This Month: CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Soccer Qualifying

Starting on February 10, the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament kicks off, with Canada competing on February 11, 14 and 16 to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil. For those unfamiliar with CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football), the Confederation’s primary functions are to organize competitions for national teams and clubs, and to conduct World Cup qualifying tournaments.

The roster John Herdman has put together for the tournament looks a little different then what was seen during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. There are a number of young and veteran players who will, I imagine, need time to truly gel as a cohesive squad. CONCACAF seems like one of the best ways for Herdman to inspire a shift in the make-up and leadership of the team. Which isn’t to say that Christine Sinclair, Erin McLeod, Diana Matheson and Sophie Schmidt (to name a few) haven’t been leaders throughout their trajectory with the National Team – but it is to congratulate Herdman on developing the program for the future, and not just for the present.

The full roster for the tournament can be dissected here, and if you notice, many players who have been long-standing substitutes and/or starters are no longer part of the core group. I, for one, am excited about this. There are MANY incredible, amazing players who have been overlooked at the National level for all of the typical reasons (politics, convention, strategy, bias), but perhaps those influences are finally falling a little to the wayside.

If you’re keen to catch some (or all) of Canada’s CONCACAF matches, you can stream all Group Stage Matches on CBC Sports. The Knock-Out Stage, Semi-Finals and Final of the tournament will be broadcast live on Sportsnet One. Exciting stuff. Go Big Red Go!

Women’s World Cup: Quarterfinals

So that feeling I had about Canada winning against England turned out to be optimism. Some crucial mistakes early in the game led to back-to-back goals by England, and at that point Canada was catching up. As the second half wore on, Canada couldn’t net an equalizer and then the game was over. The group I was watching with was crushed, as I’m sure everyone else watching in-person and throughout the country was. And yet there’s so much to be excited about … “Canadian pair and childhood friends feeling ‘surreal’ about FIFA World Cup”

1000-friendsRichard Lautens/Toronto Star

Look at the joy in this picture!!! That’s Ashley Lawrence on the left and Kadeisha Buchanan on the right. They have been standouts for Canada throughout the WWC and they will redefine the senior women’s program moving forward. Which leads me to a little bit of analysis, bear with me.

When you play competitive, elite level soccer, there will always be social-politics, preferences and money that influence decision-making. Sometimes those in power make the right decisions, and sometimes not. Every program has its conflict (I just read about some in the US WNT following some questionable coaching decisions about starting line-ups) and Canada’s WNT is no exception. Here are some key highlights from the last two decades, which only skims the surface:

October 2006: Senior Players Cut from Canada WNT
October 2006: Canadian WNT in Turmoil
April 2007: Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) Court Decision
July 2011: Carolina Morace Quits as Coach
November 2011: Change on the Horizon for CSA
July 2014: Time is Now for Canada to Shift from Participation to Performance in Soccer
November 2014: CSA Rejects Mediation offer on WWC Turf Issue
June 2015: Coach Herdman Denies Rift in Team

Many of the current veteran players on the Canadian WNT have been through these scandals, the turmoil, the politics and the exclusivity that comes along with playing at this level. There are also so many who have never debuted for Canada in a major tournament even though they have the quality and depth to play at that level. With better leadership at the top comes better decision-making and opportunities for players. The Canadian program has had a “players second” mentality for many decades and the need for that to change is urgent.

Last year at the U20 WWC, I watched a cohesive, skilled Canadian U20 WNT play in the group stage at BMO field. I was pleasantly surprised at these younger players and am hoping to see many of them at the 2019 WWC in France. If there’s anything to be learned from the 2015 WWC it’s that heartfelt optimism will only get you so far. It’s substance and clear direction that wins games. It’s time Canada adopted a more balanced approach to the game, one that is strategically objective and integrates the personal/athletic chemistry that makes teams champions. I see this in the friendship of Lawrence/Buchanan and am excited about their transcendence into the face of Canadian soccer.

Pictures*** from the Ottawa match played on June 26th are below.
[Quarter-Final Match 45: USA vs China PR]

IMG_1725 IMG_1729 IMG_1743 IMG_1747 IMG_1754 IMG_1758 IMG_1763 IMG_1782 IMG_1789 IMG_1804 IMG_1816 IMG_1829

***All pictures © Cristina Murano

“Time is now for Canada to shift from participation to performance in soccer”

Article written by Kara Lang, a former member of Canada’s women’s national soccer team, during which it competed at the 2003 and 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup and 2008 Olympic Games, as a special correspondent for the Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/soccer/time-is-now-for-canada-to-shift-from-participation-to-performance-in-soccer/article19608603/

“More kids play organized soccer than any other sport in Canada. But when it comes to building a true soccer culture, the country is at a crossroads. We can sit back and simply be satisfied with encouraging kids to play soccer to promote an active lifestyle, or we can capitalize on the popularity of the sport to build elite, international talent”.