ST. JOHN’S, Canada— In search of breaking a late stalemate, Bev Priestman turned to her bench for an answer and up stepped Sarah Stratigakis, as the 21-year-old scored her first goal at this level in stoppage time to give Canada a 1-0 win over Argentina.
The Canadians faced a much different challenge on Sunday evening than the one posed by the U.S. three nights prior.
With the Argentines some 30 spots below the Americans in the world rankings, Canada naturally saw much more of the ball in this one and yet ran into some of the same problems that hindered them on Thursday, namely their composure in the final third.
FT: Argentina 0-1 Canada— NWSL Analitica (@NwslAnalitica) February 22, 2021
Shots (OT): 7 (3) - 17 (5)
Possession %: 37 - 63
Duels won %: 53 - 46
Aerial duels won %: 61 - 39
Total passes: 298 - 470
Passing accuracy %: 63 - 81
Opp half passing acc. %: 46 - 72
Total crosses: 4 - 35
Tackles won %: 71 - 65
Clearances: 32 - 4
As Priestman put it in her post-match interview, “the best teams find a way to win” and that’s exactly what Canada did in the end despite their lack of proficiency in front of goal.
In a contest that saw plenty of rotation and first opportunities, another stable defensive effort, and a virtual night off for goaltender Stephanie Labbé, here’s what we at Waking the Red took from Sunday’s 1-0 result.
Backline a big positive despite personnel change
The back four of Jayde Riviere, Vanessa Gilles, Shelina Zadorsky, and Allysha Chapman earned plenty of praise for their efforts in the tournament opener.
Unfortunately, only Zadorsky and Chapman were back in the XI for the Argentina match as Gilles returned to France for club duties and was replaced by 18-year-old Jade Rose, while Riviere was rotated at left-back for Gabrielle Carle.
The next woman-up mentality Canada demonstrated in their first match carried over once again to the weekend as the defensive unit showed solidity, this time tasked with a slightly different challenge.
With Canada dominating possession, it was Argentina looking to hit them on the counter at pace, which for the first half was all but smothered out by the aggression and awareness demonstrated at fullback by both Chapman and Carle.
Riviere would come on at the interval for Chapman, and much to the delight of Priestman, the level was maintained following the switch, with the two wide defenders often getting forward to help build the Canadian attack from the flanks.
Perhaps the biggest positive, however, was the performance of the debutant Rose in the heart of defense.
While the need to intervene at the rate Gilles was required against the U.S. was absent, Rose’s ball-playing prowess helped her side play the majority of the match in the opposing half.
Jade Rose also made the highest number of tackles (5) and won the highest number of tackles (3 - tied with Carle).— NWSL Analitica (@NwslAnalitica) February 22, 2021
At the end of the day, Kadeisha Buchanan remains the preferred partner beside Zadorsky for the time being, but when the Olympique Lyonnais star is unavailable, it should provide Preistman with some peace of mind knowing her alternate options are more than capable of doing a job.
Canadian scoring woes continue despite Stratigakis’ winner
For the second straight match, the Canadian attack was far from prolific despite finally finding the back of the net for the first time in the tournament.
In the opening 45’, the two best chances fell to midfielder Jesse Fleming, who failed to head home following an Argentine mistake midway through the first half, before missing another grade-A opportunity just before the break.
The front three of Janine Beckie, Adriana Leon, and Nichelle Prince provided plenty of energy but struggled with their execution in the final third. None of the three looked an option to hold the ball up and provide an outlet in that sense which likely played a role in Priestman’s decision to swap Prince for Evelyn Viens early in the second half.
While Viens’ introduction did provide some moments of success through more traditional center forward play, it was the changes in the middle of the park that proved decisive.
Stratigakis and Samantha Chang helped Canada’s midfield find a second gear in the final half-hour, with the former providing the finishing touch on their lone goal.
Although Priestman will be glad to have taken all three points against Argentina, she’ll hope to see more ruthlessness from her forward group in the future against this level of competition.
The kids are alright
Perhaps Priestman’s most important task for the SheBelieves Cup was to assess her squad ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games with only 18 spots in Tokyo up for grabs.
Having granted 19 different players an opportunity to get on the pitch through just two matches —all while staying competitive throughout— could only be deemed a resounding success.
One of the huge positives in the early days of the Priestman era has been her willingness to give younger players an opportunity.
Where previous managers might have played it safe and relied heavily on veteran-filled lineups, the 34-year-old Consett native has viewed previous experience as an afterthought in Orlando.
Jade Rose and Jordyn Listro became the latest Canadians to earn their first Senior caps in the start against Argentina before reigning League 1 Ontario Player of the Year Samantha Chang shared that same honour in the second half, with all three taking advantage of their opportunity through strong showings.
With the Canadian player pool as deep and as young as it has ever been, squads should be picked based on merit rather than on reputation for major tournaments. Under Priestman, selections appear to be trending in that direction at the SheBelieves Cup.
Add key tournament omissions such as Buchanan, Christine Sinclair, Ashley Lawrence, Bianca St. Georges, and more to the fold and Canada now has a clearer image of what their final Olympic roster might look like with one more match against Brazil remaining.