Fielding a nearly full-strength starting lineup, Bev Priestman earned her second win as Canada’s women’s national team coach. While defeating 31st ranked Wales 3-0 can only mean so much, Canada’s efforts, especially in the second half, showed promising signs of what could be on the horizon.
The Canadian team still has a long way to go before Olympic medals can genuinely be in the conversation. Still, the victory against Wales uncovered some things to build on moving forward.
With a match against sixth-ranked England next week, the Canadian camp has another chance to make adjustments before the games begin to matter. Here are three takeaways from Friday’s 3-0 win over the country where former TFC defender Carl Robinson was born.
Christine Sinclair’s injury
Absent from last month’s She Believes Cup with injury, Christine Sinclair, 37, made her return to the Canadian side for the first time in 13 months.
Canada began the game without much offence, and the Canadian captain left the match while her side led 1-0. Sinclair crashed to the ground following a challenge with a Welsh defender and came out of it the worst of the two.
Staff rushed onto the field, and the trainer immediately called for a substitution. Sinclair had helped Canada hold the ball in the Welsh end, for the most part, in the first half until she exited the match in the 30th minute.
Despite the comfortable win, potentially losing Sinclair is not good, especially if the injury is substantial enough to affect her chances at competing in the Olympics. Fortunately, Priestman indicated post-match that Sinclair is walking, does not require an x-ray and has not been ruled out for the England match.
A new look midfield is coming together
Priestman looks as though she has found the best Canadian midfield trio. PSG’s Ashley Lawrence, Chelsea’s Jessie Fleming and OL Reign’s Quinn pulled the strings in the middle and were involved in each of Canada’s goals.
Quinn’s exceptional pass to Deanne Rose for the opening goal was perfect, and although the long ball is a simple tactic, it is worthwhile if it works. It worked on the first goal for Canada and Quinn’s distribution to get the ball to Rose in noteworthy. Other than the goal, Quinn’s passing was spot-on throughout the match.
For Lawrence, attacking the empty spaces was the name of the game. On Canada’s second and third goals, she played a critical part. On the second goal of the match, she ran into a hole in the Wales midfield, sent to ball out wide, where Janine Beckie crossed into the eventual goalscorer, Evelyne Viens.
The second goal featured an 11 pass sequence starting right from Stephanie Labbé in net, and Lawrence’s pass was crucial in the eventual goal.
Very nice build-up play from Canada on the second goal. Started from the back, worked their way up, and then Beckie whipped in a peach of a ball for Viens. Good to see Priestman's philosophies starting to be implemented here#CanWNT pic.twitter.com/N6ZNKE5Yz6— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) April 9, 2021
Fleming’s wondergoal to make it 3-0 also had Lawrence playing an important role. Lawrence poked the ball out of a crowd of defenders to get it to Fleming, who exquisitely curled it into the top corner.
Lawrence’s success alongside the others featured a bit of an adjustment for a player who has traditionally played as a defender. Still, her skills driving into space in attack work well in the current Canadian side.
It’s no failsafe midfield yet, but in the brief experiment, it showed promise and could get more time when Canada faces England on Tuesday.
Canada led the shot count 19-8, but even then, the Canadian backline looked strong. Despite not having Kadeisha Buchanan due to COVID restrictions, things appeared organized at the back.
The centre-back pairing of Vanessa Gilles and Shelina Zadorsky held strong and thwarted each Welsh attempt. While a few shots did make it through the pairing, Stephanie Labbé was not tested with anything too challenging.
There were Welsh appeals for a penalty when Labbé appeared to miss the ball, taking down the attacker in the process, but the referee did not see the incident as a penalty.
With the Gilles and Zadorsky pairing working well on Friday, it could pose questions to the backline’s future, especially heading into an Olympic tournament where a medal has become the expectation.
After a somewhat lacklustre showing through three matches at the SheBeleives Cup, the win over Wales will give a morale boost to a Canadian side still adjusting to Priestman’s leadership and tactics.
Canada returns to action on Tuesday with a match against England, who are currently ranked sixth globally, two spots above Canada.