, both for free kicks and wide set-pieces.
If Canada is going to continue to hold onto the ball and push into the final third, they’ll win more corners and free-kicks than ever before, so it’s important that they find ways to make teams pay for giving up dead balls.
And hey, while Canada struggled at making things happen from them all game, Sarah Stratigakis did score their 92nd-minute winner via a scramble off of a wide free-kick, so maybe that’s just a sign that things are starting to turn a corner already.
On the defensive:
Rounding things off, it would be unfair to not talk about Canada’s defence, as they’ve been immense through 2 games so far.
From Vanessa Gilles outstanding 1st game performance against the US, to Jade Rose’s quiet defensive masterclass in her first senior cap for Canada, the defence has been far from an issue for Canada so far.
With strong individual performances from the likes of Gilles, Rose, Shelina Zadorsky, Allysha Chapman, Gabrielle Carle and Jayde Riviere at the back, as well as Quinn, Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt and Jessie Fleming in midfield, Canada’s effort on the defensive end has been noticeable throughout these 2 games.
Combined with a strong 170 minutes from Stephanie Labbe in goal, there’s a reason why Canada has only given up 1 goal through 2 games, as their commitment to team defence is paying off.
There are still a few details to iron out, such as cleaning out miscues that could’ve easily been punished by their opponents, but aside from that, things are looking good at the back.
And considering that this strong defence hasn’t come at a cost of losing their offence, something that was often the case under Heiner-Moller, you can’t help but feel better about Canada’s chances at the Olympics, considering that defence usually wins tournaments.
Much like with the offence, the process is looking good, which is what counts most at this stage.
Viens, Leon or Prince?
So heading into Canada’s last game, a clash with a Brazil team they drew 2-2 less than a year ago, the emphasis for this team has to be to build on what they’ve done so far.
That means continuing to defend strongly, while also making consistent forrays into the final third, where they’ll need to be way more clinical than they have so far.
They’ll also need to continue to give a chance for players to audition for different roles, which to give credit to Priestman, she has done so far. Rotation has been good across the backline and in the midfield, as well as up front.
But with Canada’s need for goals, she needs to make a key decision. Evelyne Viens has been in the form of her life as a #9 for Paris FC, but has come off the bench twice so far, while Adriana Leon can make a big impact in the middle, but has had to play on the left so far during these 2 games.
As well as Nichelle Prince, who has been excellent at the #9 position so far, it shows that Canada has options at striker, despite having no Sinclair or Huitema in camp.
So does Priestman stick with Prince, whose hold-up play and pressing has given Canada a good look up front? Or does she give one of Viens or Leon a shot to start as a #9?
To be honest, the best solution for Canada to score may be to switch to a 3-5-2 (more on that in a future piece), but that probably won’t happen by Wednesday, so it’ll be interesting to see what Priestman does at striker.
So all-in-all, with 3 points through 2 games, Canada has to be happy with where they sit heading into the third game of this She Believes Cup. They’ll feel like they dropped some points against the US, but they showed good resolve to avoid doing the same against Argentina in this game, showing their mental resolve.
More importantly, as we’ve seen so far, they’re playing good football, which was the main goal for them heading into this tournament. A process is being put in place, and we’re seeing evidence of that already, which has been nice to see.
Heading into the third game, it’ll be all about maintaining that process and continuing to build on it, as the sprint towards the 2021 Olympics continues.
With Canada looking to make some noise at that tournament, it’s important that they continue to take advantage of this opportunity to set a good foundation for their squad.
From what we’ve seen so far, they’ve been pretty successful in that mission so far, so here’s to hoping that continues against a tough Brazil side on Wednesday.
Up Next: Canada vs Brazil, Wednesday, February 24th, 2021, 13:00 PST, 16:00 EST (Exploria Stadium, Orlando).
Cover Photo by: Jeremy Reper/Canada Soccer