What a downer.
Sunday, a cold rain lashed Dresden, and that seemed the appropriate meteorological mirror for the mood of Canada's national women's soccer team, as it prepared its third and final match in the World Cup.
The game coming up against Nigeria on Tuesday night was supposed to have been a relative cakewalk, and a mere prelude to the knockout rounds. Instead, thanks to a 4-0 beat-down at the hands of France last Thursday, Canada will be heading home far earlier than expected, with all kinds of questions hanging in the air.
It has understandably been a tense and unhappy few days around the squad, which included a painful forced viewing of the game film from the France match.
"We took what we could from it," said keeper Erin McLeod, who despite the results has played heroically in both of Canada's matches. "Right now it's very easy to be negative and hard to be positive. You're tested when you're at the bottom."
From that test has emerged a way of explaining the pivotal loss: It was an aberration, they had their worst day at the worst possible time, they didn't show their characteristic heart, they were fine until the first goal went in – and some of that may well be true.
It is also easier to rationalize the loss that way than to contemplate the real possibility that the French team, ranked one spot below them but clearly on the rise, is more skilled and more battle hardened, perhaps simply better, and that tactically, the competition might be catching on to what Canada has been doing.
Brave words aside, it is going to be mighty tricky to restore true confidence in time for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver in January – which, if unsuccessful, could also be coach Carolina Morace's swansong.
Morace has been the focus in Germany, given the lion's share of the credit for transforming Canada from a team that relied on strength, endurance and the longball, to one that plays a possession game. To a player, the women on the team bought in, believing that Morace made them better, and though their long residency in Italy was no picnic, they were united in the notion that the sacrifice was necessary, and worth it.
They also stood arm-in-arm with their coach in a dispute with the Canadian Soccer Association – the players bringing in a lawyer to fight for better compensation (drawn from money which the CSA receives from FIFA for qualifying for the World Cup in any case), and Morace threatening to quit unless she was given greater control of the program.
She won that battle, and came here with a team that had trained where she wanted it to train, surrounded by her hand-picked staff of coaches, therapists and medical personnel, almost all of them Italian.
If it had worked, if Canada had reached the quarter-finals while effectively playing a more sophisticated brand of soccer, Morace would have been hailed a genius.
Because it didn't work, there has to be at least some question as to the wisdom of continuing down that path.
It's also a bit troubling that Morace felt the need to mount a disinformation campaign around the story of Christine Sinclair's broken nose, apparently believing that creating an air of uncertainty might somehow give Canada an advantage over the French. Long past the point where those on the team knew for certain that Sinclair would play, the coach, and players she enlisted in the ruse, continued to suggest otherwise when they spoke in public.
Again, if it had worked, a tip of the cap for Machiavellian brilliance, perhaps. But funny, the France team didn't seem at all flustered.
It's notable that Morace's antagonists from the CSA have been almost completely absent during this tournament – though in theory, this was Canada's best chance ever to excel in a soccer event of this scope. President Dominic Maestracci dropped in for the opening match, made a speech to the players, and then headed elsewhere. General secretary Peter Montopoli hasn't been here at all.
It's a safe assumption that after losing their war with Morace, they wanted to keep their distance. Perhaps if things had gone very well, they might have made a triumphant appearance at the end.
Now, though, they are armed with that great weapon: deniability. The soccer community in Canada quite rightly blames the CSA for all kinds of sins, but they can't blame them for this.
So expect some push back. Expect players to be a little less willing to uproot their lives for a regimented, single-focus existence in Italy. Expect there to be some pressure for the team to spend more time in Canada, and be more visible, in order to stir up some private sector sponsor interest.
And then let's see how Morace, who is a her-way-or-the-highway personality, chooses to play the game