MATCH PREVIEW: CanWNT kicks off Christine Sinclair farewell tour with Brazil double-header
The Christine Sinclair celebration tour kicks off this week, as the CanWNT gets set to play Brazil in Montréal on Saturday.
The first of four straight games in Canada, they’ll then play Brazil again on October 31st in Halifax, before playing Australia in Langford on December 1st and in Vancouver on December 5th, giving Canadians a chance to watch Sinclair take the field for the last time while wearing the maple leaf.
Fittingly, she’ll be able to go out the same way that she came into the Canadian program, too, battling some of the best teams in the world, reminding folks of her status as an all-time great of the sport.
But while a lot of the attention over these next two windows will rightfully be pointed at Sinclair, the all-time leading international goalscorer, it’s worth noting that these are four big games for Canada, too.
Having booked their spot at the 2024 Paris Olympics last month, these are also some crucial preparation matches for Canada, who have some work to do ahead of next summer.
After a 2023 World Cup to forget, the defending gold medallists want to go out swinging in France next year. And with the likes of Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt and more now moving on, it feels like this team has endured quite the generational shift, one that began about a half-decade ago, but properly arrived this year.
The next step in that process? Developing a new tactical identity, which they started to do last month against Jamaica in those aforementioned Olympic qualifiers.
So now, starting with these pair of matches against ninth-ranked Brazil, Canada has a big chance to continue that process.
Speaking of those matches, here’s a look at some of what to expect from Canada in this October window, as they balance that tctical task, all while saying goodbye to an all-time great.
Continue to play on the front foot:
If asked to define Canada’s identity over the last few years, you might get a few different answers.
On the positive side of the ledger, ‘defensively sound’ might come up a few times. As would ‘low blocks’ and ‘counter-attacking’.
Then, from the negative side, you might hear ‘lack of goals’, ‘not enough possession’ or ‘need more chance creation’.
To Canada’s credit, when they’ve been at their best, they’ve done well to be a team that can sit deeper and frustrate teams, doing well to hit them in transition. As many know, they won a gold medal while doing so.
Now, however, as seen at this past World Cup, there’s more of an emphasis on teams that can control games and play with the ball, with the success of Spain over the past few years being a prime example of what that can look like.
Of course, there’s value in being defensively sound, but the modern game is now about pressing and knowing how to keep your lines compact defensively, while holding onto the ball and then being incisive with your passing offensively.
And for Canada, they struggled to meet those demands at the World Cup, which is why they ended up bowing out in the group stages, with a 4-0 loss to Australia in their final game really magnifying those struggles.
For a Canadian side that has talented players across the pitch, it was frustrating, as it felt like Canada wasn’t playing to its full potential.
To be fair, they realized that - as a result, they came out with a new formation and a new identity against Jamaica, doing well to play that modern, front-facing football that they've long talked of playing, but have sometimes struggled to put into action.
Because of that, look for them to continue to build on that against Brazil. It was one thing to do that against a Jamaican side that likes to sit back deeper and play more defensively, as Canada was invited to control proceedings, but it’s different to be able to do so against a team that will want to go toe-to-toe with them like Brazil.
If they’re to win another Olympics, these are the sorts of teams that Canada will have to get used to beating while playing this way, so this will serve as a good chance for them to continue to build on what they showed against Jamaica.
Even if there ends up being growing pains along the way in this camp, that will just be something they have to stomach, as the pay-off could be huge down the road.
Balancing auditions with Sinclair’s goodbye:
And speaking of Canada finding their new tactical identity, any success they have in that quest will also come down to their ability to find the players that fit within that, be it the new 3-4-2-1 they’ve employed, or any similar formation they might try.
Of course, this new (current?) generation will be led by the likes of Jessie Fleming, Ashley Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan, Vanessa Gilles, Kailen Sheridan, and when she returns from injury Janine Beckie, among others. That much is clear.
What they’ll need to figure out, however, is who could potentially complement that group, helping bring more out of them.
For example, last camp, Jade Rose and Sydney Collins ended up being huge standouts at right centre back and left wing back, respectively, despite having less than 10 caps between them heading into those pair of games against Jamaica.
With Rose’s speed and ability at the ball at the back, which helped Canada build up play and their defensive transitions, as well as Collins’s ability to cover ground out wide, they were able to help make that new formation tick.
And they weren’t the only ones, either, as Cloé Lacasse, Nichelle Prince and Adriana Leon put in a shift up front, while Quinn and Jessie Fleming formed quite the double pivot, which were all encouraging partnerships.
Because of that, it was no coincidence that someone like Ashley Lawrence had one of her best camps in a Canadian shirt last month, picking up two assists, as she was finally able to play more of a wing back role that suits her better than the more defensive full back role she’s had to play in the past.
So now, Canada will need to look at more players who can fit into this system, helping get more out of the likes of Lawrence, for example, which would help Canada massively for the Olympics.
Yet, while Canada will be looking to give some of those newer faces a shot, it’ll be interesting to see how they balance that with Sinclair’s farewell tour, too, given that she won’t be at the next Olympics.
Given that she plays more as a midfielder at the club level with the Portland Thorns, do we see her play a little deeper over these next two windows? Or does she stay higher up the pitch, as she’s mostly done for Canada, perhaps allowing her to add a goal or two to her record-breaking tally before the end of the year?
It’s a big question, but either way, Priestman isn’t worried that Sinclair will be taking away minutes from players who could be auditioning.
BP: "Sinc comes into every meeting with a notepad and has had high-performance habits. Even now. I've had a captains' group for some time, and Sinc has had a lasting impact. The stars have aligned for five home games for Sinc."— Rise Higher (@RiseHigherCa) October 27, 2023
Throughout the start of camp this week, Sinclair’s been doing extra work after training and continues to be one of the most vocal voices in meetings, not straying from the meticulous habits that moulded her into an all-time great.
Much as she did when she burst onto the scene for the CanWNT as a 16-year-old, she wants to battle for every minute that she’ll get over the next four games, and that should rub off nicely on her teammates, especially the younger ones like Rose and Collins, who are looking to push into the Olympic squad themselves.
Getting set for a new-look Brazil:
Given that Canada has played Brazil a half-dozen times over the last three years since Priestman was hired, these teams know each other quite well.
Sitting with a record of 2W-2D-2L in those meetings, they’ve played each other relatively evenly across that span, too.
Because of that, it’s worth noting that Brazil actually has made a big change as of late - they’ve got a new coach, as Pia Sundhage’s four-year reign came to an end after the World Cup, in which Brazil failed to make it out of their group for the first time since 1995.
Now, they’ll be led by Arthur Elias, who was most recently the coach of Corinthians’ women’s outfit, where he won the Copa Libertadores four times, and the Brazilian league five times, establishing himself as one of the top coaches in Brazil.
There, he’ll have his work cut out for him, as they look to push towards the Olympics, where they’ve got a big task on their hands. Given that they’ve never finished higher than fourth after picking up back-to-back silver medals in 2004 and 2008, they want to show that they can push into the world’s elite at that tournament once again.
Corinthians Femenino have won the 2023 Brasilerão Feminino! 🥳— Total Football Analysis (@TotalAnalysis) September 13, 2023
In May, @bethlimb analysed the tactics of new Brazil boss Arthur Elias and how they ensured Meu Timão retained their domestic superiority! 💪https://t.co/DJOIBEXfEf
And seeing that this is Elias’s first camp in charge of the team, as they didn’t play in the September window, that journey begins now.
That’s worth noting, as that means that Canada will head into this camp not knowing much about this Brazil team and their new identity.
For what it’s worth, Elias’s Corinthians sides were very attack-minded, outscoring teams by an average of almost 4 to 0.5 across the last year, outshooting them 20 to six and out-possessing them heavily, but that also shows that they were clearly a cut above a lot of their peers in Brazil.
With this Brazilian side, it’ll be a lot tougher to impose that sort of dominance, although they’ve certainly got the players to play that sort of offensive style, so it would make sense for Elias to try and put that in place going forward.
Either way, one thing’s for sure - even though the iconic Marta still remains in the fold, along with regulars Debinha, Cristiane, Rafaelle and more, seeing that this is Elias’s first camp in charge, and that 18 of the players in their 24 player squad have fewer than 50 caps, this is clearly a Brazil team in transition.
Fittingly, however, so is Canada, which is why this matchup could be good for them, as it’ll allow them to also continue to find their identity, while not worrying as much about getting throttled by a side that is a little further on in that process than they are.
They’ll have their work cut out against Australia in December, as they’ll know from the World Cup, but these Brazilian games can be a good test run for that, helping prepare them for what’s to come.