Mexico Masterclass: Strong start propels Mexico to huge 2-1 win over CanWNT/CanXNT in friendly action

Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team took on Mexico in a friendly match on Saturday. Here’s what stood out to us from that one, a 2-1 Mexico win, their first victory over Canada since 2004. 

It was a sight that we haven’t seen too often this year. 

Undefeated in their last 12 games, Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team were heading into their friendly with Mexico on Saturday in good spirits, as they looked to extend the longest undefeated run in their history. 

Faced off against a team that they hadn’t lost to in their last 14 matchups, it just felt like Canada were on track to take care of business here, helping them pick up another victory to help mark what has been a very special year for the team. 

But instead, the defending Olympic champions got a bit of a shock in Mexico on Saturday, as they fell to their hosts 2-1, dropping their first result to their CONCACAF compatriots since 2004. 

And it was fully deserved for Mexico, too, as they were by far the better team for most of the 90 minutes, and although a late Canadian push made things interesting, it’d be too little, too late from the guests. 

In their first of 2 games against Mexico this window, it only makes things more interesting ahead of the rematch between these 2 teams, which comes this Tuesday, as Mexico looks to prove that they’re ready to do some damage this summer at CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifiers. 

At the same time, though, Canada won’t be throwing in the white flag after this performance. Far from it. 

Despite the result, this was a Canadian squad that was dealing with several key absences, due to injury, health protocols and school commitments, and when you then factor in the heat and altitude that this game was played in, without also mentioning how good Mexico overall played, it just wasn’t meant to be for Canada on the day. 

Without a doubt, there’s a lot that they’ll be disappointed with, such as their slow start, and their inability to create any clear looks before the 75th minute, but at the same time they had some good moments defensively other than the 2 goals, and showed good heart to fight right to the last whistle. 

So while the result will sting, that leaves them with a lot to takeaway into that Tuesday game, both good and bad, as they look to get one back on Mexico after this surprise result. 

And with that in mind, here’s a look back at some of what stood out from this game for Canada, both the good and the bad, as they turn their focus to that Tuesday game now.  

Slow start: 

To begin the game, though, Canada would come out of the gates slowly, as the hosts, Mexico, wasted no time in trying to control the game. 

With a pretty aggressive press, and a sturdy middle block, Mexico tried to make it as hard as possible for Canada to play through them, and it worked, as their opponents found it hard to establish any sort of attacking presence in the first half. 

Because of that, the best chances in open play seemed to all belong to Mexico in the first half. 

Canada remained dangerous on set pieces, as they tend to be, nearly scoring an 8th-minute corner via Vanessa Gilles, who headed just wide on a Jessie Fleming corner, but when the ball was in play, it was tough sledding for them. 

And that was quickly starting to be felt at the other end. First, Mexico came close in the 13th minute, via Diana Garcia, but her low strike was sent right at Canada’s Kailen Sheridan in goal, making it an easy save for her. 

Then, from there, Mexico found their opener. Off of a nice run in behind by Garcia, she did well to cut across Gilles and from there, Gilles appeared to bowl her over, giving Mexico a penalty. 

With that, they then made no mistake, as Stephanie Mayor stepped up and buried it without a second thought, and from there, that left Canada to chase the rest of the game, something they hadn’t done really since the Olympics this summer. 

In the afternoon heat, with altitude yet to really kick in, it was a daunting task for Canada, one that they’d have to find a way to navigate, as they looked to recover from this slow start. 

The good news, though, was that time was on their side, but with how Mexico was playing, it wasn’t going to be easy, and they looked to be aware of that, slightly picking up their intensity after the goal. 

Plus, seeing that, it made for an interesting next 70 minutes, as Canada looked to fashion up a response, one that they hoped could get them back into the game. 

Mexico add a 2nd: 

And in a sense, Canada then did a decent job of doing that. They didn’t necessarily wrestle back control of the match, but they at least started to establish a foothold, offering a bit more resistance to their hosts. 

It didn’t lead to much, as they couldn’t really fashion any chances out of that, but it also started to shut down Mexico, who were starting to see more of the stingy Canadian defence that we’ve been used to seeing from them this year. 

Because of that, it turned this match into a bit of a stalemate for the next 50 or so minutes, with both teams seemingly unable to push through the other. 

Mexico surely didn’t mind that, even though they continued to remain aggressive in their pressure, as they comfortably held onto their 1-0 lead, but you just knew that it was eating away at Canada as they looked for that equalizer. 

But then, disaster struck for them in the 75th minute. 

Off of a nice ball from a dangerous wide set-piece, Mexico did well to cause all sorts of chaos in the Canadian box, as the ball ricocheted off of Canada’s Quinn and onto Sheridan’s hand, who in turn pushed it onto the crossbar and back into play.

Or so it seemed, as the ball instead then just fell right to Mexico’s Alicia Cervantes, and she made no mistake with the rebound, heading home into a gaping cage from right in tight. 

And that was massive for the hosts. If their first goal was key to putting the Canadians on the back foot, this second goal then just added to their belief that they could get indeed go and get this win, especially considering that they were holding onto a 2-0 lead with 15 to go. 

Even if Canada fashioned a late push, it just felt like it’d come far too late from them, making it seem likely that Mexico would hold on, giving them that monumental victory that they had so obviously craved right from the first whistle, closer to doing so than ever. 

Canada makes it interesting late on:

Despite that, though, that didn’t mean that this game would finish as planned for Mexico, though, as then, Canada mustered up their best 15 minutes of play in the game. 

First, second-half substitute, Cloe Lacasse, who was making her Canadian debut, managed to get in behind the Mexican defence thanks to a lovely through ball from fellow sub, Jordyn Huitema, but her left-footed strike would be denied by Mexico’s Itzel Gonzalez, who stood tall to the shot in her goal. 

But despite that opportunity, you just felt that with each second that ticked off the clock, the less likely it became that anything could happen here for Canada, even as they continued to knock on the door. 

Yet, they kept on pushing, and to everyone’s surprise, it paid off in the 86th minute. After a looping ball into the box, the ball bounced off of a few heads before falling right to Huitema, who decided to take a shot on the volley before the ball even hit the grass. 

And there, despite having a defender right in front of her, the ball flew between the legs of Rebeca Bernal and past Gonzalez into the low corner, giving Canada an opening goal. 

All of a sudden, thanks to that, it gave Canada life right at a crucial moment, too, as they looked to push right to the end. 

Which to give them credit, they most certainly went on to do. 

In the 87th minute, Gilles nearly scored an audacious volley off of a corner, as she stretched out to an overhit cross on a wide set-piece, but her attempt just looped onto the top of the net, missing the goal by a few feet. 

Then, right after, some more second-half subs linked up, as Deanne Rose did well to get behind the Mexican defence off of a nice ball from Sophie Schmidt, and from there she found Lacasse with a nice cutback, but Lacasse just couldn’t reach the ball in time, shanking it wide of the goal. 

And then, continuing the late push, Canada got a good chance right as extra time began, as Huitema set up Schmidt with a lovely dummy on a nice pass into the box, and Schmidt got a good shot off, but Gonzalez stood strong to the effort, punching it out with authority. 

But from there, other than a late Lacasse penalty shout that looked to have some legs, that’d be all that Canada could muster up, as they just couldn’t find a way to break down that resolute Mexican defence one last time. 

With that, it gave Mexico a big win, one that they’ll look to relish and take forward, as they continued to show that on their day, they can now hang with the giants of CONCACAF. 

It was tough for Canada, who were missing some key players, but that shouldn’t take away from how solid Mexico was, as they gave their guests a good run for their money. 

The good news for Canada, though? They’ve got a shot at redemption on Tuesday, and they’ll certainly be thinking of that, but for now, that doesn’t mean that this result doesn’t sting any less. 

Canadian head coach, Bev Priestman, looks on during this friendly with Mexico (Canada Soccer)

Lacasse and Huitema offer intrigue: 

Otherwise, one big positive for Canada in this game? The play of Huitema and Lacasse in that second half, as they certainly showed a lot in their short time on the pitch. 

Huitema and Lacsse might have only played 45 and 28 minutes, respectively, but they made a big difference for Canada when coming on, giving them a bit more of a dynamic look in the attack. 

For Huitema, it was a key performance, as she had arguably her best game in a Canadian shirt this year, looking a lot like the sort of player that many were expecting her to become when she made her debut at 15. 

She’s always been productive for Canada, no doubt, having scored 13 goals in her first 33 games for her country, but she’d hit a wall in 2021, having scored 0 goals in 10 games this year, falling a bit behind on Canada’s attacking depth chart as the year went on

But after a game like this one, you have to imagine that won’t be the case for much longer. Obviously, the goal stands out, but her overall play was the bigger story, as she just looked like such a complete player, doing all the little things that you want to see from your striker. 

From her link-up play, to her runs into the box, she looked like a proper #9, one that Canada doesn’t actually really have much of in their system, which is why her performance in this game was so exciting. 

Yet, still only 20-years-old, there’s so much yet to come from Huitema, who it can be easy to forget is still far away from even reaching her prime, which is why performances like this catch the eye, helping show her potential. 

As for Lacasse, though, even if she didn’t grab a goal, this was also a key performance from her, too, as she made her long-awaited Canadian senior national team debut in this, making the most of the occasion.

From some bursting runs down the left-hand side, to a few good looks at goal, she looked a lot like the player that has been terrorizing defences all year long for Benfica, doing such a good job at making things happen as an inside forward. 

That was most definitely the case in this game, as she caused fits for the Mexican defence when she got onto the field, showing why many have been calling for the 28-year-old to make her debut. 

And now that she’s done so, it’ll be interesting to see if she can leverage this into more playing time going forward. In her prime right now, she clearly can offer something to this group, especially considering that they’re always looking for more options up front, and this game is just an example of that. 

So heading into Tuesday, look for these 2 to possibly start, if not get a good run off the bench, because they made a key difference for Canada in this game, nearly allowing them to complete the late comeback. 

Canada’s interesting formation switch: 

Lastly, one interesting thing to note from this game was that Canada actually experimented with a bit of a new set-up in this game, deciding to try out a new formation. 

Instead of going with the 4-3-1-2 that we’ve been used to seeing from them this year, they came out with a sort of 3-4-1-2, one that saw Canada’s wing backs push high up the pitch. 

But unfortunately for Canada, it ended up backfiring, and they ended the game back in the 4-3-1-2, where they did most of their late damage from. 

At the same time, though, despite that, there is still a lot to like with the new formation, although there are some tweaks to be made.

One such tweak? There were just too many players out of position, especially in the attack. 

For example, down the right side, Canada went with Victoria Pickett at right wing back, and Jessie Fleming at right striker, and they just struggled to get involved in the game, at least not as much as they would’ve liked to. 

That was by no fault of their own, as they often got isolated, and that just meant that Canada couldn’t find a way to get them the ball in space, leaving them to chase the game. 

Defensively, Canada was actually pretty solid in the back 3, at least other than the penalty, but offensively, there were just too many instances where they both lacked the sort of movement that you need on the ball, and where players like Pickett or Fleming were isolated. 

The former can be solved with time, but the latter is more due to the fact that Pickett has looked best as more of a #8 with her club side, Kansas, this year, while Fleming has looked best as a #10 for Canada, because while she plays as a winger for Chelsea, they play more of a possession-based game than Canada. 

But all of that doesn’t mean that the 3-4-1-2 needs to be scrapped right away. It’d be interesting to see what it could look like with someone like Ashley Lawrence at right wing back, as well as more of a speedy front 2 of say a Nichelle Prince and Deanne Rose, for example, pushing Fleming back into a more natural position. 

So while it didn’t necessarily work in this game, it is something to keep an eye on in the future, because Canada most definitely has the centre backs and wing backs for it when they’ve got their full roster, and that’s the most important part of a formation like this, making it one to consider further down the road. 

Looking Forward: 

Overall, however, even though Canada might want to forget the result, there was a lot to be intrigued with, and in friendlies like this, that’s what you like to see. 

And the good news is that they do also now get a chance to avenge this result, as well, ending this window (and 2021 as a whole), off on a high note. 

In the middle of a landmark year for the team, it hasn’t been the sort of result that we’ve gotten used to seeing from them this year, but that just shows how high the standard has been, making an off-day like this seem stark compared to the usual performances. 

So now, it’ll be interesting to see if Canada can take what they learned from this game and throw it into Tuesday, as they look to show that despite this big victory from Mexico, that they are a team to beat in CONCACAF, even though Mexico is getting close to knocking on the door, as they showed here. 

Up Next: Canada vs Mexico, Tuesday

Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer

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