Olympics Preview: Canada

Catherine Paquette provides an in-depth preview of the Canadian national side ahead of the Olympic Games. The squad are pictured above after receiving their bronze medals at Rio 2016 (Picture: Canada Soccer).

Squad News: 

Canada’s squad announcement did not have many surprises, both in its exclusions or inclusions.  As it has for many years, the Canadians decided to field a team composed of a mixture of veteran players with a number of younger debutants.

The oldest player on the squad is goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who is 38.  The youngest is Jordyn Huitema, who is 20. Only three players in the squad have ten caps or less with Évelyne Viens being the one with the least amount at seven.  Two players have more than two-hundred caps, two other players more than one-hundred caps.  In total the Canadian squad has one thousand seven hundred and fifty one caps between them.  

Of the twenty-two players selected, Vanessa Gilles, Jordyn Huitema, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon and Evelyne Viens are making their Olympic debuts. Kailen Sheridan and Gabrielle Carle are making their first team appearance after having gone to Rio as alternates.

This means that the other fourteen players on the team are going to Tokyo as defending bronze medalists. Four of them, Erin McLeod, Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt and Christine Sinclair are double-defending bronze medalists, having also been part of the 2012 London Olympic squad.

This year’s squad is only composed of only four players playing their football at the American collegiate level.  The other eighteen are full time professionals who play in the NWSL, the Division 1, the FAWSL and the Damallsvenskan. 

The other players not mentioned going to Tokyo are: Stephanie Labbé, Allysha Chapman, Kadeisha Buchanan, Shelina Zadorsky, Quinn, Deanne Rose, Ashley Lawrence, Nichelle Prince, Janine Beckie and Jessie Fleming.

Coach:

The Canadian national team coach Bev Priesman will not be foreign to any Canada or England fans. Prior to being named to the top Canadian job in October 2020 she served as assistant coach for the English women’s national team, as part of the Phil Neville’s set up.  She had joined England from John Herdman’s Canadian national set up, where she was also an assistant coach for the team.

Priestman also coached the Canadian U-17 and U-20 teams from 2013-16 and 2017-18 respectively.  Despite her short reign entering the Tokyo Olympics, she is extremely familiar to both veteran and rookie Canadian national team players.

Since taking over as coach Priestman’s side has lost twice, to the US and Brazil, won three times, to Argentina, Wales and England, and drawn three times, to the Czech Republic, Brazil and the Netherlands.

Above: Canada Head Coach Bev Priestman. Photo: Boris Streubel FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Olympic History:

This will be the fourth Olympics for Canada, having qualified for every games since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  At the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics the team won back-to-back bronze medals.  

In the process they became the first Canadian summer Olympic sports team to win back to back medals.

Qualifying:

The Canadians qualified for the Tokyo games through the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying championship held in February 2020.  Canada, alongside Mexico and the United States, received automatic entry into the championship.

The eight team tournament started with a four team group stage phase.  The top two teams from each group then progressed to the semi-finals, with the first placed teams playing the second placed teams of the opposite group.  The winners of each semi-final were the CONCACAF’s entrants for the Tokyo Olympics.

Canada topped Group B, winning all its matches against Mexico, Jamaica and St. Kitts & Nevis by a margin of twenty-two goals for to zero goals against.  They then won their semi-final against Costa Rica to qualify.

Strengths: 

Canada is a seasoned team with a wealth of both World Cup and Olympic experience.  That experience extends through nearly the entirety of the squad.  They are lead by a coach who has known them for years, and who also intimately knows one of their biggest group stage opponents, Team GB.  

Canada experimented at times with their line-ups this year, however whatever formation or changes were made the team’s defence continued to shine.  In total they have conceded six goals in their eight 2021 games, registering five clean sheets. 

Development Areas:

While the Canadians have managed to outshoot their opponents in most matches this year, their offence has at times shown to be lacking.  The Canadians have a lot of talent in midfield but the talent up front has not always matched it of late.  Over the last few years finding the back of the net has at times been difficult with the Canadian transition from midfield into the final third being lacklustre.

This tendency continued to raise its nose in 2021. The one positive offensively that Canada can look too though is that when they have scored this year they have not been dependent on a single player to find the back of the net. The nine 2021 Canadian goals have come from six different individuals who play in both midfield and as strikers. All but one will be present in Tokyo.

Key Players:

To start the entire back line of PSG’s Ashley Lawrence, Lyon’s Kadeisha Buchanan, Tottenham’s Shelina Zadorsky and the Houston Dash’s Allysha Chapman.  For Canada to succeed this year they will need their defensive structure to stay strong and mitigate goals.  The Canadians will be lucky, all four players are back to full health ahead of the group stage.

In midfield the quartet of Houston’s Desiree Scott, OL Reign’s Quinn, Chelsea’s Jessie Fleming and Manchester City’s Janine Beckie can be game changers for Canada.  Scott and Quinn play more in defensive positions giving cover and allowing for  Fleming and Beckie to move forward into attacking positions.  All are seasoned club and international players with the capacity to change games.  

One to watch:

Above: Christine Sinclair. Photo: The Canadian Press/AP Andy Jacobsohn.

No mention of the Canadian national women’s soccer team can be made without referring to Christine Sinclair.  Sinclair is the highest international goal scorer ever, male or female, for any nation.  In her two hundred and ninety nine Canadian appearances she has scored one hundred and eighty six times.  To put it bluntly, every time she scores from now on she makes a new record.

Sinclair has been pulled back in recent years for both her club the Portland Thorns and for Canada from a striker to a false nine position. While this has reduced her goal scoring rate slightly, it has translated into more service and opportunity creation on her part for her team.  This is not to say her scoring has stopped.  Only last month she became the third NWSL player to reach the 50 regular-season goal milestone.

Despite having turned 38 years old this past week, Sinclair seems to have gotten sharper with age without losing her first step, her deadly shot or her endurance.  When Canada are playing, fans should look at number 12, the record breaker.

Prediction: 

Like every group, Canada’s is not an easy one.  In Group E they open the tournament against hosts Japan, followed by Chile and finish with Team GB.  They are capable of beating all these teams, if their defence remains strong and they find the back of the net.  If not it is also possible for them to get beaten by all these teams except arguably Chile. 

Canada do have the talent and experience to at a minimum repeat their bronze medal performance, maybe even go for silver or gold.  However, their progression past the quarter-final phase will be dependent on how well they do in the group stage, and who their first knock out opponents are.

Group Fixtures including KO times (local/UK)

Japan v Canada, 21 July, Sapporo Dome, 19:30 local/11:30 BST

Chile v Canada, 24 July, Sapporo Dome, 16:30 local/8:30 BST

Canada v Great Britain, 27 July, Kashima Stadium, 20:00 local/12:00 BST

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