Canada's women's soccer team has plenty to prove | Soccer | CBC Sports

CanadaCanada's women's soccer team has plenty to prove

Posted: Monday, January 16, 2012 | 09:42 AM

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Canadian women’s soccer coach John Herdman recognizes that he has inherited intelligent players, but also knows his squad can’t take an Olympic qualifying spot for granted. (Christof Koepsel/Getty Images) Canadian women’s soccer coach John Herdman recognizes that he has inherited intelligent players, but also knows his squad can’t take an Olympic qualifying spot for granted. (Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)

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It has taken a while but finally he gets to play at home. After nearly six months in charge, John Herdman is ready to showcase his winners. They had better keep winning.

It has taken a while but finally he gets to play at home. After nearly six months in charge, John Herdman is ready to showcase his winners. They had better keep winning.

For Canada's women's national soccer team it should be a formality. Their mission to qualify for the London Olympics is well within reach. Yes, it is an eight-team tournament from which only two nations advance, but in reality it is a two, maybe three horse race.

Wait a moment. Here we go again - getting ahead of ourselves just like we did before Germany. I shall not make that mistake again. Once bitten, twice shy they say and so for the time being, seeing is believing for this particular observer.

From a discreet distance Herdman watched Canada self destruct in Germany. He was there too, staying in the same hotel, doing his best to make New Zealand competitive. All things considered he did a decent job bearing in mind the Football Ferns had never previously registered a victory at the Women's World Cup.

He has his own agenda but acknowledges the work of his predecessor. Despite Canada's capitulation, Herdman has a healthy respect for former coach Carolina Morace, who left the post despite having agreed an extension through to the Olympics. Her approach, according to Herdman, was "very much in tune with the modern game."

In other words the new coach has not had to start from scratch. Herdman recognized he had inherited intelligent players with "good football brains." They proved him right at October's Pan Am Games in Mexico, clinching the Gold medal after keeping their nerve to beat Brazil on penalties.

Shaking off World Cup blues

You can't argue with the colour of the medal. Canada appeared to have shaken off the post World Cup blues in double quick time to give Herdman a flying start in his new position. Look a little closer. Canada won a competition which did not feature the U.S., plus a young Brazil side which bore little resemblance to the star studded team selected for the World Cup.

Needless to say the Americans will be in Vancouver in full force for the Olympic qualifiers. They are the reigning Olympic champions and will travel north fully expecting to win the tournament. Few would bet against that scenario or against them medalling in London next summer.

So where does that leave the hosts? Herdman's Canada will have to scrap it out with the others for that second Olympic berth. Getting to the final in Vancouver will suffice - a task which will be appreciably easier if the Canadians match the Americans in round-robin play.

For example, if the U.S. wins Group B, Canada must do likewise in Group A. Avoiding the Americans until the championship match is paramount. Herdman has the players to beat any other team at the tournament, but probably not the U.S. Even with home advantage and a big, partisan crowd at BC Place, Canada cannot afford to see the Olympic dream disappear in the semifinals.

Sinclair is 'world class'

One of those players, says Herdman, is "world class". Christine Sinclair will relish a rare chance to play in her home town and will inevitably be the focal point of the team and its attacking threat. But her new boss is keen to lighten the burden of expectation on his star striker.

He's brought in a psychiatrist to help the preparation process. While Canada is certainly physically strong enough to take care of itself, Herdman knows the mental scars can take their toll. His overall strategy is for his players to "share the responsibility for performances."

While Sinclair remains a major plus, the absence of Diana Matheson is a big loss. The diminutive midfielder has lost her battle to recover from knee surgery, forcing Herdman to make a late roster change. Midfielder Alyscha Mottershead, 20, from Brampton, Ont., has been drafted in at the 11th hour, but will almost certainly start on the bench.

Mottershead is no stranger to international soccer. She played for Canada at the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2008, and made her senior debut last November during Canada's friendly win over Sweden. The opportunity for her to be part of the full international squad at a competitive tournament can only help her mature as a player.

So the stage is set. Canada isn't looking for redemption. What happened in Germany cannot be undone. What happened in Mexico cannot be a barometre. The past must be left exactly where it is and Canada must move on determined to gain new respect from fans and opponents alike.

John Herdman has his "dream job." His task is simple, but not necessarily straightforward. Turn the dream into reality.

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