ANALYSIS: Jordyn Huitema's growth helping fuel CanWNT's tactical evolution
It took 90 minutes of effort, as well as some bumps and bruises, but in the end, the CanWNT managed to see things over the line versus Argentina in a 2-0 win Thursday.
While a little more grit and grind was required than in September against Australia, Canada continued upward on its trajectory of growth, and Bev Priestman's tactical changes continued to evolve, too. Most importantly, Canada learned a few more important lessons along the way.
The most obvious of them? Jordyn Huitema has a big role to play for this new-look Canada.
Canada's evolution opens new doors for Huitema
There is no better example of player growth through change as of late than Jordyn Huitema's new role for Canada.
After not making a single start for Les Rouges at the CONCACAF W Championship, this Argentina game saw Huitema start her third-straight match for Canada match, showing that she's really impressed head coach Priestman as of late.
Thanks to a formation change that has seen Canada shift to a 4-4-2 with two no. 9s – a change from the 4-3-1-2 that typically had two wingers up front in front of a false nine – Huitema's stock has increased massively. It helps, of course, that she no longer competes with Christine Sinclair for minutes in that older formation, too.
Now there's room to start both with this new setup, as they did twice back in September. While it didn't happen in this game as Sinclair missed out due to injury, Huitema maintained her spot, with Janine Beckie acting as the Sinclair replacement underneath her.
In that set-up, Huitema has found joy. Typically, in the single striker formation, she'd often find herself isolated, unable to impact games in the way that she usually can. But with a partner alongside her, she’s been able to get much more involved in possession, where she’s gotten comfortable dropping deep to get touches when her team has the ball.
2nd assist of the season for Jordyn Huitema, who sets up Megan Rapinoe for an early OL Reign goal— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) October 2, 2022
She’s continued to find her feet nicely in the NWSL, has Huitema. Good to see#CanWNT/#CanXNT https://t.co/9zoVyDoO2E
OL Reign move sees Huitema raise level
The biggest thing to note with Huitema's play is the fact that she's had time to adapt her game to become a more modern no. 9.
Beforehand, she'd tend to drift in and out of game. Now, she's making more of an effort to get on the ball and be a focal point up front.
You can see that change at NWSL outfit OL Reign too, where Huitema has started to look like a dangerous no. 9 for her new club, scoring two goals and recording two assists in 750 minutes of action. She was instrumental in securing the NWSL Shield for her club, scoring in the final game of the season and proving herself a key contributor in a team bursting with offensive options.
It’s no coincidence that these recent starts for Canada have come after she made her move to Seattle; her recent surge in form helps, too. That’s certainly something Priestman noticed, with growth in little details in particular standing out to her most with Huitema lately.
"I think her one-touch and combination play is significantly improved, big time," Priestman said after the Argentina game. "That’s a different asset to have this number nine."
At the same time, there's still a lot of growth to come for Huitema. Just 21 years of age, she is far from hitting her prime as a striker, and there are moments where she shows that she's still putting everything together as an attacker.
What's next for Canada's young star?
This Argentina game was a great learning lesson for Huitema's role.
While her hold-up play was once again very crisp, and she helped facilitate a few Canadian attacks when she was on the pitch, she didn’t push back defences as much as she could’ve, and wasn’t as big of a box presence as she can be given her frame.
As a result, she ended up coming off at half time for the more direct Évelyne Viens, who helped create Canada’s two second-half goals with her ability to those aforementioned attributes.
Therefore, for Huitema, continuing to hone her all-around game as a striker is key. The top forwards know how to hurt teams in different ways, especially off the ball with their runs.
So while the improvement in Huitema’s hold-up play is a welcome one, especially given that she leads Canada with five assists in 2022, there is lots more to come in terms of goals, having scored just one goal over that span, something that Priestman is looking for her to do more of.
"We've also got to keep getting Jordyn running behind, as well, having her push their line back," Priestman explained. "But I've seen a significant shift in her play.
"When you look at the players she's playing with at OL Reign, I think that's also helped her develop that (hold-up) part of her play, which is great," she concluded.
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