Could Benfica striker Cloé Lacasse be Canada's secret weapon at the World Cup?
It was a milestone weekend for Cloé Lacasse in Portugal, as she scored her 100th goal for Benfica on Sunday morning.
Coming as part of a two-goal and two-assist performance from the Canadian in a 6-0 win over Ouriense, it was a big win for Benfica, whose magic number is now just one in their hunt to win their third straight league title.
And central to those efforts has been Lacasse, who in her fourth season with the club, has hit a whole new level as a player this year.
With a World Cup looming for Canada, that’s key, as their offence remains a key question mark heading into that tournament. Yet, with Lacasse continuing to bag the goals at the club level, it feels like she should be relied upon heavily this summer, and for good reason, based on what her stint at Benfica has shown.
Another big season of improvement
Since turning pro in 2015, Lacasse has always been one for the goals.
After graduating from the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2014, where she scored 43 goals and added 26 assists across four years there, she then made the jump to the pro game in Iceland, where she joined ÍBV.
There, she thrived, scoring 52 goals across four seasons with the club, while taking nicely to her new surroundings. In fact, she even earned her Icelandic citizenship in 2019, showing how much she’d fallen in love with her new country.
Thanks to her performances, she’d also earn a move to Portugal in 2019, where historic giants, Benfica, were just looking to grab a foothold in the women’s game after sitting as a pillar of the men’s game for so long. Having just won promotion to the top Portuguese top flight after winning the unique combination of the second division title and Portuguese cup crown, they had big goals, and Lacasse’s arrival was a key part of that.
And so far, two league titles, three league cups and two super cups later, that mission has certainly been accomplished. Along with historic first forays into the Champions League group stages over the last two years, Benfica’s grown rapidly over the last four years, and Lacasse has been a big part of that.
The team’s leading scorer in each of the last three seasons, as she scored 25 goals in 19/20, 22 goals in 20/21 and 20 goals in 21/22, she’s been in and around the goals since day one at the club.
This year, however, she’s taken it to a whole other level. With her historic marker over the weekend, she’s now up to 33 goals this season, which along with 14 assists, is by far her best mark in both categories in a full campaign, with games still to be played.
Cloé Lacasse was on fire today🔥— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) April 16, 2023
It was a casual 2G/2A day for Lacasse with Benfica, including this mazy beauty of a goal and finish, as they inch towards another title
She’s now got 31 goals in all competitions 😵💫#CanWNT/#CanXNT
Plus, she answered one of the big questions some always had about her - the ability to score in big games against better teams. Just look at her Champions League campaign, where she scored seven goals, which as of writing, is still good for the second in the golden boot race (despite Lacasse only playing in the group stages and the tournament not being at the semi-finals).
Despite being in a group with heavyweights Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Lacasse managed to score seven of Benfica’s eight group stage goals they managed this campaign (87%). Safe to say, she showed that she’s an elite finisher, one that can get it done against some pretty big teams.
And seeing her now hit 100 goals for Benfica just further shows that, especially as it’s come in just 127 matches for the club. Along with the 30+ assists she has to her name, those numbers look straight out of a video game, showing how dominant she’s been ever since she arrived in Portugal.
Here’s Cloé Lacasse’s 5th goal in 5 #UCL games in 22/23 for Benfica, as she nabbed one back vs Barcelona today— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) December 15, 2022
She has now scored in 4 straight UCL games. Unbelievable scoring form against some good teams#CanWNT/#CanXNT World Cup watch continues 👀pic.twitter.com/HzJv9S9Js5
Could her role with Canada be set to expand?
Despite her success at the club level, however, Lacasse hasn’t been able to translate that into much internationally quite yet, as she’s scored just once in 19 games since making her Canada debut after picking her country of birth over the allure of potentially repping Iceland.
Yet, even though those numbers might not pop off the page the same way her club ones do, it feels like she could be a potentially undervalued asset for Canada.
Namely, there’s the fact that despite making 19 appearances, she’s played less than 700 minutes, the equivalent of less than eight full games.
That’s a fair amount, yes, but also not a lot, especially not in a starting role, as she’s had to settle for coming off the bench a lot.
In fact, just four of her 19 appearances are starts, and she’s never gone more than 65 minutes in a match, mostly serving as a substitute option.
Which, to be fair, isn’t that unusual. Given that she only made her National Team debut at the end of 2021, that Canada was a veteran-heavy team fresh off of winning the Olympics and that Benfica wasn’t yet seen as a strong team compared to some of the other teams Canadians played on, there were obstacles standing in her way.
Now, however, it feels like Lacasse is primed for a look at perhaps getting a bigger role with the World Cup looming.
As Canada has struggled to get goals from players not named Adriana Leon, it feels like any options could be worth exploring up front, especially with usual forward options Janine Beckie, Deanne Rose and Nichelle Prince all either already ruled out of the World Cup (Beckie) or in a race against time to be fit enough to be there (Rose and Prince).
Plus, given that Lacasse has looked dangerous in her opportunities, generating 0.34 xG, 1.71 shots and 1.44 key passes per 90 minutes for Canada, it feels like she’s primed to start scoring more if given the chance to play more.
Given that she’s underperformed her xG by almost 0.20 on a per 90 basis, that will only correct itself over time, given her history of scoring goals, which could be huge for Canada.
Especially seeing that she’s scored against the likes of Barcelona and Bayern this year, it shows that quality certainly isn’t an issue if you worry about how she might play against a tier-one side, after some had questioned whether the strength of her club side had been a limiting factor before.
Therefore, it’d only make sense for Canada to give her a look this summer, as they certainly have nothing to lose, and in Lacasse, they’ve got someone who can slot in and is familiar with the set-up already.
Future at Benfica?
Going forward, however, it’ll be intriguing to see what ends up happening with Lacasse, as while she’s certainly become a Benfica legend, she could be primed for a move elsewhere.
Having been linked to Arsenal this past winter, top teams will certainly be interested.
For now, she won’t be going anywhere, as she’s signed through 2024 and both sides are pleased with the other, but a tempting offer could change things.
Plus, about to turn 30 this summer, it could be one of the last big chances for a move like that while Lacasse is still in her prime, which could also be hard for her to ignore.
Of course, Benfica’s a big club, so it’s not as if staying is a bad thing, as she should keep playing in the Champions League and winning trophies, but it feels like a step up could help her.
Just look at how Benfica has run over everyone in the Portuguese league this season, winning 18 out of 19 games while scoring 90 goals and conceding just five. For a player, that’s not the most competitive environment, even if the pressure of not losing is high at a club of that stature.
Therefore, it’ll be intriguing to see what the future holds for her. Especially if she does have a strong World Cup, teams will only continue to circle, and could be tempted to make an offer.
And after scoring as many goals as she has at the club level, there’s no doubt of her ability to put the ball in the back of the net, something Canada will hope to rely on as they look to go on a run during this World Cup.