CanWNT's scoring frustrations lead to bigger question: What's next after Sinclair?
TORONTO – A home crowd, thousands of Christine Sinclair, Jessie Fleming and youth soccer jerseys dotting BMO Field, and the return of the heroic Canadian Women's National Team gave fans plenty to be optimistic about last Sunday in Toronto.
That optimism, however, was quickly replaced by monotony, as those in attendance when Canada faced South Korea saw a team once again struggling to connect on the pitch, leading to an eventual 0-0 draw.
Once again, CanWNT fans are begging the question – how and when will these Olympic gold medalists finally start clicking up top?
This stalemate friendly was Canada's lone preparation match before heading off to Mexico for the Concacaf W Championship – a crucial qualifying tournament for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, 2024 summer Olympics, and the newly-formed Concacaf W Gold Cup.
But it was not the sort of performance this team would have hoped for; despite being active and alert throughout 90 minutes with 14 shots (four on target), Bev Priestman's team left BMO Field with nothing to show for it.
Instead, miscommunication, predictability, and frustration captured the spotlight leaving players discouraged at full-time, and with plenty to address, according to Janine Beckie and Cloé Lacasse.
"We've gotten the first few days under our belts now and we're starting to feel better and better," Lacasse told OneSoccer after the match.
"This is our first part of our journey right before the CONCACAF Championship starts so we're [still] getting going, we're making those partnerships."
"We’re kind of getting the butterflies out … So we wanted to get more shots on frame and just be more dangerous."
Added Beckie: "We have to give (South Korea) credit for keeping the ball out of their net ... but I don't think we're satisfied with the performance.
"There are a lot of things we can move forward with, and some things that we need to look at and clean up over the next two weeks."
Scoring frustrations loom large
The next time the squad takes to the pitch, they will face their most important competition since last summer's Olympics.
Canada must find that last sliver of cohesiveness on the pitch.
The CanWNT's scoring inconsistency has been routinely criticized over the last calendar year, as the Canadians are still struggling for answers to the fact that they've notched just 13 goals in the 10 games since Tokyo 2020.
Breaking the numbers down even further shows how bleak Canada's attack has been.
This team has scored once from the penalty spot; three goals were scored by defenders, and two were notched by international soccer's all-time leading goal-scorer Christine Sinclair.
But remove the 39-year-old's presence in front of goal (a looming reality Canada must eventually address) and that leaves just seven goals out of a combined nine forward options across 10 games.
A number, then, that's nowhere near high enough for a side ranked sixth in the world, and who boast gold medals around their necks.
The pressure to find the back of the net weighs heavy on their shoulders. But Beckie – who was one of the most active players on Sunday and was consequently awarded the Performance of the Match – remains hopeful that her team can find their scoring touch ahead of facing Trinidad and Tobago on July 5.
"I take it personally as a forward when we don't score goals and I know I share that same sentiment with the other forwards," she offered.
"You know, we've been away from each other. This is the first time we've been back together since earlier in the year and it takes time to build those partnerships. We've got some new faces in the group, and we're regrouping from a really successful last year, so I think we take the positives from it.
"The goals will come. I think it's one of those things where we get the first and then hopefully the floodgates open."
Who can break down the dam, however, remains the biggest puzzle for Priestman.
Transitioning away from Christine Sinclair
With the ever-reliable Sinclair nursing an injury, six of Canada’s seven forwards featured against South Korea – but nobody stepped up to claim the open spot ahead of the W Championship.
Sinclair has been a mainstay in this Canada team since making her debut in 2000. Since then, she's made 310 appearances, leading the world in scoring with 189 goals to her name.
For years, it seems, the question of "what's next?" has followed both Sinclair and her position on the field. In truth, no clear answer has been found.
These days, the opportunity to stake a claim has never been more open, though none of Canada's other forwards have truly grasped it yet.
Against South Korea, Jordyn Huitema's presence in front of goal looked promising, with the 21-year-old coming close on two occasions. A run of consistent games could be just what she needs to get going, something she struggled to find at her former club Paris Saint-Germain, too.
Nichelle Prince has been on fire for Houston Dash with five goals and two assists in eight matches. Can she find that form for Canada, if handed the opportunity?
Perhaps Priestman needs to be bolder with her own tactical decisions. Defensively speaking, Canada is solid, but could they take more risks, particularly in midfield, to spark their lacklustre attack?
Juventus' Julia Grosso proves to be a creative outlet, after all, as we saw last summer in Tokyo.
Or maybe it is needing to mould someone into taking up the role of a designated game-changer – a super-sub if you will. Providing assistance off the bench is something Lacasse admitted she hopes to offer in the future.
"You want to make a difference," Lacasse said. "You want to change the dynamics and you want to be you want to create an impact, right? I hope that [against South Korea], we saw the start to that."
Meanwhile, these open-ended questions also makes the omission of Évelyne Viens’ from the squad a rather peculiar choice, considering the striker has been shining for Kristianstads DFF in Sweden, with nine goals and seven assists in 15 games.
I asked Bev Priestman about the exclusion of Gabrielle Carle and Evelyne Viens in her #CanWNT/#CanXNT squad:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) June 24, 2022
Says Carle's exclusion was more about the play of those around her. As for Viens, mentions that she didn't really grab her chance, but is still keeping an eye on her https://t.co/Tu9nL84scI
For Beckie, who herself has been used as a right back, right winger, and attacking midfielder, the solution requires more time. But Beckie isn't afraid to carry the brunt of the pressure on her shoulders, for now.
"We go [to Mexico] with an expectation to win and I feel like I play a really big role on this team in helping us keep the ball and creating things in the attack and scoring goals," she said.
"So I think I'll have the mindset to put the ball back in the net however possible. I'm really excited for what's to come. I think this team is exciting and have the potential to score a lot."
The one factor which can aid Canada's hunt for goals, Beckie adds, is the team's chemistry. For all the talk of figuring out how to work together on the field, off of it, there are no concerns.
"That's one thing we never worry about. Our chemistry is the best in the world. No doubt.
"We really value and prioritize our culture ... when we're at our best it shows on the field. We always have that camaraderie, that friendship off the field, and the culture's great, better than it's ever been. So I'm looking forward to going through these next couple weeks with this group."
Canada faces Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica from July 5-11 in the group stage of the Concacaf W Championship, available on OneSoccer.