Teenage defender Kadeisha Buchanan was a revelation in Canada’s 3-0 loss to the United States last Sunday, one of the bright spots on an otherwise dreary afternoon for this country’s women’s soccer team.
With exactly two years to go until Canada hosts the FIFA women’s World Cup, coach John Herdman is hoping to unearth more talented youngsters like Buchanan.
“We’re looking everywhere at the minute,” Herdman said. “We are genuinely looking anywhere.”
The coach who led the Canadian women to Olympic bronze last summer in London addressed the media on a conference call Thursday, two years to the day Canada will kick off the women’s World Cup in Edmonton, the site for Canada’s group play.
On the top of his to-do list: bring in good young players to bolster a lineup lacking in depth. Buchanan, a 17-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., has been a solid addition to Canada’s back line since Herdman recently brought her into camp. But she’s only one player.
“I was speaking to Tommy Sermanni, the U.S. coach, and he said he could put two first 11s out there that could potentially go out and win a World Cup. He’s got such (an) amount of depth in that squad,” Herdman said. “You think, he brings (Sydney) Leroux in off the bench (who scored the third goal for the U.S. last Sunday). (Megan) Rapinoe wasn’t there to bring in off the bench. You can bring Christen Press, who’s got an unbelievable goalscoring record for them.
“And you look at that and go ‘Wow.’ And you look at our bench, and you go ‘You know, hopefully one of these players or two of these players will rise up over the next two years if we support them in the right way.“’
On the heels of its bronze medal in London, Herdman has pleaded patience with Canadian soccer fans as he rebuilds his roster ahead of the 2015 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. The average age of his team, if it remained status quo, would be 31 years old in Rio, whereas the average age of a World Cup or Olympic champion is 27 or 28.
Herdman didn’t have time to look through Canada’s talent pool last season, as he was hired barely a year before the Olympics.
“We were literally operating with the group we had and couldn’t put any attention to talent identification,” he said.
He and his staff have since looked at some 60 young women, and then narrowed that down to a small group that he hopes will graduate to the women’s senior side. He has yet to find another player as good as Buchanan, who helped keep the score respectable last week in Canada’s friendly against the U.S. at Toronto’s BMO Field.
“In terms of finding another (Christine) Sinclair, we found Kadeisha Buchanan, who’s pretty much moving down that track,” Herdman said. “It’s an absolute rarity seeing a 17-year-old playing at this level. We’ve got to see if there’s any more. That’s all I’ve got to say, we’ve got to keep looking across the bench and see what else is out there, and give some kids an opportunity over the next two years.
“Over the last nine games that we’ve played we’ve given a lot of opportunity, but outside of Kadeisha there’s no one who’s really said, ‘I’m here, here’s my shirt.’ The others have still got work to do, but the work isn’t insurmountable in a two-and-a-half hear period.”
Herdman said the biggest gaps are in Canada’s attacking side. Canada has few offensive threats who can break down tight defensive units outside Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi, Diana Matheson and Sophie Schmidt.
“While we’re giving several players opportunities to break through, we’ve got to hope those players keep breaking through quickly,” he said. “Anyone out there in Canada, that play up front, there’s definitely a few shirts available at this point.”
Despite the lopsided score against the world No. 1-ranked United States last week, Herdman said there was reason for optimism.
“For 65 minutes we limited them to seven shots and five crosses, which is unheard of in our history of playing the U.S.,” he said. “There’s something there about finishing stronger.”
At the London Olympics, the Americans produced over 38 attacking acts — crosses and shots — he said, in their semifinal versus the Canadians. Canada managed to cut that number down to 22 on Sunday, “so there was a major shift there.”
Still, Herdman said player-for-player, Canada has a tough time matching up with the best teams in the world such as the U.S. and Germany, and has to figure out how to beat them tactically.
“We wouldn’t have too many Canadians who could get into starting lineups (in the U.S. or Germany), so tactically we have to be very clear and with our clarity hopefully we get that energy and commitment that can produce results like we did in London,” he said.
The coach was pleased that his players didn’t wilt in front of the capacity crowd of 22,453 fans — a record crowd for a soccer game at BMO Field — last Sunday.
Herdman said Canada could easily have hosted a weaker team for their first game back home since the London Games, and sent the fans home happy with a victory. But he wants the women to get used to playing tough matches in front of packed crowds before the World Cup.
“And we want the home crowd to see how tough it’s going to be and that we need their support,” he said. “From that we learned a lot. I was absolutely impressed by my players, I thought they handled the week fantastically. And on game day, there wasn’t one of them that choked in front of that massive massive crowd. You can say a slight underperformance from one or two players, but nobody choked. And that’s a great sign.”
The seventh-ranked Canadians will play No. 2 Germany in Paderborn, Germany, on June 19. Canada will host South Korea in a friendly in Edmonton on Oct. 30.