John Herdman says Canada is getting closer.
After watching his team fall 2-1 to Germany in an international friendly on Wednesday night, the Canadian head coach was adamant the gap is shrinking between his side and the top teams in the women's game ahead of next summer's home World Cup.
Canada's starting roster included four teenagers, including 16-year-old midfielder Jessie Fleming, and while there were rough patches Herdman was buoyed by the performance against the No. 2-ranked team in the world.
"A year out, 2-1 away from the European champions, a goal away?" said Herdman. "Ya I'll take that."
Herdman is trying to implement a more free-flowing system ahead of the World Cup as opposed to the more direct, long-ball style of past Canadian teams.
It has taken some time for the players to grasp the concepts, and fitness remains a concern, but they were right with the imposing Germans for long stretches on Wednesday.
"We've said this World Cup's about two things," said Herdman. "It's about making the country proud, but also trying to inspire a generation of coaches and players at the youth level that there's another way of going about things other than the blunt instrument."
Wednesday's lineup included Fleming, along with a trio of young defenders — 17-year-old Sura Yekka, along with Kadeisha Buchanan and Rebecca Quinn, who are both 18.
"These games, we said, this year will tell us what the gap is," said Herdman. "We improved. I'm clear on that.
"We're producing more crosses, more final acts, more final third entries than we ever did."
However, the game was decided on a mistake by one of those youngsters as Simone Laudehr scored from the penalty spot in the 66th minute after Buchanan brought down Lena Lotzen. Laudehr stepped up with the score tied 1-1 and calmly blasted a shot into the roof of the past a helpless Erin McLeod for a lead the visitors would never relinquish.
"You're dealing against a different type of player," Herdman said of the German attack. "You're not dealing against one individual player that you can mark out of a game. You're dealing against three or four players that move with one mind at the same time, and that's a different challenge. It takes communication, it takes earlier adjustments."
Lotzen had Germany's other goal on the night, while Sophie Schmidt replied for Canada.
"Germany, they're so organized," said Canadian captain Christine Sinclair. "Any little mistake you make they're going to punish you and they punished us on a couple tonight.
"Overall, just in terms of the style of play we were trying to produce, I think we've made a lot of progress. It's just cleaning those little things up."
The German winner came after Schmidt woke up a sleepy crowd of 15,618 at B.C. Place Stadium in the 53rd minute with a bizarre game-tying goal.
The Canadian midfielder completely scuffed her shot after taking a pass in the box from Diana Matheson, but the ball scooped up and over German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer for an unlikely equalizer.
Trailing 1-0 at the half, Canada gave up two glorious chances to Germany's Anja Mittag that she couldn't finish just after the break. The striker was stopped by McLeod — who came on for Karina LeBlanc at halftime — in the 47th minute, and then again in the 49th after a sloppy pass by Fleming and a timid challenge from Quinn.
"They'll learn from that. If that's the biggest issue I think that's going to be cleaned up pretty quickly," said Herdman said of his teenagers. "Those mistakes are not going to happen as frequently and this is a great learning (experience) for some of those younger players."
After Schmidt tied the score, McLeod stopped Alexandra Popp on another breakaway in the 58th minute as Germany continued to probe No. 7 Canada for a weakness that would eventually come in the 65th.
McLeod made a number of big saves as second half wore down, keeping the score respectable in a game where Germany took a while to get going before showing its class.
The Germans came close on two golden opportunities in the first half and finally struck in the 29th minute when Laudehr crossed a ball from the left that glanced off Mittag and right to Lotzen, who poked a shot home past LeBlanc.
Sinclair had the game's first opportunity when she was sent in alone in the 12th minute, but she was stopped Angerer.
Popp then nearly caught LeBlanc off her line six minutes later, but saw her effort 40 yards out rattle off the crossbar.
Canadian defender Rhian Wilkinson then nearly gifted the Germans the lead in the 24th when her ill-advised pass was intercepted by Mittag, but her shot in alone went over the bar.
Buchanan scored her first goal for Canada in last month's 1-1 draw with the United States, and nearly had her second in as many games two minutes later, only to be thwarted by Angerer.
After Germany took the lead, the visitors almost got another goal moments later, but Bianca Schmidt missed a golden opportunity from six yards out.
Canada, which has never beaten Germany, lost 1-0 to the European giants last year in a game where Herdman's team barely had the ball over the halfway line.
He said that despite the scoreline and the chances surrendered in the final 30 minutes on Wednesday, the performance is reason for optimism with the start of the World Cup less than a year away.
"We didn't get dominated. They didn't pen us into our half for 90 minutes," said Herdman. "I think that's a really positive performance.
"The future's pretty bright."
Notes: Sinclair and Angerer, who was named FIFA women's world player of the year for 2013, are teammates with the Portland Thorns of the NWSL. ... Canada will play Japan in an international friendly on Oct. 25 in Edmonton before the two teams meet again on Oct. 28 in Vancouver. ... Germany won the women's World Cup in both 2003 and 2007. ... Sinclair played her 210th game for Canada. She has 148 career goals for her country. ... The women's World Cup final will be played at B.C. Place on July 5, 2015.