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Canadian women’s soccer at a crossroads after World Cup exit

Canada needs to make sure it doesn’t get left behind in an increasingly competitive field

Sweden v Canada: Round Of 16 - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Yes, Christine Sinclair should have taken the penalty. With that out of the way, let’s now focus on the real reasons why the Canadian women’s national team are heading home from France without a single win in the knockout stages.

There’s no doubt that Janine Beckie’s penalty, acrobatically picked out of the corner by Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl, was a massive factor in Canada’s 1-0 round of 16 loss to Sweden today. But its significance is that it is symptomatic of a bigger underlying issue for the Canadian team.

Expectations were high for this Canadian side, ranked fifth in the world, going into the match. But from the second they came up against elite opposition at this tournament, it was clear that they did not have enough firepower to live up to that hype.

So instead of focusing on one moment, or a couple of bad bounces, the narrative needs to turn to the bigger picture. It’s the only way the program can truly move forward from this loss, and keep afloat in a sport that is becoming more and more competitive with each passing tournament.

Sweden v Canada: Round Of 16 - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The most pressing issue with this edition of the team was pretty obvious: an attack that was missing enough creativity and poise to break down the world’s best backlines.

This isn’t a new problem, over the past two years Canada has only scored 7 goals in 11 games against opposition ranked 20th in the world of higher by FIFA. Four of those goals have come from Sinclair, and the only multi-goal game came against 19th ranked New Zealand earlier in the tournament.

This competition made it clear that, while still a major threat, Sinclair is no longer a player who can win games on her own for Canada. While Nichelle Prince came the closest, nobody on this Canadian team could fill that void, nor were they able to do it by committee.

Beckie tried desperately, creating more shots and chances than any other teammate, but her execution was off from the opening game and she never really recovered. Jessie Fleming had flashes of brilliance but it wasn’t enough.

It probably didn’t help that the program underwent a pretty big transition just over a year before the tournament as John Herdman, the architect of much of Canada’s success, left for the men’s team. That shouldn’t be discounted in terms of the preparation for this World Cup.

In that sense, I think it is probably worth giving Kenneth Heiner-Moeller at least another tournament to see what he can do with at next year’s Olympics. He does certainly hold a bit of blame, however, for his inability to get more out of this talented group.

Sweden v Canada: Round Of 16 - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The good news is that this team is still very young, fifth youngest at the tournament. Jayde Riviere had an excellent tournament, Jordyn Huitema had a very solid performance against the Dutch in a position that is not her best.

But while the pipeline does continue to feed through decent talent, Canada still seems to be missing the depth of talent, especially elite offensive talent. Huitema has the potential to get there, but Canada Soccer needs to make sure that she doesn’t become the next Sinclair in the sense that she too is forced to carry the team offensively.

Whether that is developing a domestic women’s league, or least a few expansion NWSL sides in the very short term, the time to strike is now. Seven of eight nations who reached the quarterfinals at this year’s World Cup were from Europe, demonstrating the importance that domestic leagues have had across the continent.

While other nations slowly get their act together, just today in fact Real Madrid announced they will be creating a women’s team, Canada still has an advantage both in terms of resources and spotlight. That might not always be the case, making the next few years vital.

This may all seem like a bit of an overreaction, but you know what elite football nations do when things aren’t going well? They react. Just look at Canada Hockey are the measures they have taken after a couple of slip ups internationally or Germany on the men’s side of soccer who revamped their program after a few poor tournaments.

Canada Soccer doesn’t have to clean house by any means, but at some point there does need to be a serious look into this team, this program, to see whether it is trending in the right direction as many of us thought it was.

This group has given us some incredible memories, but more needs to be done to make sure this team has a future as well. It’s time to ask questions, not to get sentimental.