Last night Canada took to the field at BC Place in what was undoubtedly their biggest match since June 30th, 2011. That is only like half a year ago but after a Pan-Am Games gold and now last nights result it feels like a life time ago. Since that disastrous outing against France the program has gone back to the drawing board. The first step in putting the World Cup behind them was replacing head coach Carolina Morace with John Herdman. Since coming in Herdman has done everything he could to prepare the team for last night.
Herdman worked to find some more secondary scoring, he worked to strengthen the teams mentality, he pushed the ladies to improve their fitness, and he put faith in players like Desiree Scott. All of that effort was seriously tested last night and for the most part it paid off.
Canada still ended up having to rely on their talisman in Christine Sinclair. It was her two goals, including a cheeky chip in the 76th minute, that gave this game to Canada but without a very good performance from Melissa Tancredi the efforts of Sinclair would not have mattered. Tanc was a big part of the buildup on both of Sincy's goals and added one of her own in the first half to round out the scoring. The Ancaster native has long been one of the players on the team that gets singled out for blame when it comes to the lack of secondary scoring and quality finishing, but last night despite squandering a few chances she kept at it and turned in one of her best performances for the national team.
It was a Canada game though so that basically means that it just could not have been easy. In fact, despite being in complete control for the first 45 minutes Canada found themselves under a lot of pressure in the second half. When they conceded in the 67th minute to make it 2-1 there was a sense among the fans of here we go again. It looked like Canada was going to be in for a very long final 20 minutes but then Sinclair stepped up, with a goal that will go down as one of the nicest of her 129 so far, put the game to bed and took her ladies all the way to London.Now I would be remiss to not point out that last night BC Place was absolutely rocking. Vancouver certainly turned up in full force with over 22,950 people reported to be in attendance. That number goes down as the biggest ever crowd for a CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifier. That large crowd provided the kind of atmosphere that can drive and motivate their team on the field and showed what Canada can really do when they get excited and get behind their soccer teams. Regardless of where our teams are playing this is the kind of crowd that we need to have for every single big game.
In the end those 22,000 fans were treated to quite the show. Canada went up in the 15th minute as Mexico made the mistake of giving Sinclair far to much room and after a great pass from Tancredi found her in that space she had all kinds of time to get the ball out of her feet and finish calmly. Canada remained on the front foot and got the second goal that they deserved but it came with a bit of a scary moment. Sinclair took the ball down at the top of the book but moments after she moved it on to Kelly Parker she got taken down by a two footed, straight legged tackle that seemed to have damaged her ankle. While Sinclair was down Parker moved the ball towards the goal line and lashed in a cross that was directed home by Tancredi for the 2-0 lead. After some initial moments where it seemed she might be badly injured Sinclair once again showed her toughness to shake the knock off and was back in the game moments later.
From then on Canada controlled the half but had nothing more to show for it. They went in to the break up 2-0 and had the job half done. The ladies had Mexico looking frustrated thanks to a very tenacious effort from Scott, Parker, and Sophie Schmidt in the middle of the park. All three were busting their butts to win the ball back every time in the midfield and were passing it around well.
In the second half everyone was under a bit more pressure and with the reduced time on the ball Canada started to turn it over a bit more which often left them on the back foot. A few of those old dump and chase elements began to show in their game but the effort level remained high. There was no moment in the half where Canada really switched off but rather the Mexicans proved to be very resilient and found a way to fight back into the game. Things looked to be going all their way when they got on the scoreboard after a corner. Their goal came on a laser of a shot after the corner kick was partially cleared by the Canadians. On the initial corner a huge crowd of bodies seemed to engulf keeper Karina LeBlanc so when the second effort came in she was hopeless to even try and make a save.
Mexico pushed their advantage having found a lifeline and they even had a couple of half chances to draw level in the following minutes, but it was once again Sinclair who came to Canada's rescue and restored the two goal cushion. It was a great through ball from Tancredi that once again found Sinclair in all kinds of space behind the defence. With the goal keeper coming out part of the way but stopping at the top of her 18 yard box, she was in no man's land once Sinclair got on the end of the pass. Sinclair only needed the one touch as she took the bouncing ball and softly lobbed it over the keepers head and bounced it into the goal. Sinclair again showed that she has one of the best goal scorers instincts in the world regardless of gender as she kept her head up and always knew where the goal was and where the goal keeper was. It was a finish that will long be remembered by Canadian fans who saw it as one of the best goals they have ever seen.
On the whole, Canada showed passion and commitment to spare last night. The likes of Sinclair, Scott, and Parker were not the only ones to put in solid efforts in the game. Lauren Sesselmann returned from her injury and put in a gutsy 60 minutes which ended in her limping along the sidelines after going off. It was clear that Sessi was not 100% but she still found a way to go out there and give her team everything that she had. It was that kind of attitude that helped Canada win last night. LeBlanc also came up with a couple of very big saves in the second half when Mexico were pressing to maintain Canada's lead as she rewarded Herdman for the choice to start her for most of this tournament.
The game ended with the kind of sights that Canadian fans will not soon forget. First you had a sea of fans dressed in red sharing in a moment of pure joy together. Then you had the Canadian players doing a lap of the field to thank their supporters before heading over to the corner of the field to embrace their former teammate, and Sportsnet broadcaster, Kara Lang. For those that know the story of how Kara's career was cut short by a terrible knee injury this was a really touching moment. It just goes to show that this team really is just one big family and even the former players remain a big part of that family.
The opening ceremony for the Olympics in London is now less than 6 months away. At that opening ceremony Canada's womens soccer team will get the chance to take part and there is already a growing call to have Christine Sinclair lead the way and bear Canada's flag. If you want to help the cause in your own small way Daune Rollins has started a petition looking to get at least 1000 signatures to support the leader of Big Red!
And now the highlights that I for one won't soon forget: