One year to go and one giant goal: Canada's women's soccer team, which thrilled the country with a bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics, aims to go a quantum leap farther next year, winning the 2015 World Cup at home.
It is, however, a long way from here to there. The top three countries in women's soccer have been locked in place for more than two years (the United States, Germany, and Japan) while Canada has been fixed in a respectable seventh. The bronze in London, after the crushing controversial defeat against the U.S. in the semifinals, was the unexpected result of inspired play. It was awesome – but not exactly easily repeatable.
The 2015 World Cup kicks off in Edmonton on Saturday, June 6, when Canada hosts a country yet to be determined. On Friday, the Canadian Soccer Association staged events in the six host cities across the country – Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver – to promote the tournament. In Vancouver, which is host to the championship game Sunday, July 5, Mayor Gregor Robertson happily predicted a Canada-U.S. tilt for the title – and head coach John Herdman happily accepted the challenge.
"I'm loving the pressure," said Herdman, the Englishman who was hired in 2011 and has led the recent successes. He embraced the idea of a Canada World Cup win – "I'm predicting it," he said from a stage in front of BC Place – but afterward slid in a small asterisk. Canada's women are not ready – yet.
"At this point, no. I'll be blunt," said Herdman. "But in a year's time? Yes."
As with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the goal isn't a modest one. Better to dream big and fall short than to aim for and check off some lesser, middling box.
"You have to have big expectations," said Herdman. "You're in your home country. You've got one chance. Let's go and win it. Let's not talk about, 'Well, if we get here or get there.' Let's go and win it. If the consequence is that everyone falls out of love with us because we didn't, we'll take that."
Significant progress has been made. Canada lost all three of its matches at the World Cup four years ago in Germany, outscored seven to one, the one marker coming from Christine Sinclair against the host country.
Earlier in May, in Winnipeg, Canada displayed hints of what might be. The team, in front of a crowd of nearly 30,000, was leading 1-0 against the U.S., a team it hadn't beaten since 2001, and settled for a 1-1 draw. The goal came from a rising star, 18-year-old Kadeisha Buchanan – her first international score.
Buchanan has quickly become a force and will be a crucial factor if Canada is to succeed next year. The Toronto-area player is an attacking defender, centre back, and has proven she can handle the best, neutralizing striker Abby Wambach of the U.S. in Winnipeg.
"My understanding of the game has grown so much," Buchanan said on Friday.
Since London, Herdman has worked to rebuild his squad in the image of a Spain-like possession team. Against weaker countries, it's working. Against the best countries, Canada is so-so – solid on defence but weak on offence.
An important test is soon at hand, a friendly in Vancouver against No. 2 Germany on June 18. Most of the team's World Cup preparation will occur in Canada over the next year, said Herdman, along with trips elsewhere for heat acclimatization and altitude training. Own The Podium, allocating money from the federal government, has provided $4.5-million since London 2012.
World Cup tickets go on sale Sept. 10. Jeff Mallett, co-owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps and backer of women's soccer, foresees a tournament that seizes national attention.
"It's going to be bigger," said Mallett in an interview Thursday, "than anyone predicts it's going to be."