Canadian WNT's offence needs to solve its Sinclair dependency
Variation in the attack is required, but is this team really capable of mixing it up?
Should the Canadian women's team's lack of goal-scoring punch be cause for concern?
It's a question that has been asked repeatedly over the past few years, especially as captain Christine Sinclair inches ever so closer to retirement. The longstanding issue over Canada's scoring problems was once again raised after the team's 0-0 draw against South Korea in an international friendly on Sunday at Toronto's BMO Field.
Canada enjoyed the lion's share of possession (67 per cent) while outshooting South Korea by an 11-3 margin. But for all of their statistical domination, the Canadians hardly looked threatening in attack, and struggled to create scoring chances against an opponent that sat back deep in numbers.
Three of Canada's four shots on target came in the final minute of injury time off a corner kick, such was the quality of South Korea's defensive organization on the day. Before that, goalkeeper Yoon Young-geul had little to do.
The game was Canada's lone tune-up ahead of the CONCACAF W Championship, which runs July 4-18 in Mexico. The top two nations in both groups of the eight-team competition qualify for the World Cup. The CONCACAF W champion also automatically qualifies for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Coach Bev Priestman believes the stalemate in Toronto provided her Canadian team with a taste of what's to come in Mexico. She expects first-round opponents Trinidad & Tobago, Panama and Costa Rica to take a page out of South Korea's playbook and bunker down in an attempt to frustrate the Olympic champions.
WATCH | South Korea goalkeeper stuffs Canada's late efforts:
"It was the perfect preparation because we're going to be playing against teams in a [defensive] block," Priestman told reporters after the game. "There were many fouls in the game, many stoppages. That's what we're going to come up against. Even for the mentality of the group to experience that again before we go into CONCACAF, I think that was really important."
Fair enough, but what does Canada have to do differently next month to score some goals in order to ensure its spot at next year's World Cup? In Priestman's view, it's just doing more of the same — dominating possession, but making it count for something.
"We just have to be okay with that. At times you're getting shots from 40 yards out. I think it's that real patience and getting the ball into the box in a different way, not just relying on wide crosses," Priestman said.
Indeed, most of Canada's attacking sequences on Sunday flowed down the flanks through fullbacks Ashley Lawrence and Jayde Riviere, while Janine Beckie delivered a number of crosses into the penalty area from wide areas. With Jessie Fleming playing a more advanced attacking role, Canada was missing a key orchestrator in central midfield and there was very little creativity and directness in attack through the middle of the park.
WATCH | Diana Matheson honoured prior to friendly:
"Credit to Korea, they're very organized and a very defensive team," Beckie conceded.
So, some variation in the attack is required, but is this Canadian side really capable of mixing it up? Taking nothing away from the team's showing at last summer's Tokyo Olympics, but its gold-medal run was achieved on the back of its defensive strength, rather than its offensive potency. The Reds scored multiple goals only once in six games, and all four of their victories were either by one goal or secured via penalty shootouts.
How badly Canada could have used Sinclair to supply some much-needed inspiration to the attack against the defensive Koreans. Unfortunately, the iconic Canadian captain played the unusual role of spectator as an unused substitute who watched the entire game unfold from the bench after dealing with a minor injury issue in training all week.
Priestman didn't want to risk using Sinclair on Sunday, fearing that she might aggravate her injury and thus put her in doubt for next month's CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. After watching the rather anonymous performance on Sunday of 21-year-old forward Jordyn Huitema, you can certainly understand why Priestman gave Sinclair the day off in order to make sure she'll be available to play in Mexico.
But what does it say about this team that it is still turning to Sinclair to lead the way in its hour of need? Should Canada qualify for the World Cup, Sinclair will be 40 when the tournament kicks off next July. And while Sinclair is certainly capable of producing magical moments on the pitch, it's shocking that she's still carrying the bulk of Canada's attacking load on her broad shoulders.
For years, it's been blatantly obvious that the Canadian women's team has had to wean itself off its Sinclair dependency, and for someone else to step forward and lead the offensive charge. We're still waiting for that to happen.
It likely won't come back to haunt them at the CONCACAF W Championship, as the reigning Olympic champions are expected to easily finish top two in their first-round group and clinch a World Cup berth.
But at some point, if Canada is to evolve, other players must emerge from Sinclair's shadow and take over the attacking reins, and it can't happen soon enough.