They are chastened, to be sure. Head coach John Herdman can talk about the building process of a one-goal loss to Japan and a 3-0 win over South Africa, but a good result against Sweden on Tuesday will be the greatest sign yet that the Canadian women’s soccer team is out from under the mistake that was Carolina Morace.
Until then, the skeptics among us will have to take at their word Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi when they say there is something different about this team. Sinclair had two goals after Tancredi gave Canada a lead in the eighth minute of Saturday’s win in Coventry, in a match that might have cost Canada the services of another defender, Robyn Gayle.
“Something’s changed within us as a group,” Sinclair said, after scoring her 138th and 139th career goals. “I feel that there’s a group of five or six of us the team can count on. In the past that wasn’t the case. Melissa. Diana Matheson. Sophie [Schmidt]. I don’t think the pressure’s all on me, now.”
Hmm. Those familiar with the history of the Canadian women would have a hard time buying into that argument. Sinclair was a non-factor in the loss to Japan and was out of the picture for much of Saturday’s game in Coventry. In fact, the 61st-ranked South Africans had the run of the play for much of the match, until Sinclair bounced a header off the cross-bar and then emphatically hammered the ball into the net with a follow-up volley. Her header appeared to fall over the crossbar, but she was in no mood to take chances.
Tancredi, who scored Canada’s only goal against Japan, realizes there will be skepticism around the team after their messy exit from the Women’s World Cup, under Herdman’s predecessor. Yet she believes that the match against South Africa was the kind of match Canada might have lost in the past.
“We would have freaked out and folded under the pressure, especially defensively,” she said. “We were calm on the ball, slowed it down and made passes that were simple.”
The Swedes and Japan each have four points after a scoreless draw the preceded the Canada-South Africa match. Herdman, a Geordie who is looking forward to coaching at St. James’ Park, preferred not to get into a discussion of whether or not a third-place finish might accomplish more than a second-place finish for Canada, or whether or not there was a way to avoid the Americans in the first game of the knockout round, which Canada will likely be in after Saturday’s win.
A brave Herdman said that, “I’d love to face the U.S.A. in the quarter-finals,” reckoning the teams will meet some time.
But his immediate issue is his team’s health. Gayle, who was replacing Candace Chapman, left the match with a hamstring injury. Emily Zurrer is also hurt. Herdman also has a decision to make in goal: Karina LeBlanc started against South Africa after Eric McLeod’s miscue on a cross led to one of Japan’s two goals.
The Swedes will be throwing in balls “left, right and centre,” in Herdman’s words.
These are familiar foes. Tancredi and McLeod play in Sweden with Dolsjofors GolF and Caroline Seger of Sweden was a teammate of Sinclair’s in the defunct Women’s Professional Soccer League.
Sweden beat Canada 3-1 in a friendly in March, and Herdman said: “We made three mistakes against them and they punished us with all three. You have to take care of the ball, and limit the risk around your possessions.”
This is a program with which Canadians have fallen in and out of love, going back to the 2002 Under-19 World Cup in Edmonton. Tuesday will show us all exactly how great is the risk of hopping back on the bandwagon.