Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team took on New Zealand in the 2nd game out of 2 games in their Tokyo Summer Olympics gold medal celebration tour in Montreal on Tuesday. Here’s what stood out from that game for us.
After a big offensive explosion in game 1, game 2 offered a more fitting victory.
Seeing that they did so well to grind out an Olympic gold medal off the back of their strong defensive play this past summer, it only felt right that Canada would offer up a performance similar to that on Tuesday in Montreal, when they took on New Zealand in the 2nd game of their Tokyo Summer Olympics gold medal celebration tour.
Fresh off of an explosive 5-1 victory over the same New Zealand side in game 1 of the tour, which came in Ottawa on Saturday, some could only wonder if a Canadian team more known for their defence than their offence would have a similar attacking output in their back pockets heading into this game.
But in a throwback to their efforts at the Olympics, they then instead went out and grinded out a tough 1-0 victory, one where they scored early before locking things down, allowing them to cruise to a well-earned victory.
Much like at the Olympics, it might not have been the most pretty soccer, but it was certainly effective, and thanks to that, Canada were able to extend a history undefeated run, capping off the first leg of this celebration tour on a high note.
As they continue to prepare for a big 2022, one where they’ll tackle qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup, it’s put them on a right track ahead of that tournament, helping them along on in their journey to prove that their gold medal in Tokyo this summer was no fluke.
And while the result might not have been the one that Canada would’ve hoped for, there was a lot to like with the performance, helping Canada continue their celebrations of what they accomplished on a high note.
So with that in mind, here’s a look back at that game, which was one that could certainly prove valuable to Canada in the long term, as we’ll see below.
Adriana Leon just can’t stop scoring:
And while the game might’ve slowed down towards the end, to start the game Canada would come out quite strongly, though, getting the Montreal crowd into it early on.
Much like in the Ottawa game, where they found the back of the net within just 12 minutes, Canada found similar early joy in this match, as Adriana Leon got her team on the board in the 16th minute, getting Les Rouges started off on the right foot.
It might not have been her nicest goal, but it came off the back of some smart work, as Janine Beckie did well to sneak into the box to get on the end of a nice Jessie Fleming through ball, and from there, Beckie hit a hard low shot, one that New Zealand’s Anna Leat just managed to parry out.
But unfortunately for her, parrying it wasn’t enough, as that left a juicy rebound for Leon to pounce on, and the West Ham striker made no mistake with the opportunity, burying the ball home for the opener.
With that, it gave Leon her 3rd goal in 2 games this victory tour, as she also had done well to pick up a brace in just 27 minutes in Canada’s opener against New Zealand, and she clearly picked up where she left off in that one on Tuesday.
Having earned a start off the back of that performance, one could only wonder what she’d come out with for this game, as it’s not always easy for a striker to replicate a hot run off the bench in a starting position, even though logic suggests that would be the case.
For Leon, however, that wouldn’t be the case in her situation, as she wasted no time in proving that her hot run off the bench was no fluke, coming up clutch with that early goal.
And because of that, it now opens up some interesting questions for Canada going forward. Thanks to this goal, Leon actually tied Jessie Fleming as Canada’s leading scorer in 2021, but unlike Fleming, who has scored 3 of her goals from the spot, all of Leon’s tallies have been via open play, which is even more impressive.
So on a Canadian team that has struggled to score goals at times this year, it’s been a welcome sight to see Leon step up as she has as of late, as she’s suddenly made things interesting in terms of potential team selections for head coach Bev Priestman with her forms.
Considering that Priestman has tried out nearly every option available to her to find Canada’s next successor for Christine Sinclair, Leon could have very well pushed herself to the top of the pecking order with her goals, allowing her to earn more minutes going forward.
And if she does, watch out. As seen with her club, West Ham, when she plays regularly, she can go on a run, so there’s no reason why she can’t replicate that success for her country.
Heading into a big 2022 for Canada, that would be welcome news for them, who have already benefitted quite nicely from Leon’s timely scoring in 2021, and certainly wouldn’t mind it continuing into the new year and beyond.
Buchanan’s big shift:
But once Leon scored, the goals proved to be hard to come by for Canada, who looked a bit more like the team we saw at the Olympics, where offence felt at a premium at times.
The good news, though? While the goals were hard to come by at one end, they were also quite sparse for their opponents, too, as Canada did a good job of keeping New Zealand at bay once they got the lead.
And playing a big part in that? The play of Canada’s star centre back, Kadeisha Buchanan, who despite going the full 90 minutes in the Ottawa game 3 days prior, looked no worse for wear in this one, finding herself going another 90 minutes without much problem once again.
Because of that, she was able to extend her personal minutes streak to 900 for Canada, having now gone 10 consecutive games without a sub, which is quite the achievement for her.
Plus, not only is she playing those heavy minutes, but excelling in them, as well, helping Canada only concede 5 goals over that span, with this game being her 5th clean sheet over that span.
Buchanan has played a big role in that, shutting down attacks at every opportunity, either in the air, where she’s so deadly, or on the ground, where she has a knack for always making the right lunge when the opportunity presents itself.
Along with her play on the ball, which is so integral to how Canada builds up possession, her fingerprints are all over how Canada plays, so it’s no coincidence that they’ve been on as good of a run as they’ve been as of late.
But for those who have been following Buchanan’s rise as of late, that’s not that surprising. She’s been one of the best centre backs in the world for a while now, but has taken that up to an even higher level in the past 2 years, becoming a star for one of the best teams in the world for Lyon.
Thanks to that, she’s then translated that play over to whenever she suits up for her country, who thanks to her presence as a rock at the back, now boasts a backline that many in the world can only dream of, making them a team to fear for opposing offences.
And what’s scary is that Buchanan is far from done growing as a player. Having been around this Canadian team for more than a half-decade, it’s easy to forget that she’s only 25, which means that she could still grow as a player, especially considering that centre backs tend to peak later in their careers.
So for Canada, that’s exciting, because while they continue their hunt to score more goals, you just know that their backline will remain central to any of their success, and as she showed against New Zealand here, Buchanan is such a big part of that formula.
Canada keeps good run going:
Otherwise, as mentioned earlier, it’s worth noting that with this win, Canada also continued a pretty impressive run of theirs in this game, extending their undefeated streak to 12 games, with their last loss coming in February of this year, which according to Canada Socer, is their longest such streak in their history.
But that just shows how Canada has been as of late, as since that last defeat, which came against Brazil at the She Believes Cup in Orlando, Canada has been floating along, picking up 6 wins and 6 draws along the way (2 of those draws became wins at the Olympics via penalty kicks), scoring 17 goals and conceding just 5 goals over that span.
And considering that a good chunk of those games came against pretty solid teams, that’s quite the impressive run from Canada.
Obviously, they’d like to turn more of those draws into wins, no doubt, but having picked up 2 wins in this tour, that’s a nice start for Canada, who can use that as a building block to bigger and better things.
As they head into the rest of their celebration tour, it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep this run going now, but based on what we’ve seen from them as of late, you’d back them in that quest, as it’s been nice to see this Canadian team continue to find a way to etch out results as they have recently.
Moving on, though, it was quite the interesting game tactically for Canada, because while they didn’t change much from their last game with New Zealand, the results differed significantly, as reflected by the scoreline.
Obviously, part of that is due to the fact that New Zealand did a good job of adjusting to Canada’s game plan, but it’s also worth noting that Canada didn’t execute to the same level that they did in the first game, either.
Offensively, they stuck in their very aggressive 4-3-1-2 that blended between a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1 and a 2-5-3 at times, but they weren’t able to exploit the same spaces that they did in the first game.
That was reflected in the stats, as Canada only generated 10 shots in this game, 3 of them on target, which compared to the first game, where they had 24 shots, 11 of them on target, was quite the stark decline.
It’s not as if Canada struggled to hold the ball, as they held 56% possession in this game, which is just 1% fewer than the 57% that they had on the weekend, so it really just came down to their execution in the final third.
The off-the-ball movement was the same, as was the possession play up until the final third, but once Canada got into dangerous situations, they either just missed their passes, or New Zealand shut them down.
So other than the goal, it wasn’t really a night to remember for Canada offensively. After their big offensive outburst in the first game, it was a bit disappointing, but the good news is that their problems are very fixable, as it just comes down to execution and adjusting to their opponent, two things that they’ve shown to be able to do.
At the other end, though, the good news was that not much changed defensively, as Canada defended in their usual 4-3-1-2, where they did a good job of limiting space for New Zealand, keeping them to just 6 shots, 2 on target, the exact same number that they allowed on the weekend.
But that’s not surprising, because as mentioned earlier, Canada is a very good defensive team, and they reminded people of that once again in this one.
So while there is work for them to do offensively, that they’ve got such a good defensive structure remains a good sign, and shows why they’ve really made that side of their game their main focus this year.
In the Mixer:
Elsewhere, here are some other bits and bobs that stood out from this game.
Everyone gets a shot:
And to start, it’s nice to see that by the 47th minute of this game, all of Canada’s 20 available players who were in the summer’s Olympic squad had seen the field at some point during this tour, giving them a chance to see the field in front of their home fans.
Other than Ashley Lawrence and Julia Grosso, who missed the tour due to injury, it meant that all of Canada’s players that ended up with gold around their necks have now had a chance to be celebrated by their loyal fans, and there’s something nice about that.
It took a team effort to win the gold, so it was nice to see the whole team celebrated in the first leg of the tour, and hopefully we’ll see more of that in future legs of the tour.
A nice crowd welcome’s Canada:
And lastly, speaking of celebration, it was nice to see a good crowd of just over 11 000 brave the wind and rain in Montreal to come out to this game, helping create a strong atmosphere.
They might not have had the numbers that Ottawa had in their other game, but they certainly brought a unique atmosphere, one that those who played in will certainly remember.
Heading into the rest of this tour, that’s exciting, because this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the sort of crowds that this country has to offer, as we’ve seen throughout the years, something that will hopefully continue going forward.
So overall, it was a pretty successful first leg of the celebration tour for Canada, who did the job that they wanted to on the pitch, picking up 2 solid wins, but also did a lot off of it, helping inspire people young and old across the country.
And after the summer that they had, that’s huge, as the one thing missing from their triumph over the summer was that close interaction with their fans, who supported them so strongly during the Olympics, from a distance.
That changed this camp, though, and that’s huge, as it was long overdue that Canada got to play in front of their fans, making their return all that sweeter.
As they push on towards the 2023 World Cup, it was a nice boost, one that should allow them to start turning their wheels in their quest to prove that this summer was no fluke, something that they slowly began their journey towards proving with their play this window.
Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Twitter