Last Saturday was a football fan's dream - non-stop games from morning to night. I watched six of them in total; Everton-Bolton, Stoke-Tottenham, Arsenal-West Ham, Toronto FC-Real Salt Lake followed by New York Red Bulls' opening game in Red Bull Arena against Brazilian side Santos.
While there was some fantastic football on display throughout the day, the most entertaining game from a Canadian perspective was the sixth game I watched - Canada versus Mexico in the final of the CONCACAF Women's U-17 Championship.
Canada won the game 1-0 thanks to a goal in the 8th minute from Kinley McNicoll. Nour Ghoneim picked up the ball in the middle of the park and split the defence with a through ball for McNicoll to run onto. The Mexican keeper raced off her line, but McNicoll kept her cool, got a foot on the ball and watched as the ball hit the post and just crept over the line.
It was a bright start and just what the Canadians deserved. After seeing off the favoured American team in penalty kicks in the semi-finals, Canada had already qualified for this year's U-17 Women's World Cup. Winning the CONCACAF championship was all about playing for pride and bringing home a trophy.
It wasn't easy, though.
With the score still 1-0, Canada had Yazmin Ongtengco-Hintzen harshly sent off for a second yellow card in the 56th minute. Predictably, the momentum shifted in Mexico's favour. But try as they might, they could not break down the stubborn Canadian defence. The young Canucks, noticeably tired towards the end of the match, held on their clean sheet to secure the championship trophy.
Coming into the tournament, it would have been easy for the Canadian women to feel sorry for themselves. Their coach, Ian Bridge, resigned his position in early January. His replacement, Bryan Rosenfeld, had very little preparation time prior to the start of the competition.
Rosenfeld and his entire coaching staff deserve great credit for the astute tactical approach that the team employed, particularly against the Americans. The U.S. was the pre-tournament favourite, and justified that tag by scoring 32 goals in the group stage while conceding none.
Yet they couldn't find the back of the net against Canada, who stifled the Americans in midfield and limited their scoring chances up front. Canada held the Americans to a 0-0 scoreline through 120 minutes of play before eventually winning the game in penalties by a score of 5-3.
Rosenfeld can be a polarizing character, as he can be extremely demanding of his players. Anyone who has played or trained with him can attest to the fact that his nickname - Death - is well suited. His relentless pursuit of perfection allowed him to reach the national team level, formerly as a player and now as a coach. Whatever your thoughts are on his training methods, you cannot argue with his results and he deserves the praise that comes his way.
As for the players, where do I start?
They are a talented group, and while there is always room for improvement when it comes to the aesthetics of Canadian football, they tried as much as circumstances dictated to pass the ball on the ground.
That being said, talent and ability will only get you so far in football. I have seen countless talented players fail to succeed in the game because they lacked the most important characteristic necessary to be a winner - attitude.
The willingness of players to listen to instruction, understand tactics and put them into practice in a pressure situation like a championship game are vital ingredients for any coach to have in a successful team. Canada has that attitude within this group of players.
With the Americans not qualifying for the World Cup, that is one elite team that Canada will not have to face when the tournament gets under way in Trinidad in early September. There are others to contend with, like South Korea, North Korea and Brazil, who have all secured passage to the finals. The European entrants will be decided at a qualifying tournament in June.
Rosenfeld has said in the past that he doesn't want players who want to play in the World Cup; he wants players who want to win the World Cup. I love that mentality, and even if Canada's U-17 women's team fails to achieve that goal, I am looking forward to watching them try.
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