Welsh Triple: CanWNT shows flashes of ‘Priestman-ball’ in 3-0 win over Wales in friendly

Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team beat Wales by a score of 3-0 on Friday, giving them their 2nd win in 4 games under new head coach Bev Priestman. Here’s what stood out from that match, as Canada overcame a slow first half to find some fireworks in the second. 

After a slow start, the floodgates finally opened at the end. 

In their 4th game under Bev Priestman as a head coach, Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team finally found some life offensively on Friday, as they cruised to a 3-0 win over Wales in Cardiff. 

They started out slowly in the game, looking rather listless in the first half, but opened the scoring via some individual brilliance from Quinn and Deanne Rose in the 25th minute, before then finding two second-half goals via Evelyne Viens and Jessie Fleming, allowing them to cruise to the finish line for the victory. 

For a Canadian side ranked 8th in the world, this result was expected, especially against a 31st-ranked Welsh side, but that didn’t mean that this game was going to be easy, as they quickly learned. Wales played them hard, and sat deep in a well-organized defensive block, one Canada struggled to break down early on.

With stiffer tests lying ahead, however, this game should prove to be valuable in the long run, as they really started to show signs of adapting to their new head coach, Priestman, whose ideas are seeming to really get through to the players now. 

After a strong first 3 games under their Priestman at She Believes Cup, where they looked good despite losing two of those games, they finally found some life offensively in this match, which they paired along with their astute defensive play that they had at that tournament down in Orlando. 

Heading into their next game, a friendly versus 6th-ranked England on Tuesday, they’ll hope that this win gives them the confidence necessary to take down a top side also adjusting to a new coach of their own, making that match a fascinating one to keep an eye on, for a multitude of reasons.

Before then, however, it’s important to look back at what Canada did well against Wales on Friday, and see what they should take forward from that game into Tuesday’s clash. 

A return of the goals: 

Coming into this game, a big question loomed — where would the goals come from for Canada?

Obviously, it helped Canada that they saw the return of the all-time top international goalscorer, Christine Sinclair, to their lineup, as she returned to the Canadian fold after missing She Believes Cup with an injury. 

Despite her re-insertion in the starting eleven, however, Canada found their goals via some unlikely sources, as Deanne Rose, Evelyne Viens and Jessie Fleming all ended up finding the back of the net for Canada in this game, finally giving them some much-needed secondary scoring. 

After struggling to create offence at She Believes Cup, only scoring once in 3 games at that tournament, with that lone tally coming off of a set-piece, it was nice to see Canada score 3 open-play goals versus Wales, showing some signs of life offensively. 

And if you’re Canada, you have to be happy with the diversity of attacking sequences on the 3 goals, as they were all very different tallies, showing off some of the different offensive skills that they have at their disposal. 

On the first goal, they showed off their speed in transition, as a majestic through ball from Quinn unlocked the speedy Deanne Rose on the counter, and she made no mistake in thumping home a volley at the near post to open the scoring. 

Then, on the second, they showed more of a team-based approach, building up from the back with a good spell of possession, before Janine Beckie did well to put her head up and find Evelyne Viens at the near post with a cross, which the striker put away with conviction for her first international goal. 

Lastly, on the third goal, Canada benefited from some individual brilliance from Jessie Fleming, who rescued a broken play by curling home a wonderful shot, scoring the best goal of the game, by far. 

If you’re Canada, you don’t want to have to rely on that sort of individual brilliance too much in games, but it’s a good reminder of the quality that they do have at their disposal, something we haven’t always seen that much of in the final third lately.

But returning to the first two goals, those will be the ones Priestman will be sure to hammer home at training over the next few days, as they came off of the sorts of attacking sequences Canada need to be their most dangerous on, which are in transition and in possession. 

And it’s the latter that’s the most important for this team, as they often have had a lot of the ball in games over the last few years, but didn’t always find a way to make the most of that. They’ve always been good in transition, especially in games where they have to sit back and absorb pressure, but it’s positive to see them turning spells of possession into goals, which can sometimes be a challenge against well-organized teams. 

With Priestman putting more emphasis on keeping the ball and building up from the back, Canada will want to keep working on the sort of move that we saw on the second goal, as they’ve certainly got the pieces to do that kind of attacking play on the regular. 

From here, the next progression will be putting together those sorts of sequences against top opposition, but with England looming next week, hopefully we see some of that then. 

We’re only a few games into the Priestman era, however, so to see her players assimilating her tactical instructions so quickly is a positive, one you’d hope that they continue to build off of heading into a big Olympic year for this team. 

Quinn-Lawrence-Fleming experiment in midfield pays off:  

But while Priestman-ball was in full effect for Canada on Friday, it only really had its best moments in the second half, and a big reason for that was due to the midfield trio of Quinn, Ashley Lawrence and Jessie Fleming, who were excellent when deployed together. 

Canada started with a trio of Quinn, Fleming and Desiree Scott, which more than did its job in the first half, but lacking a bit of life offensively, Priestman shifted Lawrence up from right back into midfield for Scott, and that move paid off spectacularly. 

As seen on the second goal, Lawrence played a big part in helping Canada progress the ball forward in the build-up, before playing the second-last pass on the goal itself, stamping her influence all over the tally.

Along with Quinn, who delivered the wonderful assist on Canada’s first goal, putting a cherry on top of a performance where they looked really lively all over the park, sticking their legs into 50/50s before progressing the ball forward to their teammates, that gave Canada solidity in the middle of the pitch. 

And that’s without talking about Fleming, who scored the worldie of a 3rd goal, but looked lively even before then, making plenty of good progressive passes forward throughout the game. She had a pretty solid She Believes Cup, standing out as one of Canada’s best players, but she didn’t always get forward as much as she would’ve liked, something she got to do more of in this game. 

Now, if you’re Priestman, you absolutely have to consider keeping this trio together against England, at least seeing how they handle themselves against a top team. 

Given that Lawrence is one of Canada’s best players, you want her to influence games as much as possible, and although she did a good job at letting her presence be known at her usual right back position in the first half, she looked like a whole new player when deployed further up the pitch in the second.

Before, a move like that wasn’t always feasible, however, but now that’s changing. With Quinn’s emergence as a progressive #6/#8, as well as Jayde Riviere’s continued development at right back, Lawrence can move into midfield without too much worry, giving Canada more balance at a position they’ve struggled to get the most out of in recent years. 

Seeing how well Quinn, Fleming and Lawrence complemented each other in the 20 or so minutes that they played together, helping them score 2 goals, you certainly have to consider it at this point if you’re Priestman, especially considering their recent offensive woes. 

Jessie Fleming with the ball at her feet versus Wales (Geraint Wynn Nicolas/Canada Soccer)

Gilles quietly puts up another strong performance: 

Moving to the defensive end of the pitch, Canada did what they had to do to keep a clean sheet, which was their 2nd in 4th games under Priestman. 

It wasn’t always perfect at times, as Wales had some decent spells of pressure in both halves, but Canada did well to manage that storm. 

A big reason for that? The play of Vanessa Gilles, who looked good once again for Canada, quietly putting up another solid defensive performance in this one. 

After her player of the game performance versus the US at She Believes Cup last month, she picked up right where she left off against Wales, winning seemingly every header and tackle, even adding in a few blocks for good measure. 

In the midst of an excellent club season for Bordeaux domestically, as she’s played a big part in their push into the top 3 of the French league, she’s continuing to make the centre back conversation a tough one for Priestman to evaluate.

With Canada’s star centre back, Kadeisha Buchanan, missing time in the last two camps due to quarantine rules and a medical concern, Gilles has gotten the opportunity to step up in her absence, and she’s taken the opportunity and run with it. 

Heading into the Olympics, where Priestman will only be allowed to bring 20 players (2 of them goalkeepers), it’s going to be hard for her to ignore Gilles in the form she’s in, and the centre back showed why on Friday. 

It’s still early to be making proclamations about the Olympic squad, but with the England game coming up, you’d have to imagine another solid performance from Gilles in that game all but cements her spot at Tokyo. 

Given how well Canada has defended in 4 games under Priestman (aside from a 20-minute blip against Brazil), having a centre back like Gilles only helps them keep that solidity, and she showed why on Friday. 

Hopefully Sinclair is alright: 

Moving onto some of the more sombre news from the game, it was unfortunate to see Sinclair walk off the field with an ankle injury after 33 minutes, dampening her return to National Team action. 

At 37 years of age, the last thing you want to see happen to her at this stage of her career is to pick up a major injury, so there were certainly a lot of panicked faces when the cameras panned to her on the ground in pain in the first half. 

The good news, however, is that according to Priestman, she was walking around after the game, and the injury doesn’t look as bad as originally feared. It’s too early to get a prognostic, but it sounds like she remains a possibility for the England game, which is fantastic news. 

With what might possibly be her last Olympics right around the corner, the last thing you want to see is her missing out on those games due to injury, so it’s good to see that her being withdrawn was more of a precautionary move, than anything. 

Looking Forward:

Now, Canada rests up for a few days before taking on England in Stoke, in what promises to be an exciting game. 

With both teams continuing their adaptation periods under new coaches ahead of the Olympics, this match will be a big one for both sides, helping set the tone ahead of a big year for the pair of them. 

For Canada, as we saw earlier in the week, this is also a much-needed test against top 10 opposition, which has been something they’ve struggled with these past few years. 

Heading into an Olympic tournament with 7 other top 10 opponents among the 12 teams, they’ll need to start getting results against those sorts of teams to even have a prayer of winning, making this England clash an important test. 

So keep an eye out for them in that game, as they continue a solid start to the Priestman era, one where they’ve appeared to have taken some important steps forward tactically, with this win over Wales being a great example of that. 

Up Next: Canada vs England, Tuesday, April 13th, 2021, 11:15 PDT, 14:15 EDT (Britannia Stadium, Stoke)

Cover Photo via: Geraint Wynn Nicolas/Canada Soccer

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