Canadian women’s soccer team thinks bigger about bronze in Tokyo

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When Bev Priestman was named to coach Canada’s women’s football program, she was shooting for the moon rather than lowering expectations when asked what goals she had set for herself and the team.

Priestman took over a team that had won bronze medals in succession in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics under former coach John Herdman, and another third place finish this summer in Tokyo would be an unprecedented feat for Canada.

But Priestman, a 35-year-old Consett, England native who served as Herdman’s assistant, held nothing back during her introductory press conference last October.

“A team like Canada should be on this podium. I think we have to change the color of the medal. Two bronzes [are] amazing and it’s a fantastic achievement and I owe John and the staff and the players who achieved that. [But] To move forward, we need to set higher goals, ”said Priestman at the time.

If Canada “changes the color of the medal” at the Tokyo Olympics, it will likely be due to the strength of its defense, despite an attack by legendary captain Christine Sinclair, the all-time top scorer in international football, both for men as well as women. This may sound like blasphemy, but a close look at Canada’s latest scoresheet is worrying.

In 2021, Canada has so far set a record of three wins, two losses and two draws, but they have been eliminated four times and have only scored six goals in those seven games. More worryingly, Sinclair, who has scored 186 goals in 299 appearances for the national team, has not scored in her last eight appearances since February 2020.

Canada has been criticized for years for relying too much on Sinclair as the main source of the crime. Nobody came forward to take the burden off Sinclair’s shoulders – including Janine Beckie. The Manchester City forward ranks fifth all-time for Canada (and second among active players) with 31 goals in 75 games. But she is far from a clinical finisher and is the type of player who needs three or four chances per game to only score once. She also suffers from a goal drought after scoring just one goal in her last 11 games for Canada.

Jordyn Huitema has been dubbed “the new Sinclair” after making his debut for Canada at the age of 15. But Huitema, now 20, has only scored 13 goals in 37 games, and the overwhelming majority of those goals came against minnow nations. She’s also got stuck in a goal break-in, with one goal in her last 10 games.

If Sinclair fails to score in the recent past, Canada will be fighting for goals and their Olympic medal hopes could be jeopardized.

While the attack is cause for concern, Canada have no such worries at the back of the pitch. Priestman’s side have conceded five goals with just three in seven games this year thanks to a defense anchored by center-backs Kadeisha Buchanan (named Canadian Player of the Year 2020) and Shelina Zadorsky, who has had a strong club season in England with Tottenham.

“They both have a very balanced approach to defense and attack and that is crucial to the way we play. We ask our team to be brave, and for that you need center-backs who [have courage]“Said Priestman about the Buchanan-Zadorsky duo.

The arrival of Vanessa Gilles, who made six caps so far last year, has also added defensive depth to the team and she could step in seamlessly as a center-back should Buchanan or Zadorsky injure themselves in Japan. Midfielder Quinn was Canada’s most consistent player en route to the Tokyo Olympics and served as a defensive bulwark in front of the back four.

Ashley Lawrence and Allysha Chapman are seasoned amateur players with a lot of international experience – above all Lawrence, who is considered one of the best full-backs in women’s football and can also be used as a midfielder.

While Canada may struggle to score goals in Japan, they are unlikely to concede many goals either. That alone could be enough to get them on the medal podium for the third time in a row.

In 8th place in the current FIFA world rankings, Canada will open the game on Wednesday, July 21 and Saturday, July 24, at the games in Tokyo against Japan No. 10 and Chile against No. 37 (both games in Sapporo), and then meet the UK on Tuesday July 27th in Kashima. FIFA does not rate Great Britain but their team will consist of players from No. 6 England, No. 23 Scotland, No. 34 Wales and No. 48 Northern Ireland.

It’s a tough group and Canada would expect even bigger potential challenges in the knockout round if they progressed. But Priestman is a firm believer in this Canadian team and nothing more than another Olympic medal will satisfy them.

“On our day, this team can go all the way. I really feel that. To do this, we have to show up at every game. I keep telling the players: ‘Nobody is going to give us a medal.’ We have to work hard for it, ”said Priestman.

“We have to be on the podium. That is what makes success for me. “


John Molinaro is one of Canada’s leading soccer journalists who has covered the game for over 20 years for a range of media outlets including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief of TFC Republic, a website devoted to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian football. To try TFC Republic CLICK HERE.



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