3 KEY takeaways as CanWNT book their spot at 2024 Paris Olympics with commanding win over Jamaica
The defending Olympic gold medallists are headed back to the big dance next summer, as the CanWNT defeated Jamaica 2-1 (4-1 on aggregate) to book their spot at the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics on Tuesday.
Following a disappointing World Cup, it was a big bounce-back performance from Canada in these Olympic qualifiers, as they were deserved winners across both legs, too.
Despite coming up against a stingy Jamaican side, one that had allowed only one goal in four games at this summer’s World Cup as they made the Round of 16 for the first time, Canada did well to take over this tie right from the beginning.
Fresh off a World Cup where they themselves failed to get out of their group, the first time they’d done that since 2011, Canada was motivated not to further embarrass themselves in this camp, and it showed.
Especially given what was on the line, they knew that they couldn’t afford to miss out on the Olympics, a tournament in which they’ve had a lot of success, putting pressure on them to perform.
Which, to their credit, they certainly did. As a result, they’ll be able to head to their fifth straight Olympics next summer, where they’ll be seeking to reach the podium for a fourth straight edition.
Plus, they can head into that tournament confident, too, at least if they’re able to build off what they showed in this window. After a World Cup where they looked uninspired, short of ideas and unable to keep up with the pace of the modern game, their performance at this camp was night and day.
Thanks to a formation tweak and the insertion of some new faces, this Canadian team looked fluid, confident and tactically organized, looking far more like the talented team that they can be on paper, but hadn’t shown for much of this year.
As a result, if they can build off this, Canada could put themselves in a really good position ahead of the Olympics. There’s no doubt that this team is talented, and can do damage on their day, but they hadn’t shown it for a while.
With the right tactical evolution, however, it was felt that they could change that, and based on the early returns from this camp, that more than appears to be the case.
The Jamaicans more than got a taste of that across 180 minutes, in which they spent a lot of time chasing Canada, so now Bev Priestman’s side will look to build on that.
“Yeah, that takes character,” Priestman noted after this game. “If we don't have that, then we've lost the heart of this team. So to have the character to bounce back is key, as this window could have gone the other way after our World Cup, for sure.”
On that note, however, here’s a look at what stood out from the CanWNT in the second leg of this tie, where they did well to not let off the gas pedal after a very successful performance in the first leg.
New-look tactical identity gets Canada over the line in win:
After the success of a new formation in the first leg, it was always going to be intriguing to see what Priestman was going to roll out as her side got set for the second leg.
Without a doubt, she was going to run back what had worked well for them down in Kingston, but the big question was going to be if there were going to be any tweaks within that.
Turns out, the answer would be no, as Priestman tried to deploy the exact same 11 from leg one, only making a late change as Julia Grosso had to step in for an injured Quinn right before kick-off.
Despite that, the new formation continued to work its magic for Canada in this game. Despite holding a two-goal lead on aggregate, one they easily could’ve sat back and tried to protect, Canada came out like the team that was trailing in the tie.
As a result, they were able to pin Jamaica back, putting them on the back foot early with their pressure on both sides of the ball.
They did then face a bit of a scare early - Jamaica’s Drew Spence scored a wonderful free-kick seemingly out of nothing in the 33rd minute, cutting Canada’s aggregate lead to 2-1 - but that’s where Canada really showed the value of their new formation.
Instead of sitting back and trying to hit Jamaica on the counter, as they might’ve tried to do previously, they went right back at their opponents.
Through that, they ensured that Jamaica wouldn’t be able to get even a sliver of momentum off their opener, as Canada pushed the game right back the other way, going back onto the front foot despite the gut punch.
From there, they regained their two-goal lead just six minutes later, and were then able to seal the tie five minutes into the second half, putting the game to rest, before dictating the proceedings the rest of the way.
Not only that, but they let the ball do the work for them, too, defending their lead by keeping possession and chasing a third goal.
Because of that, not only did they win 2-1 on the scoreboard, but they outshot Jamaica 14 to 6, and had nine shots on target while holding onto 59% of the ball.
No matter how you slice it, that’s domination, something that Canada hasn’t been able to do enough in games.
What they showed this camp is exactly what the #CanWNT/#CanXNT missed at the World Cup, as they looked fluid tactically in the 3-4-2-1, played more on the front foot, integrated new faces and found variety in their attack— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) September 27, 2023
Now, if they can build on this for the Olympics? Huge
They’ve got the pieces to do so, however, and they showed that this camp, as they finally took a big step towards being the modern, front-facing team that they can be.
“Yeah, I think that's been the big shift,” Priestman mused after the game. “To be honest, being able to turn an opponent’s backline is something we lacked at the World Cup, and today, we went into this game like it was a 0-0 game, we wanted to win again, we wanted a clean sheet, we didn't get it, but we never came in like we were defending a 2-0 lead.”
“We wanted to go in on the front foot, we were only thinking about walking forward, we weren't stepping backward. We're at our best when we have that mindset to push forward, and that’s what we need because we've got the forwards, we’ve got the wing backs, and we looked far more dynamic today.”
“I think we've turned the Jamaican back four around more than we probably turned a team in some time, and I think that's that's exciting.”
Canada’s width provides value in attack:
On her day, there’s no doubting Ashley Lawrence’s value on both sides of the ball. Known as one of the best 1v1 defenders in the world, she can also get forward and whip in a dangerous cross, making her a key asset as a full back.
At the World Cup, unfortunately, she wasn’t able to show that for Canada. Deployed as a full back in a back four, she struggled to even get forward much, as opponents did well to pin her and fellow full back Jayde Riviere deep in possession.
Because of that, it has led to the important question - could it be worth moving Lawrence up the field, allowing her to influence the game more offensively? Especially with Canada’s chance generation concerns from the World Cup, where they only had 4 xG in three games, it felt like they could use her in more of an influential position.
Yet, that’s why the change to this back three formation is so key, as it’s pushed Lawrence into a wing back role that many have called her to be deployed in, yet haven’t had the chance to see her play.
So far, the early returns are promising, as Lawrence claimed two open-play assists across two games this camp, after having zero all World Cup.
🚨GOAL🍁🍁— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 27, 2023
Paris is calling📞
It's a perfect start to the 2nd half for the #CanWNT, as Jordyn Huitema gets on the end of a perfect Ashley Lawrence cross to make it 4-1 on aggregate over Jamaica
To be fair, she did generate some good chances at the World Cup - she was 2nd on the team in key passes with five, and had a team-leading 0.4 Expected Assists - but this felt like night and day compared to that.
But that Lawrence was even able to generate such numbers at the World Cup despite struggling to get forward shows why this switch to wing back for Canada is so key, as she remains one of Canada’s most dangerous chance generation threats on her day.
And she’s not the only one who will benefit, either. Of course, Canada’s forwards will be quite pleased to see this service provided on a regular basis, especially the two that she assisted, Nichelle Prince and Jordyn Huitema, but it could also benefit other wide defenders in a similar position to Lawrence, too.
For example, Sydney Collins was excellent in her first two starts for Canada at left wing back across both games, showing an ability to get forward and take defenders on, giving Canada a bit of variety on that side.
Then, Gabrielle Carle also showed well in the first leg, nabbing an assist of her own, too, proving that she can do some damage in more of an offensive role.
From there, that’s without looking at someone like the injured Janine Beckie, who was a chance-generation machine for Canada as both a full-back and a winger in 2022, making her someone who could really thrive alongside Lawrence as a wing back.
And seeing how valuable the width Canada was able to get in this formation was to their attack, as they were able to really stretch Jamaica out with their triangles, before breaking lines, it’s definitely something they’ll want to keep persisting with.
At the World Cup, they played far too narrow at times, and it showed in how easily teams were able to congest the middle against them, as Canada wasn’t able to stretch them out.
With Lawrence on one flank and one of Collins, Carle, Beckie, Jayde Riviere on the other as wing backs, however, Canada could change that, and this camp is an example of why.
Yet, that shows why it’s important to play to the strengths of your best players, and seeing that Lawrence was arguably Canada’s player of this window, thanks to this new-look formation, just shows the value of that.
Cloe Lacasse shines with opportunity:
As she continued to rain down goals for Benfica, it had felt like Cloé Lacasse was long overdue a run up front for Canada.
Yet, while she’s had looks, she hasn’t had a run of consistent minutes for her country.
Take this past World Cup, for example, where she played 122 minutes across three games. Not a bad number, given that it was the 12th most on the team, but those all came off substitute appearances, as she didn’t start a single game.
Despite that, she looked strong in her cameos, making some wonder if she could be in for a bigger role going forward. Especially after her huge move to English giants Arsenal, where she already looks to be a key piece, that much felt clear.
And if this window is any indication, we could be seeing a lot of Lacasse in a Canadian shirt between now and the Olympics.
Given that she played 176 minutes across two starts in this camp, scoring a goal and looking like a threat every time she got on the ball, that much is clear.
🚨GOAL🍁— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 26, 2023
What a response from the #CanWNT!
Moments after Ashley Lawrence rattled the crossbar, much to the disbelief of Bev Priestman, Cloé Lacasse nods home an Adriana Leon corner to make it 3-1 on aggregate
Not only that, but she showed good versatility in her role, too, putting in a good shift defensively, while always looking to take on her defender. Along with the combination that she had with Collins down the left, it was overall a successful camp for Lacasse.
Because of that, look for her to use this as a chance to really take a step up for Canada. Especially given that Canada could use another main option at winger with Prince looking better as a striker and Beckie likely to play as a wing back, Lacasse should be right in the mix with Deanne Rose (when healthy) and Adriana Leon for more starts and minutes at that position.
It’ll be tough to keep her spot, as Rose provides a lot of value on both sides of the ball, and Leon just seems to score for fun in a Canadian shirt, but Lacasse is right up there with them, and should continue to see the field.
Yet, that someone like Lacasse was able to step up the way she did is exactly what you want to see in this window. Between the performances from her, Collins, Jade Rose and more, some new faces did well to step up for Canada in this camp, which could create some interesting discussions at different positions going forward.
That’s key, as there’s never such a thing as too much competition in a squad, and Priestman is really starting to get that in this team, especially out wide in Lacasse’s case more specifically.