Coach Priestman challenges Canada’s women’s soccer team to be better as they head to CONCACAF semi-finals
Since winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, the Canadian women’s team has been walking around with a big bullseye on their backs.
Every opponent now brings their « A game » every time they face Canada, desperate to make a name for themselves by toppling the Olympic champions by a pawn or two. As a result, Bev Priestman’s team took on several top teams from Tokyo, all presenting unique tactical challenges.
Watch Thursday’s semi-final against Jamaica live on One Soccer at 10 p.m. ET, or broadcast by CBC TV, CBC Gem at 12:30 a.m. ET
Winning gold in Tokyo also raised expectations for this Canadian team. It’s no longer enough for them to just win, they also have to do it in style every time they step onto the pitch.
A good example is Canada’s run to the CONCACAF Women’s Championship taking place in Mexico. The Canadians completed their first round of the tournament — which serves as a qualifier for next year’s FIFA World Cup — with three shutout wins, including Monday’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica at the BBVA Stadium in Monterrey.
WATCH | Fleming’s first scorer against Costa Rica helps Canada top Group B:
« I think [my] players leaving the field would have wanted a few moments back where it could have been more than two [goals] », Priestman said in the post-match press conference. « But at the same time, I think we created a lot and we dominated. So that’s the main thing. »
It was an important victory for Canada, as it allowed them to finish first in Group B ahead of Costa Rica, avoiding a semi-final clash with the top-seeded USA. While Las Ticas will face the Americans, the Canadians will face a much weaker opponent in Jamaica on Thursday, giving them a clearer path to the July 18 final. The winner of the tournament will not only be crowned the Queens of CONCACAF, but also automatically qualified. for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
What is even more encouraging for Canada is that the score was relatively spread in the group stage. Six different players were behind the Canadians’ nine goals, including veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt, who found the back of the net against Costa Rica. It was his first goal for Canada in over three years. Teammate Julia Grosso leads the tournament with three goals in two games, having never scored in her previous 37 appearances for Canada. (His score for the gold medal in Tokyo came in the penalty shootout.)
« [It’s] three wins, nine goals, nine points, » Priestman said. « Overall, as a coach, you can’t complain [about] this. Clean sheets are what win you tournaments, but there are nine goals there and they all come from different places. »
Still, the Canadians looked somewhat disappointing as they qualified for the semi-finals, struggling as they did to break through their defensive-minded opponents. Trinidad and Tobago were beaten 6-0 in the Group B opener but Canada struggled against the Soca Warriors for more than an hour before scoring five goals past a tired defense in the last 23 minutes of regulation time.
WATCH | Schmidt seals the Canadian win with a curling finish:
The score line in a 1-0 win over Panama didn’t reflect how dominant Canada really was, but at the end of the day they only managed to score once. It was the same for the match against Costa Rica – a victory, yes, but where were the goals? It should have been much more comfortable for Canada.
Priestman praised his side for their « professional performance » against the Costa Ricans. But she also admitted Canada are yet to reach their best form in this CONCACAF competition and need to step up their efforts in the Round of 16 if they are to stamp their passport to Paris.
« It’s the start, it’s not the end. The team definitely has another piece of equipment and it’s exciting as a coach, » Priestman said. « You could say there’s a disappointment that they didn’t keep this equipment for 90 minutes over three games. [But] you look at all the hurdles we’ve faced and I think we’ve come out of this third game in a much closer space to where we need to be for the two games ahead of us. »
Canada was in the same situation last summer in Tokyo. The Reds did what it took to emerge from a tough group to qualify for the knockout stages. But a pair of draws against Great Britain and Japan, and a win against Chile, didn’t exactly instill much confidence in the fans at home.
Of course, Canada rose to fame and then played some really brilliant football, getting better and better with every game. A daring penalty shootout victory over Brazil was followed by a huge upset of heavily favored USA before toppling Sweden in the final.
When it mattered most, Canada kept its cool and won gold and reached the medal podium for the third straight time.
Qualification for next year’s World Cup is already assured, and even if they don’t win this tournament, Canada still has a very good chance of qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics. There is therefore not nearly the same pressure on Priestman’s side compared to his entry into the round of 16 in Tokyo last summer.
Still, whenever there are high stakes at stake, it manages to bring out the best in this Canadian team.
« [With what] is on the line ahead, this team is not going to let that go very easily, » Priestman said. « Tournament football is about winning and doing whatever it takes to win, but it’s also about winning. bring that level of consistency, and there are some players who have gone out of their way to bring that level of consistency.
“I would like to think that all the players who come in now with the level of opposition [in the knockout stage]they’re focused, they’re ready to go and they can enjoy being there. »