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  1. After having an early 6th minute goal from Kym van Duynhoven disallowed for offside, UBC finally got the breakthrough that counted in the 18th minute, with a fantastic volleyed finish from Madison Guy over the Spartans keeper. TWU had a chance to tie things up on the half hour mark, but UBC goalkeeper Olivia de Goede denied Jenaya Robertson with some strong play. It was a huge stop and the Thunderbirds went up the pitch and immediately doubled their lead when Shayla Chorney tucked away a Jasmin Dhanda cross. There was to be no looking back for UBC now and they added a third in the 65th minute in the all-BC battle, after poor TWU defending at a corner saw the ball deflect off Taylor Shannik and loop over Ally Williamson in the Spartans goal. The final whistle sparked jubilant celebrations from the Thunderbirds players and coaching staff, and you can enjoy some of those moments in the video below: The 3-0 victory saw UBC become the most decorated team in CIS Women's soccer, edging one Championship ahead of Trinity Western, and it was a fully deserved triumph. "I'm just extremely proud of the girls," UBC head coach Marisa Kovacs told AFTN after the match. "From just turning things around for themselves. Walking in, I knew we had talent, it was just putting it together. The girls had belief from the very beginning and saw this goal at the end and really wanted it and put in the hard work. "I'm just really proud of them. They deserve this. For them to achieve it, it's huge. It's one thing to have a goal and to set a goal but it's another to work yourself into the opportunity to achieve it and they did that." A fantastic victory for the team and a personal triumph for Kovacs in her first year as UBC head coach. Kovacs replaced Canadian Hall of Famer Andrea Neill in January, after spells in charge of the SFU Clan and the University of West Georgia, along with Surrey United in the BCPL. In her first season in charge, Kovacs took UBC from a middling 6-4-2 Canada West regular season record in 2014 to an 11-1-2 record in 2015 and a Conference title. It's been a fantastic season for everyone at the Thunderbirds, but as she went to bed on Saturday night, such a dominant performance in the CIS Championship game must have been even beyond her dreams. "Yeah, a 3-0 scoreline, I don't think I would have predicted," Kovacs admitted to us. "But you know what, to be fair to Trinity, they have some knocks to some quality players. At this point of the season I think we're all kinda knocked a bit! They play us tough every game. "So much respect for coach Graham [Roxburgh]. He does a great job there. They've been to the Finals the last four years. We knew it would be a tough match, but yeah, a 3-0 victory, I'm extremely happy with that." Sunday's title success will have surprised some in the Canadian college scene. It shouldn't have. Under Kovacs, UBC have put together and developed an excellent crop of young female talent. Despite losing just one game during the regular season, UBC headed in to the nationals ranked just fourth overall in the nation and seeded second, after York and Ottawa failed to qualify. Coming off an undefeated season, Laval were the favourites heading in to the nationals, and despite seeing off Trinity Western, who had been national champs in four of the last six seasons, not many gave UBC a chance to win their first CIS Championship since 2006. Was there a feeling amongst the squad that their talent and achievements this season weren't fully appreciated? "You know what, a little bit, to be honest," Kovacs admitted. "We were maybe taken lightly at times, but I think that suited us well. Kind of being the underdog and, at times, players playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, with something to prove. And it worked for us, so hopefully we can continue this and continue to have success." Part of that feeling of being underappreciated comes from the end of season awards, routinely handed out in college soccer. As mentioned, UBC topped the Canada West standings during the regular season, quickly going on to win the Conference title, and now the national title. That was achieved with just one loss the whole year, 41 goals for, just 9 against, and 13 clean sheets. Impressive stuff, but not enough to impress the awards decision makers apparently. In the Canada West awards, there was no recognition in any of the individual categories, with only striker Jasmin Dhanda making it onto the First Team All-Stars. In the CIS end of season awards, no Thunderbird was even nominated, never mind won, the Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year or Coach of the Year. No UBC player made the CIS All-Canadian First Team either. Dhanda did make the Second Team. As a side not, Dhanda also won the Championship game and Tournament MVP. At the end of the day, football is a team sport and individual awards are just a nice additional cherry on top recognition, but still, this apparent snub to UBC was perhaps one of the best motivational factors Kovacs and her coach staff could impart to their team. "I think it was motivation for the girls," Kovacs told us. "We wanted to gain a little respect, from the rest of the nation maybe, and I think, hopefully, we finally did that. But the girls even said we're not here for individual awards, we were here to win the big one. And we won the big one." That they did. Congratulations to everyone involved with the Thunderbirds from us here at AFTN. A great season. The team won't be losing too many players to graduation this year either, so hopefully a good, solid base for further successes in 2016 and beyond. You can see some photos, primarily of the postgame celebrations, in the Flickr slideshow below: ********** This isn't the end of AFTN's Thunderbirds Week coverage. We're running it Wednesday to Tuesday this year after all of the Whitecaps playoff coverage pushed it back a little. So come back on Monday and Tuesday for two pieces on the UBC's men's and women's goalkeepers - Chad Bush and Olivia de Goede.
  2. Have a listen! You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  3. It's the quarter-final match-up many people were predicting, including ourselves in Podcast 113. We also tipped England for the win though, so let's hope that doesn't come true as well! Both teams will also have expected to be facing each other at this stage and they know each other's game inside and out. The two sides have played each other a number of times recently, most recently in a pre-tournament friendly in Hamilton, where Canada narrowly won thanks to a wonder strike from Sophie Schmidt. You can't read too much into friendlies of course, and the more worrying match for Canada to be concerned with is England's 3-0 win over them in this year's Cyprus Cup Final in March. That's a win that certainly has the English girls believing they can book a semi-final place come Saturday night. "We've played them quite a bit actually," Taylor told us. "Obviously beating them in Cyprus was a boost. We played them not too long pre World Cup in Hamilton and lost 1-0. Every time we play them it's a physical battle, it's a scrap. There's not many opportunities in it. It is kind of a close game and that's what we expect as well. So it is going to be a hard game, an even game, but we have every belief that we can beat them and win." Taylor didn't play in that friendly against Canada at the end of May. After suffering a non-contact knee injury while training with her NWSL club side, Portland Thorns, in April, the 29-year-old striker wasn't even sure if she'd be recovered in time to play a part in her first ever World Cup. "Obviously it was an unfortunate time with the injury," Taylor mused. "All the time throughout rehab it was a race against the clock. At times it was going well and looking really good and at other times it looked like I might miss out here. Fortunately there was just enough time to make it back, so step foot on the field again was good news." After some intense rehab work back in England, Taylor recovered just in time, and made her World Cup debut in England's final group game against Colombia, coming on as an 81st minute sub. She almost scored too. A second substitute's appearance came in the Round of 16 win against Norway, with Taylor coming on in the 63rd minute with the scores tied at 1-1 and playing an important part in England's win. The appearances have been the pinnacle of Taylor's initial goals in the tournament. She didn't just want to be part of the squad, she wanted to play a part in it and play a part in making history for the English girls. So after all those weeks of rehab and being touch and go to even make it, how did it feel to step out on that pitch in Montreal against Colombia? "It felt pretty special," Taylor enthused. "It was just amazing, but at one point I thought I might have just missed it. Then coming on against Norway and playing a part in helping us make history was amazing. "I've got goosebumps even talking about it! Obviously that's something that we want to continue on and we have every chance of doing it this weekend." The signs are there that England are starting to hit their stride in this World Cup, highlighted by the fighting back quality they showed to beat Norway. After losing their first game in this year's tournament 1-0 to France, England have regrouped and ground out three straight 2-1 victories to set up this quarter-final clash. Scoring two goals in a game seems to be something of a pipe dream for Canada these days. The next target for Taylor is a World Cup goal. She already has four for England in her 10 appearances to date, including a hat-trick against Australia at this year's Cyprus Cup. Taylor could even get the start against Canada, if England coach Mark Sampson wants to mix things up a little. He's certainly not afraid to do that, having already used every outfield player during the tournament. She will most certainly feature at some point and will be a danger to the Canadian defence. Taylor has scored goals wherever she's been, after starting her career with Tranmere Rovers as a 15-year-old. After attending Oregon State University on a scholarship, playing spells in five countries followed, before she headed back to the US in 2014 to play in the NWSL with Washington Spirit. Despite her successes an England call-up was missing. The reason didn't appear to be because of her travels or where she was playing, but more to do with the fact that she turned down an invitation to a training camp under previous England coach Hope Powell in order to concentrate on her schooling. Did Powell hold a grudge? Well, no further call was forthcoming until Sampson took over and brought her into a camp in Spain as a 27-year-old. In these times of young female international footballers, had Taylor given up ever playing for England or did she always hold out hope that her time would come if there was a coaching change? "I thought, yeah, if there was a coaching change," Taylor readily admits. "But I waited a number of years for that and towards the end I kind of accepted that it potentially might not happen. So rather than just have my focus on England and everything like that, I kind of just had to shift my focus a bit on what's best for my football. How can I just be the best footballer and enjoy what I'm doing? That mentally for me really helped. "I tried coming to America and playing in NWSL. It's a great standard, a very good league, professional environment and I love the lifestyle, so for me, they were the right decisions. And as much as I was still training hard and committing and sacrificing as any international footballer would, it was just nice when the coaching change did happen and I did get the chance." Taylor is now back in her second home of Oregon, playing with Portland Thorns and loving every minute of it. As much as she liked her time in Maryland with Washington Spirit last year, it wasn't her spiritual home. After playing four years with the OSU Beavers, that is Oregon and she jumped at the opportunity to head back. "Yeah, that's exactly what it was," Taylor happily admits. "I enjoyed my football at the Spirit the year before but it never felt like home. The last few years, everywhere I've played is to become a better player and that's the sacrifice I've had to make the last three or four years. "It just got to a point where I want to actually be somewhere where I feel settled and want to be. With the option to come to Portland, it's a great organisation. They've got a good vision as a club. The fans are phenomenal. It's an awesome place to live. I've still got friends there. It just felt like the right move for that stage of my career." Taylor says the Thorns have been great with her since she joined them in March, even to the point that depending how much further that England go in the tournament, there's been no pressure or discussions from them on when they need her to head back Portland. "It's not even something I've spoken to with the club," Taylor told us. "They're very respectful of national team commitments. That's one thing I really do like with playing in the US in general and the club. "Especially once I did my knee, eight weeks ago or whenever it was, they were like 'whatever you need'. If you need to fly straight home to England and get surgery, if you want it here, what can we do for you. So there's a lot of respect there. "It depends on what I need. Depending on what the staff here say, they'll probably go with. If I need a break or if it's good to straight back into training. I'm happy to do anything. I'll just do as I'm told really! The league obviously doesn't really break for this, so I imagine the majority of players will be returning quite swiftly to Portland for the second half of the season." Amongst those Portland players heading back to the Thorns after the tournament are three Canadians - Kaylyn Kyle, Christine Sinclair and Rhian Wilkinson. Taylor hasn't really had the chance to get to know the Canadian girls yet, with them only playing a couple of games each due to their residency with the Canadian national team. It's meant there's not even been the chance to have some inter-nation banter between Taylor and them. "No, not really" Taylor laughs. "I had a couple of Canadian teammates at Spirit, so probably more so than with those guys. Again, it's just more so with the timing of being there. They kind of just flew in for a couple of games. It's all friendly and everything. It's at the level where it's not talking shit to each other! Maybe change though, depends how the game goes! But they're all lovely girls but I just don't think it's quite at that level. I'm not a huge shit talker anyway!" There's no doubting that Portland is a "soccer city". To me, it the number one such city in America. Any team that can draw five figure crowds to PDL U23 games is a hotbed of football fervour. But it's not just the male Timbers sides that draw exceptionally well, the Thorns also pack in the numbers and it warms Taylor to her English cockles to see how the city treat the club and the players. "Growing up in England, it's a big football place but not yet for women's football," Taylor says. "In Portland, I feel they equally respect the men and the women. You can tell by the crowds that they do. It's just nice. It's nice to be respected for what you do." Football is a world's game and Taylor has actively explored that, playing in five countries and three continents, with spells in America, Canada, Sweden, Australia and obviously England. It also hasn't affected her international chances. She spoke about that with English coach Sampson who told her to play where made her happy. It was only her form that mattered, and that form saw her on the England Player of the Year shortlist in 2014. With all that's she's seen on her travels, how does she feel the women's game is growing around the world? The gap between the top four or five nations and the middle chasing pack certainly seems to be narrowing if this World Cup is a gauge. "It is now, definitely," Taylor feels. "When I look back to when I left England when I was 18 to now, you would just never have imagined the strides that it's made. The US has stayed quite consistent I would say. It's probably harder to tell. "It was a huge jump going over to college when I was 18, just in terms of professionalism and training every day. The high professional standards. That, for me, is where I've developed in that area because I've been around it so much. "But now, if I compare the English league to the college, then yeah, I think the standard in the English league playing full time. So that just shows how much it's grown. I've just had a great experience going abroad and you can see the different styles, different philosophies, what other countries implement. It's helped me become a more well-rounded player." Amongst those travels were three summers spent with Ottawa Fury in the W-League from 2007. "I loved my experience in Ottawa," she continued. "It was during Oregon State, so with the nature of having the summer off and the W-League, they sort of go hand in hand. I played most summers in college. It's better than taking the summer off and doing my own running, so I just decided to play W-League. "My first time doing it was with the Boston Renegades and it was just from there. The next summer Ottawa had contacted me. I think we had played them the year before and I'd heard that it was a good set up, so I gave it a go and it was a really, really good organisation. "I can say it was one of the better organisations I've been involved in, in terms of the clubs I've played for in the past. I loved it. It was really good. I've played, I think, three summers total there. It was just a great way to stay fit during the summer. Obviously it's amateur status, but professional standards. That's what I loved about it." She's used to Canadian crowds cheering for her, but on Saturday she's going to have over 53,000 cheering against her in Vancouver. On such a big occasion, for both countries the crowd could be a big factor. Both sets of players are used to playing in front of big crowds, but Taylor feels that the massively pro-Canadian crowd could actually be an advantage to the English in terms of the pressure they will provide to the home nation. "We've kind of discussed it," Taylor admits. "Obviously we know it's going to be a huge factor, the crowd. When you compare it to being from England, and it's a real football culture and you've got a real football crowd. Even experiencing men's football, I don't think the Canadians, and no disrespect to Canadians, but as a nature, as the game goes on, they don't really cheer and support at the right time. Now, before Canadians are up in arms. She has a point. You see it at MLS games and you've seen it in this tournament. Even last Sunday, the BC Place was loud, at times. On other occasions they fell quiet and the whole tension of the occasion seemed to set the mood for a large patch in the middle of the match. "They cheer and do different things that probably we would expect to see," Taylor continued. "I think it will be a little erratic to be honest, but we're expecting that. The crowd may cheer at something which maybe a normal crowd wouldn't cheer at or go silent when a normal, experienced crowd would probably help. "I think it's one of those, we've just got to take it as it comes. We do have experience playing front of a big crowd. We played at Wembley in November, which was a huge occasion for us. "But on the plus side, knowing the pressure on us in that game at Wembley, you can flip that around and say well the pressure's massively going to be on Canada and it has been. You can see it throughout the tournament. The pressure's been on them the whole time and it's only going to get more for them, so we can kind of take that as an advantage to us."
  4. Miedema is delighted to be here and blazing the trail for young Dutch players to follow and the pressure that comes with that. "I felt a lot of pressure the first games from my home country," she told reporters at training on Friday. "Not that much from FIFA or whatever. It's exciting for us to play. We know that we can play way more tournaments after this, so we're just here to learn and get the experience but also to get the good result." As to how well Miedema has coped with the pressure so far, well the nerves got the better of her before the Netherland's first game against New Zealand, but they've been improving. "Well, I was sick before the first game, so I think not all that well!" she joked. "Now it's fine. Now we know what we have to do. We know that we can play our own way of soccer. We're getting better in the tournament so we have a good hope for the next game." That next game now comes tonight against Japan. Expectations of the side from within the country are certainly higher than from the outside looking in. A good high-scoring qualification campaign and some exciting talent will do that in a football mad nation. How many outside of the Netherlands expected them to qualify from the group? Hard to say, but finishing third, which they did, would likely have been the first goal to achieve from the tournament. Anything better and expectations exceeded. "It's great," Miedema says of qualifying to the knockout stages. "We had to wait till all the other games were done and then we realised that we were one of the best 16 teams." Miedema's enjoyed her first World Cup, as have her teammates. They looked good in a strong 1-0 win over New Zealand, really should have taken something from the 1-0 loss to China, and had there been a few more minutes left in their final match, I wouldn't have been surprised to see them grab a second, and a win, against Canada. The games, and now tonight's Round of 16 match, have seen the Dutch go from coast to coast, which is tiring for those used to it, never mind anyone else. But like so many of the young players in this tournament seem to do with a multitude of things, Miedema just takes it in her stride. "Yeah, that's a lot of travel," Miedema admitted to AFTN. "We played first in Edmonton then back to Montreal, then we came here. You get tired from a lot of travelling, of course, and the time difference the whole time. But you know that you'd have to do that before you came here, so it's fine for me." Travel aside, finishing third in Group A could yet prove beneficial for the Dutch. They're in the easier half of the draw, avoiding a number of the big hitters and four of the top five ranked teams in world. Miedema isn't looking too far ahead just yet but she knows the Dutch dodged a few bullets. "Yeah I think so, but first we have to beat Japan!," Miedema told us about the half of the draw the Netherlands find themselves in. "That's a really hard game. We have a lot of respect for the whole team. We know they were the World Champions the last edition of this, so we just have to have a good day and we maybe have a little chance then." The Netherlands now face a Japan side who have looked solid and composed, if not startlingly impressive. They're well organised at the back and only let in one goal in their three Group C matches, but they only scored four in the process. Not exactly something to strike the fear into other teams and it's something the Dutch feel can be exploited and pave their route to a shock result through the attacking firepower they possess. "Yeah of course," Miedema told us. "If we keep them to nil for a long time and they don't score, we really have a chance. We have really good attackers, like Manon Melis and Lieke Martens on the outside and then [Danielle] van de Donk at 10, so we know that we can score every game. So then we have a chance to get a win and we're hoping for that scenario." The chemistry within the Netherlands side has slowly been building as the tournament has gone on. Miedema has noticed it on the pitch and she's hoping it just continues to improve to keep the Dutch around the tournament that little bit longer. "We didn't play together for a long time before we came here, so you always needs some matches to get into your best field play," Miedema told reporters. "Now you know that it's getting better. When you're on the field, you can feel that. I hope we can do the same against Japan and a little bit better than against Canada." Miedema herself cuts an impressive figure. She's confident, refreshingly honest in interviews, yet still has the teenage side to her, giggling during answers. She's a very endearing player. She may not have bagged her first World Cup goal yet, but Miedema is a world star in the making and has been since bursting onto the national team scene in 2013. Miedema made her club debut for Dutch side SC Heerenveen aged just 15 and her goalscoring prowess (she scored a staggering 78 goals in 69 appearances) soon earned her a move to Bayern Munich who went unbeaten to win the Bundesliga title. Wearing the number 10 shirt with Bayern has seen her compared to Dutch compatriot Arjen Robben, only much more likeable. Others compare her to Robin van Persie, who she had previously said she models her game. It's the usual lazy journalistic tendency to tag any up and coming player with that of a player of old. It's bad enough in the men's game, never mind when they start crossing genders. Miedema laughs it all off, but has the perfect retort for it. "I don't [refer to myself like that], but all the media's doing that," Miedema smiled. "It's a great honour to get that name, but I just hope that parent later say that their daughter play like Miedema or Martens or Melis. I think that's way cooler." The Netherlands are making their first World Cup appearance, much to my annoyance after they eliminated Scotland in the European playoffs! But they are most certainly a team on the rise. Their U19 side won the 2014 European Championships and many of those players are expected to break in and bolster the senior side in the next couple of years. The Dutch will also be hosting the next senior Euros in 2017. Having seen the buzz around hosts Canada, Miedema can't wait to be a part of that in her own home country. For now though, she realises the importance that the current squad and their performance at this World Cup will mean to the women's program in Holland. And also the opportunity for herself and the other players to influence and be role models to all the young girls back in the Netherlands, where the women's side of the game is not always taken all that seriously. "I think it's important," Miedema said. "We play the European Championships in about two years in the Netherlands, so this is the chance to get it bigger in our country. That I'm one of the role models, is cool. "It's getting better now but you still have a lot of people who think that women's soccer is stupid. We just have to change that and I think we'll have a great tournament in two years. "But if you compare it with men's soccer, you cannot do that. We're not that fast but I think our way to play is pure. We don't care about money and stuff. We just play because we have fun and I think you see that on the pitch." And expect to see it on the BC Place pitch tonight.
  5. "We scored ten goals against Ecuador, but it's not really a reference I think," Dickenmann told reporters after training on Friday. "We want to score goals against Cameroon or Japan. We've scored 11 goals but ten against Ecuador so we're maybe a little bit in the same situation. "Although I think we've created a lot of chances. We did so against Cameroon. We had a bunch at the end of the Japan game. That's positive, but we can still improve as well." It's been a frustrating tournament for the Swiss so far. Heading in to it, they probably didn't really contemplate a third place finish in the group stage all that seriously. After all, they were playing two lowly ranked teams in Ecuador and Cameroon. Their opening match in Group C saw them unluckily on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline against the defending champs Japan. Switzerland had their chances to win the game, never mind grab a draw, but the goals just wouldn't come. Still, it was a strong and solid performance that showed that they could be a top team in the tournament. That was bolstered when they found their shooting boots in a 10-1 demolition of Ecuador in their second match. It was ten going on a lot more too. But the tournament's surprise packages of Cameroon shocked the Swiss 2-1 in their final group game, coming back from a goal behind at the half to snatch second place in Group C and set up a Round of 16 match-up for the Swiss with Canada. It's led to some tough internal analysis within the Swiss camp, with coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg very critical of the senior players. With over 100 caps to her name since making her international debut as a 16-year-old in 2002, Dickenmann is one of those and although she knows herself they let themselves down, she feels the coach was correct to get it all out there and it will only help the squad moving forward. "The Cameroon game has been analysed and all we can do is now profit from the experience," Dickenmann said. "We look to leave behind the negative things and take on the positive things into the next game. "I don't need the coach to criticise anything. I know myself very well whether we've had a good game or if we haven't performed very well. But she was right to do so. It doesn't make much sense to talk about a 19-year-old player so it's the older, more experienced players that must be focused. I can accept criticism and I can cope with it very well." Although that may read like a slight dig at Voss-Tecklenburg, nothing could be further from the truth and Dickenmann is a huge fan of the German's style and approach to management since she took over as national team head coach in 2012. "First of all it's her belief in our qualities," she continued. "What I like most about her is that she's always there if a player needs to talk to the coach. The door is open in to her room, she's always available. It's always a discussion based on a positive way to keep on developing. Unfortunately not all the coaches I've had during my career treat players this way." Dirty linen aired, the Swiss took some time to relax and unwind before heading back to Vancouver to prepare to take on the hosts. And it's done them the world of good. "The past two days have been very important for the team after a part of the tournament that's been very intense with three games within a short time," Dickenmann added. "We used the time to slow down a bit and now we can focus on the game to come." There's no doubting that it's going to be quite the occasion, quite the noise and quite the pressure at BC Place. It'll be a different kind of pressure for each side and we won't know how each team will cope and react to it until later. Switzerland have cut relaxed figures this week upon their return to Vancouver. It's a city they feel very comfortable in, having first arrived here to prepare for the tournament three weeks ago. It all plays a part in taking the pressure off them a little bit. "It helps because we feel quite at home here," Dickenmann said. "We know the stadium. I don't know if it's an advantage. It's not as if we play here all year round. We've played two games and one practice in the stadium, but it's a good feeling that we have here. But I know that Canada was here all year round as well, so they feel at home here too. But it's good for us that we feel well here." That said, feeling comfortable when you have a half full stadium cheering you on, as they were against Japan, will be entirely different to the more hostile pro-Canadian crowd they can expect to run out to today. It still doesn't faze Dickenmann though. "Of course there will be 50,000 people against us but it's very much different from the men's soccer," she said. "There's some difficulties ahead, like communication on the pitch within a huge stadium with a loud atmosphere. But we've spoken about that. We found solutions and all we want to do is focus 100% on the game and it's much more important to focus on Canada's team, not on the Canadian crowd." The Canadian girls have already had the experience of playing in front of a huge home crowd (53,058 to be exact) in their tournament opener against China in Edmonton. For the Swiss girls, this is likely to be the biggest crowd most, if not all, of them have ever played in front of. It's all so very different from when the two teams last met at the Cyprus Cup in 2013 when 50 fans were listed as the attendance. Dickenmann has come close, playing in front of 50,212 fans as Lyon lifted the 2011/12 Champions League trophy in Munich, although she doesn't feel you can really compare the two experiences. "The stadium was very different," she explained. "It was open and there was an athletic track around the pitch. It's going to be very different. This stadium is much nicer, and much newer and close." The crowd and the occasion will certainly be a highlight in many of the player's careers on both sides, but for Dickenmann, it only counts if the result is right at the end of it all. "It's one more highlight but the highlight is not playing in front of a huge attendance," she said. "Really, a true highlight would be if we beat Canada because in football all that counts is winning games and not big stadiums and sold out games." Switzerland have never beaten Canada and this world stage would certainly be an ideal place to break that stat. But the match sets out something of a quandary for the Swiss tactically. Do they want to show their attacking prowess early, getting on the scoresheet fast and forcing Canada to chase the game, ramping up the pressure on them even more? Or do they sit tight defensively, expecting Canada to come with the early pressure, then playing on the anxiety of the Canadian players and crowd when the breakthrough doesn't come? Playing a Vancouver Whitecaps road counter-attacking style. "We like to do both styles," Dickenmann said, before adding that the final decision lies with her coach. "We like to attack high, we like to attack in the midfield." But grabbing that early goal would certainly turn the pressure cooker situation for Canada up a notch or two. "It puts more pressure on any kind of team," Dickenmann admitted. "We saw that coming out at half-time against Cameroon. They scored two minutes after and that was a lot of pressure for us. It can change the energy of the game. I don't know what our tactics are going to be yet, but obviously scoring a goal early is always good." Whatever tactics the Swiss bring, the important thing for Dickenmann is that Switzerland just focus on themselves and what they do, and not so much on what Canada may or may not produce on the day. "Maybe in the past three games, well maybe against Cameroon and Japan, we have focussed a little bit too much on the opponent, so we also want to focus on ourselves a little bit more from now on." The Swiss certainly have a real chance at pulling off the big upset as far as we're concerned. In fact, cards on the table right now, I think they will. But for all their relaxed frame of mind heading in to the game, Dickenmann and the Swiss are expecting a very physical match against the Canadians. "They're very solid," Dickenmann said of what she feels Canada brings to the table. "Physically, they're in a very good shape. They bring a lot of energy to the pitch. A lot of screaming and positive energy in the team, from the bench as well, so that can be a distraction for us. "They have very good individual players, like Christine Sinclair. Very experienced players, that can make the difference at any time. They have very strong players, fast players. They have a lot of things." Will it be enough to see off the Swiss challenge come full time this evening? A nation awaits.
  6. Instead of facing a team ranked 48th or 53rd in the world (although how much stock you can actually put in FIFA's rankings isn't even open to any debate anymore), Canada will now be taking on 19th ranked Switzerland, a team who came through their, albeit weak, UEFA qualifying group on the back of 53 goals scored and just one conceded. For a Canadian team struggling to score from open play, and with the pressure and the hopes and expectations of an entire home nation on their shoulders, that's not the ideal opponent. For the Swiss, the initial disappointment of losing to Cameroon and finishing third in their group is already long past. If anything, that third place finish may yet prove to be the best thing that could have happened to them. They now return to Vancouver, a place they've trained, played in and called home since they arrived in Canada on May 30th. They're familiar with the training pitches, the BC Place turf, the timezone and other surroundings. They're in a match in which they are the underdogs. The pressure is off them and firmly on the Canadian women. And the longer Canada don't score in the game, or maybe have to chase the match, that pressure just ramps up. The Swiss also now find themselves in the easier half of the draw, avoiding four of the top five nations in the world, and the top three of Germany, America and France. Japan are the top team in their half of the draw now, and they've already shown they can compete against them. A break here or there and they'd have taken something from their opening match. The fear factor isn't quite the same as what would be in their way had they finished second. So all in all, things aren't looking all that bad for Switzerland. "Yes, you could say we did everything right," a laughing Swiss head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg told reporters after training on Friday. "It is like it is. We did want to qualify earlier but now we are there for this Sunday's game. It's a big challenge for us and we will focus entirely on this game, not losing any time in thinking back how it was. "Returning to Vancouver was a good thing for us. We feel like being home again. If we remain in the tournament we will focus on the next opponent to come. We'll see if it's easier or not!" The Swiss certainly have the firepower up front to still do some damage in the tournament. As mentioned, they showed that in abundance in the qualifiers and they are the second highest scorers in this year's tournament so far with 11 goals. Yes, ten of them, a whopping 91%, came against an out of their depth Ecuador side, so that's not exactly a great yardstick, but you can never dismiss what the confidence of finding the back of the net early in the tournament can do for the players when the tournament enters the real business end. While only two players have found the back of the net for Canada, and one of them was from a penalty, five players have already scored for the Swiss, with Ramona Bachmann and Fabienne Humm leading the way with three apiece. Canada can take solace from the fact that despite playing well and creating numerous chances against Japan and Cameroon, they were shutout of their first game and managed to bury just one chance against the Lionessess. You can also factor in that while struggling to produce up front, Canada aren't conceding much either. Just that one late goal given up against the Netherlands so far. There's no doubting that there's goals in the Canadian attack. They just haven't materialised yet. But do the Swiss see Canada's attack as likely to cause them more problems than the fast paced strikers they faced against Cameroon? "It's a different style of playing," Voss-Tecklenburg feels. "Top quality of course. An important aspect for me is that several players and staff members come originally from Vancouver, so there is some kind of special motivation for this team. Apart from that, there is great presence on the pitch and we are going to go up against it." And despite not yet scoring in this tournament from open play, the Swiss coach feels that Christine Sinclair is still likely to be her side's biggest threat. "[she's a] great personality and very much experienced," she added. "A true leader of the team, even if she doesn't score all the winning goals. But when it comes to decisive moments, she leads the team. All the players can look up to her and she is undoubtedly the most important player of the Canadian team." Voss-Tecklenburg isn't reading too much into Canada's goalscoring woes, and feels the pressure on them to perform may be behind their lack of goals so far. In that regard, she notes it's not going to get any easier for the Canadians. "We hope they haven't saved them all up for Sunday's game!" she joked. "Seriously, this is part of the team process that Canada has been going through at the World Cup in their home country. Expectations are quite high from the fans at the games. "We mustn't forget it's the knockout part of the tournament now, not too easy a situation to deal with for the Canadian team as well. If the inspiration makes them grow wings, anything is possible. We must be aware of anything and be able to react to everything." The crowd will certainly have a part to play in Sunday's match. Exactly how, is the unknown factor right now. Around a 53,000 sell-out is expected at BC Place. Will it spur the Canadians on to greater heights or will the pressure of the occasion and natural nerves see them freeze? They didn't exactly freeze in their tournament opener against China in front of 53,058 fans in Edmonton, but at the same time, they didn't exactly shine either. And how will the Swiss react to such a large, pro-Canadian crowd, the largest attendance many of their players will ever have played in front of? They may feel like BC Place is a second home to them in the tournament, but it's a whole different atmosphere for them now as opposed to their first game against Japan which saw them garner support from, ironically, neutrals. "We will see," Voss-Tecklenburg said. "It's a new situation because of 53,000 supporters for the Canadian team. In our first matches there was many supporters for the Swiss team because we played a good match. I think it will be different on Sunday, but we will see. "Of course it's a huge crowd, but we have to deal with that. We have to focus on the game and show self-confidence, show courage and give everything we have. It will be an outstanding game for every one of us. At the end there will be a winner and a loser and we'll see what comes out of this game." Voss-Tecklenburg is no stranger to playing in front of a large, vociferous and hostile home crowd at a World Cup. The former German internationalist was part of the Germany side that lost a quarter final to the US in front of 54,642 fans in Landover, Maryland at the 1999 World Cup. The Swiss coach feels she can share her experiences of that occasion with her squad, but nothing can prepare a player for what it feels like until she runs out on the pitch, pointing out that it's not an exact comparison. "It's not quite the same situation," she explained. "Germany were part of the group named as favourites to win the title. Switzerland obviously is not, yet Canada is. Canada can go forward, want to go forward." While all the travelling and adjusting to their new environments has made for a busy initial period in Canada, Voss-Tecklenburg has been enjoying it. "The regiment of the tournament is quite high at the moment," she admitted. "I like it very much. I prefer it this way." The Swiss camp certainly seems relaxed. Training was light-hearted and if the players and coaches are feeling any pressure, they're not showing it. What they are showing, however, is the effects of the tournament so far, with a few players a little banged up after a three hard matches in a nine day period, with one of their key concern surrounding their experienced and influential captain, defender Caroline Abbé. "We had one day off after the Cameroon game and then a travelling day," Voss-Tecklenburg said. "We used it to do some wellness before travelling. We were in the fitness rooms. We had a short flight [from Edmonton]. Other teams had long flights. "Caroline had a good training. She's pretty positive she can play. The artificial ground is giving us some troubles, to the other teams as well. We have players that talk about muscles they haven't felt for five years. All the teams have to be ready and prepared to cope." Abbé, who sat out Switzerland's last group game against Cameroon, is looking good to go, and while Canada may be sweating over a couple of players, the Swiss have the luxury of their full squad to pick from. Well we say luxury, but the amount of choices is actually giving the Swiss coach a few selection quandaries to ponder ahead of Sunday's match, and she hasn't nailed down exactly what her starting eleven will be just yet. "We've got the big choice of all the players available for the game against Canada," Voss-Tecklenburg said. "I've got four starting line-ups in mind. I haven't made up my mind yet. I will do that this afternoon. I'll be watching video and doing analysis of the team [Canada]. "It depends on certain aspects, like mental strength, physical strength. I also want the players to tell me how they feel and then maybe at the end of today there will be three starting line-ups or even two, but nothing decisive yet." ****** [Editor's Note: With so much coverage everywhere on the Canadian team, we thought we'd explore the Swiss angle in the lead up to the game here at AFTN. Watch out for our piece on Lara Dickenmann on Saturday]
  7. Cameroon are no strangers to World Cup shocks. They have thrilled football fans worldwide with their play in the Men's World Cup in recent times. In particular, their fantastic Roger Milla inspired run to the quarter-finals of Italia '90 will long live fondly in my memory and many others. While the Indomitable Lions have qualified for six of the last seven World Cup Finals, the women are appearing in their very first ones here in Canada, after qualifying as African runners-up to Nigeria. Their appearance builds on their first ever qualification for an Olympics in London three years ago and sees the continued rise of the team under their charismatic coach Enow Ngachu. He never seems to be without a big smile on his face. Ngachu has been the coach of the team since 2004 and his building work is now reaping some real rewards and producing some impressive talent, perhaps none more so than Monday's hat-trick heroine Gaelle Enganamouit. For the Cameroon coach, it was all about showing that continued improvement on the world stage. "Our main objective was to do better than 2012," Ngachu told reporters at Thursday's pre-match press conference. "In the last Olympics games in London, we conceded 11 goals, scored only one and had three defeats. "We've been working with this group for the past seven years together. They started with the under-17. After the game against Ecuador, they have started dreaming, but we need to be humble. We have attained our objective." So just what has been behind the team's turnaround and recent successes? "As a coach, after each game, you must go back to the drawing board and see what went wrong and we discovered that in 2012," Ngachu added. "We made tactical errors. Everybody was young. "We've worked very hard. We want to exist on defending first before attacking. We're quite happy because in the last African Nations Cup, we conceded less goals and we had the best goalkeeper in the tournament. So it means we've improved a lot and can only be happy." Going into the Ecuador game, it was hard to know what to expect from either side. Ecuador were ranked 48th in the world, Cameroon 53rd. You wouldn't have been surprised by a draw or a narrow win for either side. But the Africans produced a hammering that caught, I think, pretty much all of us by surprise. Right now, we don't know if that 6-0 scoreline was because Cameroon were good or Ecuador were just really, really bad. Maybe it was a mixture of both. What 19th placed Switzerland do to the South Americans in the first game this evening, will perhaps be a better indicator as to how Cameroon might fare in the second against Japan. It's a match Ngachu and his squad are relishing, no matter how daunting it may be and how much of a one-sided scoreline could be doled out by the defending champs and the side ranked 4th in the world right now. "It's a dream come true playing against the Champions," Ngachu said. "It'll be another experience for the Cameroon national team. We know it's going to be very tough but the best team will win." Japan looked exciting and patchy in their narrow 1-0 win over Switzerland on Monday. It took a debatable penalty for them to get the job done and they had a few narrow escapes and had to thank some poor Swiss finishing for coming away with all three points in the end. They should make it six out of six tonight. On paper, there is only one possible result. But football's not played on paper. Japan coach Norio Sasaki genuinely seemed concerned about Cameroon's attacking firepower in his own press conference on Thursday. Ngachu countered by saying he was concerned by both Japan's attack and defence. Cameroon played relaxed and were a joy to watch against Ecuador. With no pressure, comes more free-slowing football and Ngachu said you can expect the same against Japan. "We're excited to play against Japan," Ngachu admitted. "For us, Japan, so far, is the best in the world. My girls are excited. Over the past years they've been watching the Japanese team over the TV. Today, most of them can recite the names of the Japanese players. It's just like in Playstation. You play against the best team in the world. "They're quite excited but we don't have pressure on our side. The Japanese will be having that pressure. We don't have any pressure, so we'll play as usual and if we can have a positive result then fine." Whichever side wins, they'll be guaranteeing themselves a spot in the Round of 16. But after banging in six goals in their first game, barring two horrible defensive collapses, Cameroon look set to be a top third placed finisher at the very worst, no matter how they fare against Japan and Switzerland. Do the squad dare to allow themselves to dream and look beyond the group stages at what may lie in store? Striker Gabrielle Aboudi Onguene doesn't want to get too carried away but the goal deluge against Ecuador has certainly got them believing. "I would say that mentally it is a good thing to score," she told reporters in translated French. "It shelters us, it protects us a little bit. As was said, we came here with the objective of doing better than 2012. We dream of making it out of this first round. We're going to stay focused. So why not? Keep scoring, so that we can advance." Ngachu knows Japan head into the game as very heavy favourites and should win comfortably, but whatever the result in this one, the impact that his Cameroon side have made back home has already been immense and if they can advance beyond the group stages, then what it will do for women's soccer in the country will be seismic. "Football is full of surprises," he said. "If we can create that by going through to the next round, then it's going to be very fine, and I believe if we do that, it's going to have a positive impact back in Cameroon. "From the feedback we've been getting, many young girls have started playing soccer and that is the target for the individual Lionesses of Cameroon."
  8. Recognised as the finest Japanese female player to have ever played the game, Sawa made here first appearance in a World Cup Finals in 1995, playing three games in Sweden, as Japan went out at the quarter final stage following a 4-0 loss to the US. After three appearances in each of the next three tournaments in the US and China, Sawa came to prominence at the world level with a stellar tournament performance in Germany in 2011. Sawa played all six of Japan's matches as they lifted their first World Cup trophy following a dramatic penalty shoot-out win against the US in the Final. With Japan looking set to lose out in extra time, Sawa hit a stunning equaliser with three minutes remaining to send the game to penalties. That goal was her tournament leading fifth of the Finals, earning Sawa the Golden Boot as top-scorer, along with the Golden Ball award as the Best Player. Her performance also saw her named the 2011 Female World Player of the Year. The support the Japanese girls received back home during the last World Cup was exceptional and Sawa is hoping for more of the same this time around. "Many, many people supported us," Sawa said. "With that power we could win the title again." Sawa made her professional debut in Japan's L-League in 1991, aged just 12. Her international debut came at 15 in 1993 and her World Cup Finals debut aged 16. With nearly 25 years experience in the women's game, Sawa has seen a lot change, especially in her home country. "Talking especially about Japan, before, like about 20 years ago, the number of registered players was very small," she revealed. "Also the skills and technique were not enough. It's been very long from that time until 2011, but year by year I think we've developed." There's been a lot of talk about the legacy of the women's game in Canada after this tournament, but Japan's win four years ago sparked a marked increase in interest in the women's game in the country. After 2011, the awareness and attention among the Japanese people changed dramatically and the country went from 35,000 registered players at girls to senior level before 2011 to its current level of almost 50,000. Still not phenomenal numbers for a country of 127 million but a step in the right direction. To put that into perspective, there are 4.8 million registered female players worldwide, with Canada and the US making up 47% of that number. Sawa will be hoping to generate more interest this time around and add to her 18 World Cup Finals appearances this month. Although no-one else has reached that milestone of appearing in six tournaments before, the Japanese midfielder is likely to find herself having company with that honour in Canada, with Brazilian midfielder Formiga also poised to reach the six tournament milestone. An appearance for Sawa tonight, however, will see her reach the achievement first. It will be quite the feat for Sawa, but one which the 36-year-old looked like missing out upon after falling out of favour with head coach Norio Sasaki in recent months through injury and a dip in form. Sawa wasn't selected for Japan's 23 woman squad for the Algarve Cup tournament in March this year. A major setback for the midfielder's hopes, but after Japan finished second bottom of their group, and ninth overall in the tournament, Sasaki had a rethink and felt that the squad needed a player of Sawa's experience for the upcoming Finals in Canada. Sasaki's late change of heart filled Sawa with boy joy and relief. "It's a very special feeling to wear the jersey of the national team," Sawa said. "I want to play for the team and for Japan in order to get a good result in the World Cup." With her recent injury concerns, is Sawa ready to go in the tournament? She certainly looked the part at training, cutting a striking figure with her long ponytail, and the veteran feels she's ready to play a key role once again for Japan on the world stage, but she's not taking anything for granted. "I am ready to play 90 minutes but it depends on the head coach," Sawa continued. "It's his decision whether I will play on the pitch or not but I am ready." As defending champions, a lot of eyes will be on Japan to see if they can follow in Germany's footsteps and win back to back titles. Watching them train, they come across as a slick, well-oiled machine, running relentless, productive and impressive attacking drills. Despite sitting fourth in FIFA's Women World Rankings, they'll be hard to beat if they can play to their best. But just how much improvement should we expect to see from the team from four years ago? "That's something that I want you to see in the games!," Sawa joked. "That's difficult for me to explain." The group stage should prove to be little concern for Japan. Drawn alongside Ecuador (ranked 48th in the world) and Cameroon (ranked 53rd), their toughest game will be their first one against Switzerland tonight. The Swiss are ranked 19th in the world and do pose a threat after a strong qualifying campaign that saw them go undefeated, recording nine wins and one draw, banging in 53 goals in the process and conceding just one. Japan may be the favourites, but they're not taking anything for granted against the Swiss. "Switzerland are newcomers to the World Cup, but they're one of the strongest teams in Europe," Sawa said of the match. "Even though we have won the title four years ago, we are still challengers. We'll respect Switzerland and we want to show our style of football." We'll see just what that is, and what threat the Swiss pose, at 7pm this evening at BC Place.
  9. 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.
  10. But does the roster announcement tell us anything about Canada's chances that we didn't already know? Short answer: Nope. Fifteen of the 23 players on the 2015 World Cup roster were also on Canada's 2012 Olympic roster. That Olympic roster had 20 players, and of the five who aren't on the 2015 WWC squad, three have retired since those Olympics. (In other words, their exclusions aren't surprising.) As for the eight players on the WWC2015 squad who weren't on the Olympic team? Well, their inclusions come with varying levels of surprise (between 0 and 10): Kadeisha Buchanan Surprise level: 0 We could call the 19-year-old central defender's rise meteoric, but that wouldn't quite be accurate, since there are probably meteors that don't move as quickly as she has up the ranks of Canadian soccer. She already has 34 senior caps, is already an established starter on the squad and might already be one of the team's best players. A strong candidate to take the captain's armband once Christine Sinclair retires. Yeah, she's that good. Stephanie Labbe Surprise level: 0 Absent from the 2012 roster only because Olympic rosters call for two goalkeepers rather than three (and Canada has its 1A and 1B keepers in Erin McLeod and Karina LeBlanc), Labbe was always going to be on the roster for this tournament. The 28-year-old had an outstanding season for Orebro in Sweden last year, and has been part of the Canadian senior team since 2008. The only question now is, with McLeod ensconced as Canada's go-to starter, could Labbe challenge LeBlanc for playing time at the World Cup? Jessie Fleming Surprise level: 0.5 She's quick, she's aggressive, she's got great on-field intelligence, she's got a nose for goal... and oh yeah, she just turned 17 last month. There's no doubt that Fleming, if she continues on her current trajectory, will be a great one for Canada. The only question was whether, at her age, she'd be ready to step into the spotlight of a World Cup on home turf. But she's answered every challenge presented so far and hasn't looked out of place with the senior team yet... perhaps this tournament will be her chance to announce herself to the world. Adriana Leon Surprise level: 1 Back in the summer of 2012, Leon was preparing for a transfer from the University of Notre Dame (for whom she'd scored the national championship winning-goal in 2010) to the University of Florida. That December, a few months after the bronze medal win, Leon made her first appearance for the senior national team. Since then, the 22-year-old striker has scored five times for Big Red, and was basically a lock to be part of a squad that is in dire need of goal-scoring diversification in the years ahead. Ashley Lawrence Surprise level: 3 Herdman has attempted to integrate a quartet of teenagers into the senior national team lineup over the past 24 months; two seemed like sure things to make the World Cup cut (Buchanan, Fleming) and two seemed like outsiders for this year (Sura Yekka, Rebecca Quinn), leaving Lawrence as a bit of a question mark. She's shown promise in her years rising up the youth team ranks but plays in the midfield where Canada's starting lineup is relatively set. Whether or not the 19-year-old gets significant minutes in this tournament, it'll undoubtedly give her plenty of valuable experience. Josee Belanger Surprise level: 3.5 Speaking of a need for goal-scoring diversification... that's essentially the reason Herdman coaxed the 28-year-old out of national-team retirement. Belanger, however, hasn't been able to recapture the goal-scoring form she had in 2010, when she was the star of Canada's World Cup qualification campaign. In fact, she hasn't scored a goal since returning to the team last year. Ultimately, Herdman likely had to choose between whether to include Belanger or 20-year-old Janine Beckie, who's come on strong in the last 12 months... and as it happened, experience won out over youth on this occasion. Allysha Chapman Surprise level: 5 Like Belanger, Chapman returns to the senior national team after an extended absence. Chapman's ascension to a World Cup roster spot (and possibly even a role in the starting XI) has been nothing short of remarkable, given that prior to October 2014, her only experience with the senior team was one training camp back in 2009. But Chapman filled a position of need in Herdman's team (as Lauren Sesselmann was recovering from a knee injury) and her determined play in the last six months has earned her a role. She also gives Herdman some flexibility in how he uses Sesselmann (who has played as LB and CB, but who may not yet be at 100% herself). Selenia Iacchelli Surprise level: 6 Much like Chapman, Iacchelli had only a brief fling with the senior national team (one camp back in 2010) before Herdman came along. But the 28-year-old has hardly been a regular since returning to the fold in 2013; she's made just four appearances for Canada since November 2013. Her inclusion hits a 6 on the surprise meter due to the exclusion of Rachel Quon (a 23-year-old whom Herdman lured away from the U.S. system) and Brittany Baxter (a 29-year-old with 132 career appearances for Canada). But in a short tournament like the World Cup, team chemistry and positivity are vital; perhaps Herdman felt Iacchelli (who co-owns a business with Canada teammate Emily Zurrer) brought some "glue" to the locker room that could be important in the heat of the competition. While none of the decisions were overly surprising (Herdman's player pool is relatively set, after all), at least now we can move beyond speculation and focus on what's just weeks in front of us -- Canada's quest to make history at home in the Women's World Cup. Canada's 23-player Women's World Cup roster GK- Stephanie Labbé | unattached / sans club 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 | unattached / sans club D- Lauren Sesselmann | USA / Houston Dash D- Rhian Wilkinson | USA / Portland Thorns FC D- Emily Zurrer | unattached / sans club M- Jessie Fleming | CAN / London NorWest SC M- Selenia Iacchelli | unattached / sans club M- Kaylyn Kyle | USA / Portland Thorns FC M- Ashley Lawrence | USA / West Virginia University M- Diana Matheson | USA / Washington Spirit M- Desiree Scott | ENG / Notts County Ladies M- Sophie Schmidt | unattached / sans club F- Josée Bélanger | unattached / sans club F- Jonelle Filigno | USA / Sky Blue FC F- Adriana Leon | USA / Chicago Red Stars F- Christine Sinclair | USA / Portland Thorns FC F- Melissa Tancredi | USA / Chicago Red Stars
  11. 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.
  12. 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. .
  13. It's Episode 29 of "There's Still Time", the AFTN podcast and it's our first Canadian national team post game show. The Canadian women visited Vancouver to play out a pretty boring goalless draw with Mexico. We chat with Equalizer Soccer writer Harjeet Johal about the game and the future of the women's program. We also hear the post game reaction from head coach John Herdman, captain Christine Sinclair and goalkeeper Erin McLeod. CEO of the FIFA 2015 Women's World Cup National Organising Committee, Peter Montopoli, was in town and we speak with him about the upcoming World Cup, the turf controversy and the lack of professional women's teams in Canada and none existing in the NWSL. And there's still time for a little Whitecaps chat as we look at Bobby Lenarduzzi's latest comments about the search for the Caps' new manager. Have a listen! For now, you can listen to this week's podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we've joined Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 15,000 shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
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