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  1. Canada will participate in a weaken Algarve Cup. They will be in that tournament alongside Brazil, Denmark, New Zealand, Iceland, Russia, Belgium and Portugal. It was expected that many top teams would miss because of Olympic qualifying, so Japan, China, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, who went to the previous Algarve Cup had to decline. To add to that, USA, France, Germany and England will play a similar tournament in Florida at the same time, so they are out. I wonder what will happen to the Cyrpus Cup with two of the four host nations gone in England and the Netherlands, two of the hosts not going not to mention the departures of Canada and Australia (qualifying)
  2. After a narrow 2-1 defeat to the host Germans—in which captain Christine Sinclair shook off a broken nose to score on a world-class free kick—Canada was mercilessly picked apart by France, who announced itself to the women’s soccer world with a 4-0 victory. The Canadians then slumped out of the tournament with a 1-0 loss to Nigeria, whereupon manager Carolina Morace followed through on a pre-tournament promise to resign upon its conclusion. The turnaround from World Cup doormats to Olympic medalists in the span of just 12 months has been largely attributed to head coach John Herdman and his staff. Indeed, just months after Herdman was hired in the wake of the 2011 World Cup flameout, Canada stood atop the podium as champions at the Pan-American Games (a tournament that, it’s worth noting, did not include the U.S.) One of Herdman’s first priorities upon being hired was rebuilding the team psychologically after the World Cup disappointment. He swooped in to work with a team whose core had been through nearly a decade together at that point—the likes of Sinclair, fellow striker Melissa Tancredi, midfielder Diana Matheson, defender Rhian Wilkinson and goalkeepers Erin McLeod and Karina LeBlanc. The script for redemption played out perfectly at London 2012. Tancredi’s four goals in the group stage pushed Canada into the knockouts; Sinclair’s memorable hat trick nearly saw Canada past their long-time American rivals in the semis; McLeod’s stellar goalkeeping and Matheson’s last-gasp goal gave Canada revenge on the French and a spot on the podium. Now, with the eyes of the world focused on Canada, and its national-team core set for one last hurrah right in its own backyard, it would appear that the script for triumph is about to be written. But is it realistic? Since Herdman took over, Canada has won a little over half of the games it’s played: 37 wins against 10 draws and 21 losses. Notably, though, none of those wins came in the four home friendlies the team booked against Tier I opponents in 2014—Canada managed a draw against the U.S. in Winnipeg before losses to Germany (in Vancouver) and Japan (in Edmonton and Vancouver). Canada (ranked No. 8 in the world) did post a convincing 1-0 win over England last Friday in its World Cup send-off match in front of nearly 24,000 fans in Hamilton, Ontario. But that was the Canadians’ first victory against England (ranked No. 6) in five tries, having lost to (and failed to score against) the English in its previous four matchups, dating back to March 2013. None of this suggests that Canada is incapable of a deep run in this year’s Women’s World Cup. Indeed, the Canadians were hardly played off the park in any of the aforementioned encounters with the world’s top sides (with the possible exception of a 3-0 loss to reigning world champions Japan). With the tournament having been expanded to 24 teams, Canada is a virtual lock for the knockout stages, at which point all other mattes—prior results, world ranking, subjective ideas of absolute relative quality—become irrelevant in the face of the performance of those two teams on that day. It is not unreasonable to suggest that, if the stars align properly, Canada has the potential to defeat any team in this tournament in a knockout game. The question, of course, is whether the stars will align in the same way they did in 2012. Herdman, for his part, hasn’t been relying on astrology in the run-up to the tournament. Amidst his repeated claim that Canada aims to be in the World Cup final on July 5, he has instead taken a detail-oriented approach to every facet of the team’s preparation. On the macro level, he’s taken steps to ease newcomers into the first team, with some very positive results. Kadeisha Buchanan, still just 19 years old, has already made 35 appearances for the senior team and is the rock in the centre of defence. Strong, tough and never one to shy away from a challenge, she also possesses speed and awareness that will see her as one of the team’s building blocks for the next decade. Jessie Fleming, just 17, is the focus of a hype machine that’s waiting to burst into overdrive should she do well at this tournament. Watching her play, it’s easy to see why she’s so highly touted – she’s a quick, aggressive, attack-minded midfielder with a nose for goal and an on-field intelligence befitting someone far beyond her years. Ashley Lawrence, 19, and Adriana Leon, 22, are two other newcomers who’ve ingratiated themselves into the lineup and could have prominent roles to play at this World Cup. But it’s not just promising youngsters; Herdman has also been getting the most out of key veteran players as well. Sophie Schmidt was the undeniable player of the match for Canada in its win over England last week, scoring a highlight-reel half-volley and proving herself a menace for the entire match. The 26-year-old was also Canada’s top scorer in 2014 (with six goals) and will be an integral part of the team’s efforts to expand its focus of attack beyond Sinclair. Lauren Sesselmann wasn’t even part of the Canadian set-up during the last World Cup, having just acquired her Canadian citizenship the year earlier. But Herdman called her into camp at his first opportunity, and the versatile 31-year-old was an indispensible part of the medal-winning Olympic side. Having only recently returned from a torn ACL, Sesselmann’s health could have a big part to play in Canada’s World Cup ambitions. Josée Bélanger emerged as the star of Canada’s qualifying campaign for the 2011 Women’s World Cup, but then missed the tournament with an ankle injury. A years-long exile from the national team followed, until Herdman convinced the 29-year-old to rejoin the fold last year. She hasn’t yet recaptured her goal-scoring form, but demonstrated her flexibility last week, unexpectedly (and impressively) filling in as a right-back against England. Allysha Chapman was a virtual unknown until Herdman called her into the national-team setup last year. But Herdman, who has repeatedly spoken of his desire to have attack-minded fullbacks, saw something in the 26-year-old, whose dogged play and seemingly endless energy have—in very short order—earned her a spot as Canada’s starting left-back. But the roster news isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Matheson continues to recover from a knee injury (and subsequent broken foot) of her own; her name is on Canada’s roster, but whether she’ll be able to play any part remains to be seen. More recently, injury concerns have also arisen for defenders Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault, as well as striker Jonelle Filigno. Meanwhile, Canada’s two top scorers of the past decade, Sinclair and Tancredi, are no longer at the peak of their powers. Sinclair—Canada’s top scorer of all time with 153 goals—scored just once in 11 games in 2014. Despite a hot start to 2015 (five goals in nine games), it would be foolhardy for Canadians to assume the 31-year-old will singlehandedly bulldoze through opposing teams, despite her storied history of doing exactly that. Tancredi, meanwhile, was coaxed out of semi-retirement (she took a year off following the Olympics to pursue her education) to provide some attacking support to Sinclair. But since having the tournament of her life in London, the 33-year-old has been held off the score sheet in 12 games for Canada. With goalkeeper LeBlanc having announced that she will retire following the World Cup, and fellow veterans Candace Chapman and Melanie Booth having also announced their retirements, the page appears to be turning on a golden age in Canadian women’s soccer, an era that began with the massively successful 2002 FIFA Under-19 Women’s Championship. That tournament saw the host Canadians—led by the likes of Sinclair, McLeod, Chapman and Carmelina Moscato (as well as Kara Lang and Clare Rustad, who’ll both be providing on-air analysis of this year’s World Cup)—play a thrilling final in front of nearly 50,000 fans at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium. (That game ended in a 1-0 extra-time loss to, you guessed it, the U.S.) On Saturday, Canada will return to Commonwealth Stadium to open its World Cup campaign against China, a former global powerhouse in the women’s game. They’ll stay in Edmonton to face Herdman’s former side, New Zealand, before travelling to Stade Olympique in Montreal to combat a side that some are picking as a dark horse favourite, the Netherlands. Where they’ll go from there remains to be seen. But that path won’t be determined by history, or narratives, or television advertisements. It will be determined by how well the women on the pitch can handle the pressure, do what’s needed and step up when it matters most. Whatever happens, Herdman will be sticking around beyond the tournament. He’s under contract to be Canada’s coach through 2020, giving him ample time and opportunity to shepherd the next generation of stars into the spotlight. But the spotlight will never be brighter than during this World Cup. Nothing is impossible for the Canadian team at this tournament—but the players will ultimately need to be the authors of their own destinies.
  3. Yes, Big Red will play its "sendoff" match against England at Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field on Friday, May 29. Thirteen days later, the team opens up the World Cup group stage at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium against China. It's a good date and a good opponent. It's what head coach John Herdman would call a "Tier II" team -- which is the same group Canada falls into, if folks are being honest with themselves. England just beat Canada 1-0 in the Cyprus Cup final (more on that in a moment) and is the sort of opponent Canada needs to (and can realistically be expected to) overcome if we have any ambitions of reaching the World Cup podium. And it is, I'm sure, a good venue. I'm sure the good people of Hamilton and the surrounding area will provide a great environment for the game and give the players plenty of warm and fuzzy feelings as they head into the grand showcase. But given that Canada hasn't played in Ottawa or Montreal (which are, of course, two World Cup host cities) anytime in recent memory, and Herdman et. al. have said they wanted to prepare the team for venues they are or could be playing in, and Canada is definitely playing a group-stage match in Montreal... again, nothing against Hamilton, but, why? The Hamilton Spectator, which broke the story on Monday, made repeated mention of the Pan Am Games, so there's the possibility that the Pan Am organizers are hoping this game will serve as a test run of the new stadium, ahead of the Pan Am soccer tournament being played there. But the Pan Am Games are ostensibly the reason that Toronto was ineligible to serve as a Women's World Cup host, despite the CSA wanting the country's largest city to be part of the tournament. So why on earth would the CSA be doing the Pan Am organizers any favours? Another theory, floated by several folks on Monday evening, is that the stadium is being given an audition of sorts, in an attempt to bolster Hamilton's chances of landing an NASL franchise. Bob Young, owner of the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats (the main tenant of Tim Hortons Field) has -- for years -- been said to be itching to bring a pro soccer team to the Hammer. Could this have something to do with the choice of venue for this game? Or is this just a matter of Canadian soccer superfans assuming sinister conspiracies behind every decision the CSA makes? The truth, as usual, likely falls somewhere in the middle. But regardless of where the game is being played, it'll be our final chance to see the team in action before the games really, really matter. Canada fell short of winning the Cyprus Cup earlier this month, though that's -- as I said repeatedly on social media -- irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Yes, winning games and winning trophies is always nice. But in a World Cup year, the purpose of the Cyprus Cup is not to win the Cyprus Cup. The purpose of the Cyprus Cup is to get your players up to full match fitness and to work on some final tweaks ahead of the big games. The two significant takeaways from that tournament are that Christine Sinclair thankfully seems to be back on goal-scoring track (just in the nick of time), and that newcomers Jessie Fleming and Allysha Chapman (both of whom scored their first-ever goals for the senior national team) appear to be integrating into Herdman's setup. That latter point will be especially important if one or both of Diana Matheson and Lauren Sesselmann are unable to play, as their recoveries from knee injuries continue. So what's the main goal of the friendly against England? Getting a win to get some pre-World Cup momentum? Well, we had all sorts of "momentum" after a hot streak heading into the last Women's World Cup, and ended up finishing in dead last? Giving a crowd-pleasing performance, so that those in attendance will rush out to buy Women's World Cup tickets? Hmm, well, again, pleasing your home crowd is always a good thing, but given that the nearest World Cup venue to Hamilton is a six-hour drive, that's probably not the most effective strategy to move tickets. Play a complete 90-minute game where no one gets hurt and Herdman can substantively evaluate which tactics and approaches he's going to bring into Canada's three group-stage matches? Bingo. Now, all of that being said, of course I encourage everyone in southern Ontario to head out on a Friday night to a new stadium and give our women's national team a raucous sendoff ahead of playing the World Cup right here at home. Though if you're reading this site, it's doubtful that you need me to convince you of the merits of such an activity. Maybe they'll win, maybe they won't. But if at the end of the game, all of the players are upright and have smiles on their faces as they soak up the adulation, then it's a job well done for everyone.
  4. GK- Stephanie Labbé | SWE / KIF Örebro GK- Karina LeBlanc | USA / Chicago Red Stars GK- Erin McLeod | USA / Houston Dash D- Kadeisha Buchanan | USA / West Virginia University D- Allysha Chapman | USA / Houston Dash D- Robyn Gayle | unattached / sans club D- Carmelina Moscato | unattached / sans club D- Marie-Eve Nault | SWE / KIF Örebro D- Rebecca Quinn | USA / Duke University D- Rhian Wilkinson | USA / Portland Thorns FC D- Emily Zurrer | SWE / Jitex BK M- Kaylyn Kyle | USA / Portland Thorns FC M- Jonelle Filigno | USA / Sky Blue FC M- Jessie Fleming | CAN / London NorWest SC M- Desiree Scott | ENG / Notts County Ladies FC M- Sophie Schmidt | unattached / sans club M- Selenia Iachelli | unattached / sans club M- Ashley Lawrence | USA / West Virginia University F- Josée Bélanger | CAN / Comètes de Laval F- Janine Beckie | USA / Texas Tech University F- Christina Julien | GER / FF USV Jena F- Adriana Leon | USA / Chicago Stars F- Christine Sinclair | USA / Portland Thorns FC F- Melissa Tancredi | USA / Chicago Red Stars Who's not there? The two big (but unsurprising) omissions are Diana Matheson and Lauren Sesselmann, both of whom are still recovering from knee injuries. Matheson has been Canada's midfield engine for a decade, while Sesselmann has been a solid and versatile member of the back line since joining the program several years ago. Both played big parts in Canada's run to the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics, and the absence of one or both of them will hamper Canada's efforts to advance deep into this summer's World Cup. So, keep your fingers crossed. Another notable absentee is Rachel Quon, who made her debut for Canada at last year's Cyprus Cup, after completing the switch from the U.S. program (she was born in the U.S. and played for various American national teams at the youth level). The 23-year-old Chicago Red Stars defender was added to the Canadian program to increase the depth of its "in-between" generation -- the group in between the team's collection of late-20s/early-30s veterans and its upcoming U-20/U-17 crop. How 'bout those kids? It's weird to still think of Kadeisha Buchanan as a "kid", considering the 19-year-old is already one half of Canada's top CB pairing, with 23 caps and two goals to her name already. Her potential future partner in Canada's top CB pairing is fellow 19-year-old Rebecca Quinn, who has seven caps with the senior national team and played at last summer's U-20 Women's World Cup. Buchanan is a lock for the World Cup, while Quinn is on the periphery; she'll be competing hard for a spot in Cyprus. If Matheson has been Canada's midfield engine for the last decade, Jessie Fleming could very well be its engine for the next decade (though please don't call her "the next Diana Matheson"; those "_____ is the next _____" comparisons never work out right). At just 16, she's already started five times for the senior team -- but with her athleticism and intelligence, she's hardly looked out of place. Something tells me that Herdman will, if it's at possible, give her a shot on the World Cup roster, though her status could depend on whether or not Matheson is fit to go. Ashley Lawrence, 19, and Janine Beckie, 20, are two other youngsters who'll likely find themselves on the bubble when World Cup roster selection time comes around. Lawrence has been highly touted within the Canadian system for years, while Beckie has shown goal-scoring promise as of late, scoring twice at the U-20 WWC and potting her first senior-team goal last month in a four-nations tournament in China. Thanks for the help It's good to see the men's national team's favourite feeder club, Unattached FC, helping out the women's national team as well. While this roster shows four players currently unattached, it does seem as though at least a couple of them actually are currently with clubs. Either way, Rule #18 of Canadian Soccer is in full effect: Unattached FC references are always hilarious. Always. So she's a midfielder now, or...? Every time the CSA releases a roster, there is usually at least one player who is listed at a position they don't normally play, leading us in the media (or in my case, "media") to wonder whether the head coach has something new in mind, or whether it's just a random typo. This time out, it's striker Jonelle Filigno being listed as a midfielder. Maybe the tournament has some kind of cap on the number of players that can be listed at each position, and Filigno drew the short straw? Canada is carrying seven strikers altogether, with Herdman wanting to see whether the likes of Beckie and Christina "Corky" Julien can earn their way onto the World Cup roster. Or maybe Filigno woke up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, and loudly declared to the universe, "I AM A MIDFIELDER!" We shall see (well, we won't, since there's no way of watching the Cyprus Cup, but you get my point). Obligatory reference to Canada not being in the Algarve Cup So, every year, Canada is in the Cyprus Cup, and every year in this space I wonder aloud "why aren't they in the Algarve Cup?" The Algarve Cup is older and more prestigious than the Cyprus Cup, and happens at the same time. Canada hasn't been to the tournament since 2003. The simple answer to my question is, of course, that we weren't invited. And if the tournament organizers don't invite our team, there really isn't too much that can be done, unless the Canadian squad plans to show up in Portugal, kick down the doors of the stadium and just run onto the pitch (not recommended). Of course, things have changed since I began making these yearly rants. The world of women's soccer has gone in the exact opposite direction of the rest of the economic world -- its middle class has been getting bigger and better. While Canada made it to the final of each of the first six editions of the Cyprus Cup (2008-2013), winning it thrice, we found ourselves scratching it out against Ireland (FIFA rank #29) in the fifth-place game at last year's tournament. This year's group, which sees #9-ranked Canada against Italy (#14), South Korea (#17) and Scotland (#21) is an interesting collection of what we'd call Tier II teams. Yes, it flies in the face of the "Canada is going to make the World Cup final on home turf wheeeeeee" narrative spewed by those who've only ever watched the team play in the Olympic semifinals and finals. But the way things are going, with new powerhouses such as Japan and France leaving Canada in the dust, maybe the Cyprus Cup is our comfort zone after all. So, get comfortable. Get back on top of the Cyprus Cup mountain. Win the dang thing and take that momentum into the World Cup. .
  5. Now, yes, I've said repeatedly in this space -- and will continue to do so -- that one of the most important roles for head coach John Herdman is to figure out the plan for the post-Sinclair era. Canada's success over the past decade has been due, in large part, to Sinclair's at-times-otherworldly talent. That's not to detract from the skills or accomplishments of other members of her national-team generation; but it's indisputable that Canada is a profoundly more dangerous team with an in-form Sinclair than they are without her. The truth is, we haven't seen Sinclair at the height of her powers since the 2012 London Olympics, where she almost managed to barge Canada into the gold-medal final. The Canadian captain scored just once in all of 2014, though thankfully midfielder Sophie Schmidt was able to help fill the void, notching a half-dozen goals in perhaps her finest year as a member of the national team. Sinclair, of course, still won Canadian female player of the year because, if we're being honest, hers is the only name that some voters would even recognize. Anecdotal evidence suggests that those who follow the team most closely funneled their votes towards the likes of Schmidt, Diana Matheson, Desiree Scott and Erin McLeod. And indeed, Schmidt, McLeod and Matheson (if, fingers crossed, she's fit to play) will have massive, fundamental roles to play for Canada at the World Cup. But Sinclair still is -- and will remain, until several years after she's officially retired -- the face of the women's national team. So if this tournament is a sign that she has rediscovered her magic, it's an excellent development not just for the marketing of the team and the tournament, but for Canada's chances of advancing deep in the competition. If Matheson isn't recovered from her knee injury in time (again, fingers crossed), it means increased responsibilities for the likes of Schmidt (i.e. don't count on her to lead Canada in goals against this year). And when it comes to Canada's strike force -- well, Herdman has done the best he can in finding solutions for that post-Sinclair era. It's already included coaxing Kara Lang and Josee Belanger out of national-team retirement, though Lang has suffered another catastrophic injury, and Belanger hasn't recaptured her previous national-team form. It's also included the selective introduction of youngsters such as Janine Beckie who, in the game against South Korea, notched her first national-team goal in just her second senior appearance. Teenage centre-back Kadeisha Buchanan also popped her second national-team goal in the tourney, as she continues developing into the new, female version of Kevin McKenna. Adriana Leon also found the back of the net in China; another encouraging sign given that players such as Leon and Jonelle Filigno will likely be the ones relied upon up top for Canada in the years to come. For Canada to have success in the aforementioned post-Sinclair era, those sorts of players will need to step up and provide goal-scoring punch on a consistent basis. But whatever may happen years from now, one thing is clear -- if Canada is going to have success at home in the World Cup, they will need to score goals. That means they will need their best player to be their best player. And if the BaoAn Cup is any indication, Christine Sinclair might once again be preparing to peak at precisely the right moment for her country.
  6. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod, celebrating her 100th senior cap for her country, wore the captain's armband in the match. Prior to the match, her teammates had prepared her a giant dolphin-shaped cake to celebrate. They didn't think to ask whether or not she actually likes dolphins (they're OK, in her opinion), and she didn't think to ask why the icing on the cake read "Happy 6th Birthday Timmy"; instead, they all laughed and enjoyed the well-meaning gesture. McLeod, for her part, celebrated the occasion -- and also marked a throwback Monday, this is totally a thing now, maybe -- by meticulously gelling her hair into 100 dangerous-looking multi-coloured spikes. Two soccer balls were deflated, a la Lisa Simpson playing volleyball, during the pre-game warmup. Also the referee brought some noise about "dangerous to opposing players" or whatever jazz that's all about, probably some new rule no one's ever heard of 'cause maybe she's Norwegian lolololo amirite? Anyway, after a 15-minute delay in which the Swedes put together their own chairs and tables on which to enjoy a snack of pickled herring, the game eventually got started. Canada's lineup featured the usual suspects plus Jessie Fleming (who'll be a usual suspect before long) and Allysha Chapman. There is no evidence to suggest she has anything to do with the company that produces ice cream, but there is also no readily-available evidence, so we'll assume that she's totally an heir to an ice cream empire. The first half consisted mainly of the players quoting articles from The Economist to one another, boastfully comparing their two countries' liveability indexes and similar such markers of their greatness. Then someone spoiled the fun by mentioning the relative conditions of the nations' aboriginal populations, making everyone feel all bashful and eager to change the subject. That change of subject did wonders for the soccer-playing element of the game, as just before the half, Sophie Schmidt -- through sheer force of will alone -- caused the ball to materialize into the path of Jonelle Filigno who (we can only assume) literally scythed her way through the Swedish defence to score the game's only goal. That was met with congratulations from most of her teammates, with the exception of Kaylyn Kyle, who scoffed, "That's not how they use a scythe where I come from!" Hey, yeah, the second half happened too, and the players -- certainly not the author of this piece, no way -- ran out of creative ideas so there wasn't much to report. Canada head coach John Herdman, continuing his ongoing experiment of observing the game from different vantage points, drove to a nearby 7-Eleven and ordered (reportedly) a large raspberry Slurpee. "Full credit to the girls," he later said. "They had a tough go of it, I think. Couldn't see much of the game, truth be told, but it's all a process. We want to be on that podium next year!" Indeed you do, John. Indeed you do.
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