Chapman, Kyle, Canada's unsung heroes
Canada is one win away from qualifying for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup thanks in large part to the usual cast of characters.
A finalist for this year's FIFA women's player of the year award, Christine Sinclair leads the team in scoring with four goals at the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament in Mexico. Fellow forwards Kara Lang and Melissa Tancredi have also found the back of the net, Diana Matheson has held things together in midfield, and goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc has two shutouts to her credit.
A victory over Costa Rica in the semifinals on Friday (CBC Bold, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET) will allow Canada, led by this trusted quintet, to stamp its passport for Germany, the host nation for next year's Women's World Cup.
But others have made key contributions to the Canadian cause in Mexico, notably veteran defender Candace Chapman and young midfielder Kaylyn Kyle.
It was Chapman's goal in the 20th minute, before a hostile crowd in Cancun, that set Canada on its way to a 3-0 win over Mexico on Sunday. That victory allowed Canada to win Group A and avoid the top-ranked United States in the tournament semifinals, giving it a better shot at World Cup qualification.
"I just came in late, looking for the rebound, and it fell perfectly. I controlled it with my chest and just tried to have a good strike on goal," Chapman said of her winning goal in an interview with CBCSports.ca.
Chapman, 27, has been a mainstay for Canada for the past eight years and her experience has been in full view in Mexico. Thanks to the central defender's expert positioning and valuable leadership, Canada has yet to concede a single goal at the CONCACAF competition.
Canada's flawless defensive record is even more impressive when you consider Chapman has had to play with different partners in defence through the first three games. Credit for that goes to coach Carolina Morace, who gives every player, even those on the substitutes' bench, a clear tactical game plan before every match.
"Everyone has an individual playing style but with Carolina, everyone knows what they're supposed to do in a specific position," Chapman said. "So even though you do have a different playing styles with different defenders, you know exactly what needs to be done and everyone follows in behind."
Kyle has been just as influential for Canada in Mexico.
The 22-year-old native of Saskatoon, Sask., has been a bulwark in midfield, furiously chasing down the ball all over the field and fearlessly tackling opponents to win possession for Canada. She's also looked dangerous on attack, providing quality service for Sinclair and the other forwards.
All part of the job said Kyle, who earned only a handful of caps under previous coach Even Pellerud, but has flourished under Morace since the Italian took over the coaching reins in early 2009.
"I'm very lucky to be here so I'm just going to do whatever it takes to get on the field, " Kyle stated. "If that means running for 90 minutes, chasing down balls and getting into one-on-one battles, I'm going to do it."
What's been especially impressive about Kyle has been the maturity of her play. She's shown poise beyond her young age, and she's used that to form an effective and promising relationship with Matheson in the centre of midfield.
Together, the two have expertly anchored Canada's midfield at this tournament, demonstrating a strong tactical understanding of the game, and that they are on the same positional wavelength.
"It just works," Kyle said of the partnership. "I know Diana likes to get forward, and she knows I like to get forward ... so when she goes up I stay back and play a holding role, and vice versa. It's been working well so far."
Matheson has earned more than 100 caps since debuting for Canada in 2003, and is the perfect midfield mentor for Kyle.
"If I miss a tackle or if I'm out of position, she lets me know," said Kyle. "And if I'm playing well, she's the first to say 'hey, great job.' I really look up to her as a person and a player and I've learned a lot from her."