Quite frankly, I view the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup as a smashing success on- and off-field for Canada. Crowds have been consistently good at all venues, no serious scandals have arisen, and the team enjoyed about as much success as objective fans could have hoped for in reaching the quarter-finals.
It was John Herdman’s side’s performance in the quarter-final – a 2-1 defeat against Mark Sampson’s disciplined England – which left people asking questions. Uninspired for most of their first four matches, Canada came out of the gates against the Lionesses with two successive gaffes; defender, Lauren Sesselmann, literally stumbled in the 11th minute, allowing Jodie Taylor to slot home past goalkeeper, Erin McLeod, before McLeod was inexcusably chipped by rising England star, Lucy Bronze, three minutes later. Despite dominating second half possession, Canada never really looked capable of equalising after captain, Christine Sinclair, cut the English lead in half just before the break.
Questions surrounded Herdman’s selection and tactical choices, with his decisions being thrashed in comparison with English boss, Mark Sampson’s.
- 33 year-old ‘winger’, Melissa Tancredi, goalless since 2012, started in four of Canada’s five tournament matches. I use the term winger loosely because, by definition, a winger is supposed to be quick and creative: two things Tancredi was not for the duration of the 2015 World Cup. Not only did she start against England after four sub-par appearances, Herdman left her on the pitch for seventy minutes.
- Josée Bélanger, arguably Canada’s most creative offensive player in its Round-of-16 match against Switzerland, was pushed to right back after veteran Diana Matheson – who hadn’t played since October – came on in the 62nd minute.
- A complete and utter failure to pressure English centre backs, Laura Bassett and Steph Houghton, who had both been highlighted by various pundits as slow and exploitable. Perhaps having Sinclair and Tancredi – beasts on the path to Bronze in 2012, but both substantially slower now – up front was, dare I say it, a mistake?
- England were forced to burn a substitution in the 52nd minute when goalkeeper, Karen Bardsley, went down with what can only be described as ‘turf eye’. At that point, Herdman should have had his players press England in an effort to further tire them out and use the extra substitution to his side’s advantage. They didn’t, with England actually looking the fresher of the two sides late in the match.
By the same token, it could have been a very different type of quarter-final on Saturday evening in Vancouver. After a very 2012-esque set of dribbles and a pass in the midfield from Christine Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi skied a free look from inside the England 18-yard box over the net, failing to trouble Bardsley.
Seconds later, Taylor pounced on what can only be described as a terrible blunder by Canadian defender, Lauren Sesselmann, and slotted past McLeod to put England up.
Three minutes after that, Lucy Bronze chipped McLeod and the match was essentially put to bed.
But, what if?
What if Melissa Tancredi had scored, and Canada had gone up one-nil inside ten minutes at BC Place? That’s a tale that we’ll never be told.
It’s important to note that the media train, whatever you define it as, is partially to blame for the notion that Canada ‘choked’ or ‘disappointed’ with its quarter-final exit. Firstly, this was a Canadian team stuck between youth and senior citizenship, with the likes of Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan playing in the same team as Rhian Wilkinson and Melissa Tancredi. Two sets of players from very different soccer generations, backgrounds, and tactical ideologies. Yet, John Herdman was expected to make them a contender at Canada 2015.
The team stumbled through its group, managing just two goals against the likes of China, Netherlands, and New Zealand: three decent teams with no world-beater amongst them. Defensively, Herdman’s side often looked out of sorts and disorganised against mediocre competition. Yet, the Canadian media continued preaching the tall tale that this was a world class team that ‘simply hadn’t hit its stride‘.
All things told, Canada tallied four goals in five matches at the tournament. One was a late penalty against China, while responsibility for another fell squarely on the shoulders of England keeper, Karen Bardsley, in the quarter-final. Creating two goals from five matches is nowhere near enough to threaten for any kind of trophy, and that’s a storyline that the Canadian media simply did not or could not report.
Neutrals who watched sides like Germany, France, and Japan could all see that Canada was clearly not amongst the tournament’s top-tier favourites. Yet some still acted, said, and reported that John Herdman’s side was a World Cup contender.
In reality, Canada was a scrappy, hard-working team that lacked creativity going forward, and the knack to finish in critical moments. I hope that the Canadian public will remember this team for what it was: one that, despite not having all of the tools in its toolbox, scrapped its way to enough one-goal victories to see itself through, respectably, to the quarters.
The future for women’s football in Canada is brighter than ever. The aforementioned Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence have already pushed their way into Herdman’s starting XI, while the likes of Adriana Leon, Jonelle Filigno, and Jessie Fleming are all primed to play bigger roles in the squad going forward.
This tournament should finally signal an end to a long list of stellar international careers, most of which, it must be said, should probably have ended sometime between the Bronze medal at London 2012 and this year’s World Cup.
Goalkeepers Erin McLeod (32) and Karina LeBlanc (35), defenders Marie-Eve Nault (33), Rhian Wilkinson (33), Lauren Sesselmann (31), and Carmelina Moscato (31), along with the aforementioned Melissa Tancredi (33) and Christine Sinclair (32), should all be set to retire. They have had their chance in the limelight representing Canada in their own country, and it is time they stepped into administrative and/or coaching roles to make room for fresh, younger talent.
With Herdman poised to remain in charge of the women’s program until at least 2020, this is now his team to mould. With the Olympic Games already on the horizon for next summer in Rio, Herdman’s side will have a chance to remain in the national spotlight and better their Bronze performance from 2012.
All that’s really needed to summarise Canada’s performance at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup is a quote from a masterful motivator who might have just got his tactics a little bit, well, wrong. Canada boss, John Herdman:
“Tonight, we gave our best, and our best wasn’t enough.”