Canada Fall to The US: Tired Legs, Tired Minds

CanWNT Forward, Cloe Lacasse, Keeps the Ball Away From USWNT Midfielder, Andi Sullivan, at Exploria Stadium

ANALYSIS – The Canada Women’s National Team (CanWNT) lost their opening match of the 2023 SheBelieves Cup against the US, falling to a 2-0 scoreline in Orlando.

With a week full of fighting off the pitch, it seemed like the CanWNT were caught flat-footed against a lively and dynamic USWNT, and suffered greatly for it. Here is how the match went down.

Canada Fall to The US: Slow Start Proves Costly

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Canada Spirited Before Kick-Off

The CanWNT arrived at Exploria Stadium with gear that had their Canada badge covered, and purple shirts representing the universal sign for equality. The message was clear from the off: their fight on the field was just beginning, but they were not backing down from their fight off of it.

Their training gear was much the same before kickoff, but bearing a special message aimed directly to those up top in Canada Soccer: “Enough is enough”.

A touching moment occurred after the national anthems played, where both the Canadian and American women made a circle in the centre of the pitch, intertwined. They then joined in a group hug as the Americans showed solidarity with their Canadian counterparts. It was a powerful message that seemed to pull many heartstrings of those watching, demonstrating that some battles go beyond on-field rivalries.

With the stage set, it looked like it was going to be a fiery affair for both sides, with one side having everything to prove and all to play for. However, as soon as the opening whistle blew, it was evident that that was not the case.

Slow Start Punished as Canada Fall to The US

The game began, and it was immediately the US on the front foot. Kailen Sheridan had to make a quick save within 60 seconds of the clock to deny the US an early lead, and from there it never got better.

The US were dynamic, organized and intense in its pressure. They did not let up for one second and never allowed Canada to be able to play out of their half, let alone settle into the game. The Canucks just seemed to always be a step behind the Americans. They were sloppy on the ball and frantic off it.

The Americans then got their deserved go-ahead goal in the seventh minute, when a whipped cross was settled down by Alex Morgan, allowing Mallory Swanson to hit a beautiful half-volley that whizzed past an outstretched Sheridan.

After the initial bombardment by the US, Canada finally settled and started to slowly get into the game. A few flashes from Janine Beckie and Adriana Leon almost resulted in concrete chances, but the US were resilient in its defence. But yet again, a lapse in judgement and structure proved fatal once more for the Canadians.

Vanessa Gilles played the ball back towards her goalkeeper Sheridan while under intense pressure, but the ball never made it to Sheridan’s feet. Instead, the sloppy pass was intercepted by Mallory Swanson, who then wrong-footed Sheridan and slotted in a second for both herself and the US. All the hard work to get back into the game was quickly undone, and the fans in the stadium groaned once more as the toll of the past week was made apparent again.

Positives in The Second Half for Canada

The Canadians, however,  did finish out the half with something to build on. Janine Beckie struck a rocket of a shot that was expertly saved by US ‘keeper Alyssa Naeher. It was the only shot the CanWNT had on target at that point.

The second half came with changes for the Canucks. Young forward Jenna Hellstrom came on for Alyssa Chapman, pushing Janine Beckie from right-wing to right-back, with Ashley Lawrence covering left-back duties for the remainder of the half.

Hellstrom was physical as soon as she came on, but gave in to her frustrations later in the half and picked up a yellow card for her troubles. Head Coach Bev Priestman made further changes 12 minutes into the second half, notably taking off Christine Sinclair in favour of the more defensive-minded Quinn.

Quinn’s substitution allowed the midfield pivot of Jessie Fleming and Julia Grosso to be able to push up more and not worry about the holes that they were previously left in the first half. Quinn also allowed for better control of the midfield, as is their nature as a natural number six.

The substitutions were probably the brightest spot of Canada’s evening, especially in the likes of Cloé Lacasse and Jade Rose. Lacasse’s work rate was top-notch, both in pressing from the front and coming back on defence in transitional breakdowns. Jade Rose, on the other hand, was ever reliable in defence, playing as a sort of wide centre-back. One would imagine that Rose will be one of Priestman’s first choices come to the World Cup.

But all in all, the Canadians finished the game with nothing more than disappointed faces and frustrated sighs to show for it.

Opportunity to Build or Trainwreck-in-Waiting?

This game highlighted how much of the CanWNT’s fight for equity in the last week has affected their team. Christine Sinclair noted how the exhaustion went beyond just psychological, into physical fatigue even before the first kick of the game.

The next game against Brazil could be an opportunity for the Canadian women to get their heads back into the game and show their true quality on the field. On the other hand, the background might just be too much for Bev Priestman’s team, and their performances could dip throughout the invitational tournament as their minds are occupied elsewhere.

Overall, it seems that for Canada, this invitational is going to turn out to be more of a platform for their big-picture fight rather than for proper preparation for the upcoming World Cup. But that does not mean they aren’t going to give their all in the next two matches against Brazil and Japan.

The question will be if, in their current state, that will be enough to finish this tournament strong.

Fans can catch Canada’s next game against Brazil in Nashville, TN on OneSoccer or Telus at 3:30 pm PST/ 6:30 EST.