Editorial Note: Please welcome Luke Galati to the Waking The Red team. He will be doing interview based articles for the site during the offseason, catching up with key individuals around Canadian Soccer and Toronto FC. You can follow him on twitter @LukeGalati.
For Canada's Women's National Team, the expression, "play like nobody's watching," rings especially true Monday - as no spectators will be allowed to watch Canada and Sweden go head-to-head.
Canadian veteran keeper, Erin McLeod, says that playing solely for themselves and their development, in the neutral site of California, will be a great test for the team's mental state.
"It's pretty easy to get up for a game that's in front of a sold out crowd, friends and family. But, when literally no one will be watching, it'll be a good test for the character of our team," she says.
McLeod, 31, and Canada are coming off a heartbreaker against the reigning World Cup champions, Japan. Canada, to the delight of their home fans tied the game up in the second last minute of injury time. But the party was short-lived, as Japan stormed back for the win, courtesy of Aya Sameshima in the final seconds of play.
"The difference between the best teams in the world is if they can put together a 90 minute performance, and I'd say we're getting closer," she says. "But, sometimes we have a spell where we lose our shape, or lose or focus, and we can't afford that against tier one teams."
Despite the loss, Canada's keeper sees a lot of positives to take from their last match.
"Knowing that we could come that close against a highly ranked team, I think Sweden is the perfect combination, and an opportunity to do just that."
Sweden plays a very organized brand of soccer, with a very compact formation. One of the keys to the game for the Canadian side will be: how well can they move the ball around Sweden, who typically plays a 4-4-2 diamond formation.
"We want to impose our style in between their lines, get behind them and switch the attack as often as we can," McLeod says.
Canada will have their hands full, dealing with Sweden's three-headed-offensive-monster, comprised of Lotta Schelin, Caroline Seger and Jessica Landstrom. Combined, they have 233 caps and 69 goals, with Schelin leading the charge at 40.
"It'll be challenging. We're going to have to communicate all game, and of course impose our game, something we have to do more consistently," she says.
On Canada's most recent road trip down South, McLeod has been rooming with Jessie Fleming, and had some incredibly high praise for her 16-year-old teammate.
"I think she is the next Sinclair of Canada, to be honest. She's an incredibly intelligent player, and I told her to start running the midfield. Even though she's young, she knows where to be. She's very promising."
Additionally, she has been impressed with Allysha Chapman, Jonelle Filigno, and of course, Sophie Schmidt, who scored two goals in their last game, earning herself the player of the match for Canada.
"I think Sophie Schmidt has been phenomenal the last few games and has become a real leader for us," McLeod says. "I think there's a lot of growth on this team, not just because of the individuals, but because of the people who aren't on the field, [the coaches] pushing them every day."
Canada is playing against the best in the world on a consistent basis, and even if it's just a friendly match - unless they want to be embarrassed - they can't take a day off. "This is where we build our consistency, which will be important heading into the 2015 World Cup."
McLeod points to the fact that Canada's last favourable result against a top squad was against France in the 2012 London Olympics Games, taking home the bronze medal. With that in mind, McLeod says that Canada is hungry for a win against an international powerhouse.
"Obviously the win would be awesome; we all want a result against a top tier team. For us, that would be a good confidence builder," she says. "If we can deal with a player like Lotta Schelin for 90 minutes, consistently limit Seger's opportunities and get into a rhythm of play, I think that'll be something we can be proud of."