3 KEY takeaways from the CanWNT's October doubleheader vs. Brazil
The CanWNT kicked off their preparations for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics this past week, as they took on Brazil in a pair of friendlies in Montréal and Halifax.
A chance for Canada to start getting ready for what awaits them in Paris, it was also an opportunity for them to say goodbye, too, as it also marked the start of the Christine Sinclair farewell tour, which will wrap up in December with games in her home province of British Columbia.
Because of that, this made for an interesting camp, as this was seen as both an opportunity to move forward and experiment, while also saying goodbye to a CanWNT legend, making for an interesting contrast of objectives.
Despite that, Canada navigated their tasks quite solidly, finishing with a win and a loss across both games. More importantly, they got a chance to experiment with some new partnerships, saw some new faces and learned some important lessons, all while giving Sinclair the send-off she deserved.
So overall, while Canada will be disappointed not to have won both games for their fans, they’ll be pleased with the rest of this camp, as even the more frustrating points led to some key learnings. With the Olympics still a while away, that’s exactly what you want to see, especially if Canada can grow and learn from these lessons.
Speaking of those lessons, here’s a look at what stood out from a Canadian perspective at his camp, giving an idea of some of what they may be pondering heading into the next window.
Jessie Fleming’s importance to 3-4-2-1 highlighted:
Usually, you can notice someone’s importance to a team when they’re on the field.
But sometimes, when a player is absent, that’s when you really see how important someone is to a team.
For Canada, they saw that with Jessie Fleming in this camp.
No doubt, it’s pretty well-known that Jessie Fleming is a crucial part of this Canadian midfield, and that was shown at this World Cup, for example, where Fleming missed out on the first game against Nigeria with an injury. She ended up returning for the rest of the tournament, but Canada never seemed to get into a rhythm, and neither did Fleming, perhaps feeling the effect of that ailment.
When Canada has been at their best over the past few years, Fleming’s usually in the middle of it, putting in a shift on both sides of the ball.
So when she left the first game after just 22 minutes with what was later discovered to be a migraine, it was a big worry for Canadian fans, who will have thought back to her absence in that opening game of the World Cup.
And their worries proved to be prophetic, as Canada then struggled the rest of that game, after starting quite brightly. They struggled to build out of the back, were getting hit in transition, and just overall looked outnumbered in midfield, as they fell 1-0 late.
Then, in the second match, those struggles persisted in the first half, even despite some personnel changes, as Fleming started that game on the bench.
Because of that, it opened up all sorts of questions. Should Canada have been still playing in their new-look 3-4-2-1 formation? Could they have used an extra body in midfield? Was it wise to keep building out of the back despite Brazil’s press?
But then, Fleming came on in the 52nd minute, and everything changed again.
Instantly, Canada’s 3-4-2-1 came back to life, and they started to play through Brazil’s press, and finally started to push the ball into the final third once again.
As a result, it was no surprise that Fleming then helped them open the scoring in the 69th minute, teeing up Ashley Lawrence with a perfect through ball for the secondary assist on Jordyn Huitema’s goal.
GOAL 🇨🇦— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) November 1, 2023
JORDYN HUITEMA GET IN 🎯
The Canadian striker gets on the end of Ashley Lawrence's PERFECT cross to give her team a 1-0 lead over Brazil 😎
🔴 Watch LIVE on OneSoccer pic.twitter.com/B11MSIyHRc
From there, Canada cruised to victory, adding another goal along the way, with Fleming putting in a huge shift on both sides of the ball once again, which helped her teammates find their feet, as well.
Canada ended up benefitting from that, as they looked miles better in their 3-4-2-1 once Fleming was in, showing that if they’re to play in that formation going forward, Fleming may be the biggest key to their success in it.
Now, of course, the key will be to get even more out of Fleming in this 3-4-2-1, as well as figuring out how to adjust in games where she can’t feature, but it’ll be easier to do so now that they learned that their #17 is a big reason for what makes the 3-4-2-1 work in the first place.
“She (Fleming) epitomizes our identity, she gets on the ball a lot, and continuously shows for the ball, but the minute the ball is lost, she's up to win it back,” Priestman said of Fleming. “And I think just that intensity without the ball is incredible. She’s so selfless, she doesn't want me to talk about who she is, and I think that's a big part of who she is.”
“She’s a team-first player, today she didn’t start, and a big part is that she wanted to take the chance to train and she didn’t want to come off in the 17th minute again, and that says a lot about her as a selfless player, and that's a big part of who we are.”
Did Sabrina D’Angelo open up a goalkeeping debate?
There’s no doubt that Kailen Sheridan is Canada’s #1 goalkeeper, and for good reason - she’s one of the best in the world at her position.
She proved that in the first game against Brazil, making eight saves despite their 1-0 loss, keeping Canada in the match right until the very end.
Yet, at the same time, that doesn’t mean her spot is 100% nailed in, and Sabrina D’Angelo reminded her of that in the second match.
D’Angelo’s first start for Canada since February, where she went 30 minutes against Japan at She Believes Cup before coming off with an injury, it was a big audition for the 30-year-old, who many have been eager to see get a look in Canada’s goal.
Especially after her transfer to Arsenal earlier this year, where she’s shown relatively well as a rotation option for the English side, it’s felt that she could push Sheridan for that #1 spot going forward.
Because of that, this D’Angelo start was a big opportunity for her to prove that.
And to her credit, she made the most of it. It wasn’t her busiest game, as she only had to make two stops, but there was one area of her game where she really shone - her distribution.
Both in terms of her short passing, which was mostly quite accurate, and then her long balls, which helped Canada relieve pressure on several occasions, D’Angelo did a good job of helping Canada build out of the back on several occasions, while even picking up a secondary assist on Canada’s second goal.
That’s key, because while there’s no doubting Sheridan’s shotstopping, her distribution has sometimes been an area of her game that she’s struggled with, especially when it comes to breaking lines with her passing.
D’Angelo, however, didn’t have such issues, doing well to bypass Brazil’s pressure with her passes, which was a huge asset for Canada, as it helped them play a bit more on the front foot, as they want to do in this new formation.
All of a sudden, that opens up an interesting debate for Canada, as one could wonder if D’Angelo’s skillset might better suit what this Canadian team is trying to do long-term, even if she might not have the shotstopping ability of Sheridan (although she is also no slouch in that department either), as it could help Canada with their struggles at playing through pressure from out of the back.
A performance like this from Sabrina D'Angelo could open up some interesting questions in goal for the #CanWNT/#CANXNT— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 1, 2023
There's no doubting Kailen Sheridan's shotstopping, but D'Angelo's distribution has been a massive asset today, and has now led to a goal
That’s not lost on Priestman, either, who spoke about it after the second match.
She still sees Sheridan as the #1, and rightfully so, but she noted that she’s recently challenged D’Angelo to push and try and make that spot her own, and this performance is a good first step towards her potentially doing that.
And that would be key for Canada, as this competition can only help them. Either Sheridan will respond to this pressure and take her game up another notch, or D’Angelo will do enough to win the spot, with both goalkeepers benefitting in both scenarios.
Because of that, don’t be surprised if D’Angelo sees more starts between now and the Olympics, and rightfully so.
“Yeah, absolutely, what we saw from (Sabrina D’Angelo) is what I see from her every day in training,” Priestman said. “She pretty much set up one of the goals, and I just thought she had an awesome springiness to what she does, she's very light on her feet the way she plays, and I think both Kailen (Sheridan) and Sabrina want that push, and that's been my challenge to Sabrina post-World Cup, it’s to come in, as she’s been an unbelievable number two, but to push now and keep making Kailen better, but to also push herself for that number one spot, as well.”
“I thought she was good tonight, sometimes when you're not in that rhythm of sharing game time, you can put a lot of pressure on yourself, but I don’t think she did that, and he brought her identity, and I thought she was outstanding.”
Jordyn Huitema and Evelyne Viens offer glimpse of potential partnership:
Even as she continues to bag goals at the club level, Evelyne Viens has struggled to turn that into consistent minutes for Canada, as she’s been unable to snatch a spot up front.
Because of that, this camp was a big step forward in that regard for her, as she was able to get a 60-minute cameo as a starter in the second game.
That might not sound like much at first, of course, but it’s worth noting that’s only the third time she’s gone more than 60 for Canada, showing how rare that’s been.
Yet, that was a credit to her, as she led the line nicely for Canada, pressing nicely from the front defensively, while causing problems with her runs and movement when Canada did have the ball.
Despite not getting many touches, she found a way to be effective, which is exactly what you want from a striker.
Plus, she’s forming some pretty solid chemistry with Jordyn Huitema, who seems to enjoy being able to play off a striker like Viens.
Given that Viens plays as more of a traditional #9, one that likes to play with her back to goal, that complements Huitema quite nicely, as she prefers to play front-facing with the ball at her feet in the build-up.
Because of that, the two were able to give Canada some good outlets in possession, and did well to combine on a few occasions, too, putting together some nice sequences of play.
The lone frustration with them was that they weren’t able to do that more often, really, as Canada didn’t get them the ball as much as they should’ve, hindering their effectiveness slightly.
Other than that, though, it was a good showing for the pair, one that Priestman was quite encouraged with, noting that she could turn to it more in the future.
Especially if Canada can improve their service to them, which will help as they figure out how to get even more out of Ashley Lawrence in this formation, as well as the impending return of Janine Beckie, there could be some potential in this Viens and Huitema duo.
They’ll have stiff competition up front, as Cloé Lacasse continues to be dangerous, Deanne Rose scored a great goal in this game (off a Lacasse assist), Adriana Leon always seems to be dangerous and Nichelle Prince has shown well up front as of late, among others, but Viens and Huitema could use that chemistry to their advantage, as Canada’s sometimes struggled to find that sort of cohesion up front recently despite the talent at their disposal.
“You've seen the qualities of Brazil’s defenders, big, strong centre backs with height, and it’s hard to evade their pressure, so I thought that these two together would be able to help us do that,” Priestman said of Viens and Huitema. “Both like to play naturally forward, Jordyn’s probably a bit more of a link-up player, and Evelyne's more of a hold-up player, so we’ve been trying to get their qualities together.”
“To be honest, we didn’t connect the two of them enough, so their qualities are there, but I think we need to get them on the ball more and bring the two of them into the game earlier rather than just big long balls, and then play them in behind the defenders. So probably this partnership wasn’t at its best, due to the nature of the game, but I think the pair of them can play off each other well.”