The Canadian women’s national team continued its World Cup journey, taking on John Herdman’s former team, New Zealand, and holding them to a 0-0 draw. A missed penalty and a smacked crossbar denied each team a go-ahead goal, keeping the game deadlocked and the scores at nil-nil in a game that saw the home team struggle to come up with consistent clear-cut chances.
With a draw against the Kiwis, Canada now has four points in Group A, enough for a first place spot, for now. It’s Canada’s best performance in a World Cup so far and another win would see them move on to the knockout stages; a draw against Holland could also get Canada through, but it would require some tiebreakers and other results going Canada’s way.
Ultimately, this 0-0 draw could come back to bite Canada: this was a game Canada should have won.
Fans at Commonwealth Stadium waited patiently – very patiently, rain delay and all – as Canada took to the field but what they were treated to wasn’t, perhaps, what they expected.
In a tough Group A, the match up against New Zealand was Canada’s best chance at taking all three points. An admirable showing against China, who themselves put in a very good showing against the Dutch, showed Canada’s defensive resiliency, but there’s a bit of a problem in the way Canada attacks.
So, right off the top, let’s address the elephant in the room: Canada isn’t scoring goals. Besides a last-gasp penalty against China that Christine Sinclair tucked away, Canada hasn’t found the back of the net yet in the World Cup. Even more worrying is that Canada hasn’t really looked very dangerous, either; apart from a few smacked crossbars, the Canadian offense seems to have a bit of speed, a bit of power, but not much else.
Against New Zealand, Melissa Tancredi and Jonelle Filigno burst up and down the wings before cutting in for a cross or a pass to the edge of the box, but it was a strategy that ultimately produced little. What Canada desperately needs is a playmaker in the middle of the park to allow for smarter transition play between the defensive side of the midfield and the likes of the aforementioned two and Sinclair.
Defensively, Canada put in another good showing, keeping New Zealand off the scoresheet, but it wasn’t done in the most comfortable fashion; the home side conceded numerous free kicks and even conceded a penalty, which the New Zealand forward thankfully missed. Had it gone in, and with Canada’s lack of clear-cut chances in mind, this game might have ended with a negative result for Canada; as it stands, a point against New Zealand might just be a blessing, as it keeps Canada in the running in Group A.
Once again, Kadeisha Buchanan looked absolutely solid, brushing off an injury scare and putting in another exemplary performance. Apart from a few mistakes, she was a rock for Canada, but mistakes can be expected when so much of the defensive responsibility lands on the shoulders of a 19-year-old central defender playing in her first major tournament.
Which, ultimately, brings us to the crux of Canada’s problems; it seems the side is divided between playing fast and direct and playing counterattacking soccer. Herdman stresses the first approach but Canada’s best chances come from the second. Counterproductive to it all is the fact that Sinclair does best when fed passes but isn’t getting those opportunities at all.
Simply put, Sinclair isn’t seeing enough of the ball, and, as such, hardly gets a good look at goal. When Canada is attacking, players opt to run down the wings instead of slipping in through passes, ignoring the crucial pocket of space that Sinclair constantly roams around. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Canada isn’t getting in enough good crosses to make those wide runs worth continuing, either. So, instead, what we see is a Canada team that looks dangerous, and then fizzles out on the attacking play, rather than testing the opposition.
And, there’s a touch of wastefulness in Canada’s play, too: Tancredi had a golden opportunity to score after finding herself open and on the ball with acres of space and the entire goal mouth to aim for; her shot, instead, went straight to the ‘keeper without much trouble.
A bit more potency and ruthlessness is required for Canada’s offense, but there are positive signs there; the team is in control of matches. If Sinclair and the rest of the offense start to click, Canada is sharp enough and moves well enough to be dangerous.
But, if the Canadian women continue running themselves out of options, it’s tough to see how this team can compete in the knockout stages.