CanMNT win, CanWNT tie. Neither impresses.
So then, Soccer day in Canada was a bit of a let down yesterday wasn’t it? I’ll start briefly with the men’s side of things. First off, thanks to Gavin Day for bringing us a stream to watch in the first place, that more or less held up for the whole game, but also for doing a very good job with the commentating given the game didn’t really give him all that much to work with. Tesho Akindele played and is now thus officially cap tied, that’s excellent news. Cyle Larin scored a nice goal which was good to see and hey, a 2-0 win away from home shouldn’t be sniffed at really no matter the opposition, next week’s return match in Toronto always should be a formality, but now definitely will be. Overall though, it was a bit disappointing, Canada more or less controlled the play but anyone hoping the Larin/Akindele combo up front would mean a sudden improvement in ruthlessnes and lethality is probably a bit disappointed. Again, there was little sharpness in front of goal, chances missed, crosses just not connected with, all the usual Canmnt stuff is still right there.
Then, after a choppy start, with TSN missing the first 2 minutes for the sake of commercials and then lightning halting proceedings in the 5th minute it was the Women’s time to shine and hopefully build on the unconvincing performance but good result from the first game. And they didn’t really, did they?
The first half saw Canada have some good play and create a few chances that were squandered, and most of New Zealand’s threats came from set pieces. Those were pretty frightening though, as they almost all led to chaos and Canada could be considered lucky to not concede. They then got very lucky after Alyssa Chapman gave up a penalty but Amber Hearn blasted it against the crossbar and out. All in all though, the first half wasn’t that bad, it was the second half where it went wrong.
John Herdman had talked beforehand about how New Zealand would press them and not give them the time on the ball that China did in the first game and he was right, and Canada struggled with that. Kiwi coach Tony Readings obviously saw this and I’m guessing his half time speech was along the lines of a simple ‘they’re there for the taking, get at them’. The Ferns pressed and pressed and Canada looked nowhere near good enough to be able to keep possession and work their way past the press to mount attacks. There were a lot of turnovers and as the half went on, the team seemed to get more and more panicked and sloppy, there was a lot of confusion and how it didn’t lead to more chances or goals for New Zealand I don’t know. At the other end, there were a few chances, Melissa Tancredi and Christine Sinclair both missing good opportunities and the closest Canada came was when Sophie Schmidt hit the bar, from a mishit free kick.
All in all, they ground out a point when not at their best, and are very much in control of their destiny. Win in Montreal on Monday and they’ll clinch top spot, a tie would be good enough for at least second and even a defeat would leave them on 4 points, practically guaranteed to be one of the top 4 3rd place finishes. In isolation, it’s nothing to worry about, but that’s now 2 games with only 1 goal scored, from a penalty, and there’s very little sign that things are about to come together, to be inspired by the big tournament to be better than the sum of their parts and really make a splash here.
That’s not entirely surprising of course, for the most part this team has very much played to realistic expectations. They still haven’t conceded a goal, and even if there’s a bit of luck in that, that’s definitely a good thing. Kadeisha Buchanan’s looked solid enough, and Alyssa Chapman and Josee Belanger have been pleasant surprises in the full back spots. The midfield has been about as good as you could expect it to be without Diana Matheson in there to add that extra bit of creativity, Ashley Lawrence has impressed and looks like she should have a bright future with the team.
But it was always going to come down to what happened with the forwards. If Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi couldn’t recapture their form of 2012, then goals would always be hard to come by, as shown repeatedly over the last few years. This is where last night;’s game was particularly disheartening, as it looks like that just isn’t going to happen.
It was always a long shot that Tancredi would be able to pick up where she left off after coming back from her educational sabbatical and she hasn’t looked good, epitomised by the weak shot while slipping after being given a great chance unmarked in the box. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see Adriana Leon get the start against the Dutch, perhaps Tancredi can have a better impact as a sub, playing her physical game against tired defences, if she could be Canada’s Alan Gordon, that’d be a very valuable weapon.
Then we get to Sinclair, and for all of the #DoItForChristine motivation Herdman has been trying to instil in the team, as per a good heartstring pulling feature TSN rolled out twice during the lightning delay, it was always going to be the other way round, could she still do the hard work, put the team on her back and take them further than they otherwise would get? She had her chances and frankly looked like a shadow of her former self. Early in the first half she was put through, there was a defender on her shoulder, but the Sinclair of 2012 or before would have shrugged that defender off easily and got a shot off. An even easier chance was missed later, a Lawrence through ball putting her clean through, a poor touch made the shot harder and then the goalie saved it, again, that’s a chance ‘one of the best players in the world’ would have scored. Two other chances in the second half also weren’t taken with the sharpness you’d expect from her, or that Canada will need from her.
There’s no question of dropping Sinclair, for better or worse she’s still the one this team will live or die with. Hopefully things will change in Montreal and she can find her form again for one last grand hurrah on home turf, as it was actually a little sad to see Sinclair playing like that. Once the tournament is done, then we might well need to accelerate the planning for life after Sinclair, though she’ll obviously still be around for Olympic qualifying and hopefully the olympics themsleves next year. Judging by twitter last night, people are ready to thank Tancredi, wish her the best and move on. We’re not there yet with Sinclair, but it’s probably time to start thinking hard about that one.