Soccer·Analysis

Priestman pleased with invaluable experience gained by women's soccer team at Arnold Clark Cup

Bev Priestman got exactly what she bargained for at the Arnold Clark Cup, and although the Canadian women's team finished third in the four-nations tournament, Canada's coach felt her side took the next big step in its evolution.

Canada's coach proud of 'massive learnings' as program takes next step in evolution

Canada coach Bev Priestman reacts on the sidelines during an Arnold Clark Cup match against England on Feb. 17. (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Bev Priestman got exactly what she bargained for at the Arnold Clark Cup, and although the Canadian women's team finished third in the four-nations tournament, Canada's coach felt her side took the next big step in its evolution.

Priestman doesn't want last summer's Tokyo Olympics to be a one-off, but rather the starting point of a new era that sees the Canadian women competing and holding their own against the top nations in the sport on a regular basis.

To that end, Priestman decided to have her team participate in the Arnold Clark Cup in this month's international window, rather than play a series of friendlies against second-tier countries. Canada, No. 6 in the current FIFA rankings, battled No. 8 England to a 1-1 draw in its opening match, before posting a 1-0 win over No. 3 Germany, and losing 1-0 to No. 9 Spain.

Next year's FIFA World Cup will expand from 24 to 32 nations, and will feature at least 11 European teams, three more than competed at the 2019 World Cup. Seven of the eight quarter-finalists in France three years ago were from Europe.

With this in mind, Priestman challenged her players not to view the Arnold Clark Cup as an exhibition tournament, but rather as a chance to grow and develop while facing three top European nations.

WATCH | John Molinaro joins CBC Sports' Signa Butler to discuss Arnold Clark Cup: 

Breaking down CanWNT’s performance at the Arnold Clark Cup

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Overall, Priestman was pleased with what she saw.

The Canadians came from behind to earn a draw against host nation England. Canada recorded only its second win against Germany in 17 all-time meetings between the countries dating back to 1994.

In their final game, the Reds kept things tight against an ultra-slick Spanish team who is unbeaten in 19 consecutive matches and hasn't lost a game in close to two years.

"I said coming into this we'd come away with more European experience. We've done that. I'm so glad we attended this tournament. I think we've got some massive learnings. And there are some players that really had to step up," the Canadian coach said after Tuesday's loss to Spain.

It was far from perfect, as Canada looked uneven at times during the Arnold Clark Cup. But that was to be expected considering that it had been idle since playing a pair of games in Mexico last November.

Canada's three opponents had the advantage of calling on players who are in season with their European clubs — the majority of Canada's squad was made up of players from the National Women's Soccer League, which is in its off-season at the moment. Also, Canada was without captain Christine Sinclair (family reasons) and fellow forward Adriana Leon (injury).

Putting performances in context

Still, Canada managed to go toe-to-toe against three top-10 countries, each of them among the small group of favourites to win this summer's European Championship.

"The important thing here is context," Priestman said. "As a coach, when you lose, you sometimes lose sight of that. If you told me coming in that some players haven't kicked a ball since [the games in Mexico], you've got Christine missing, you've got Adriana [missing] — I think we've taken a step forward."

Among the many positives for Canada was the outstanding play from Paris Saint-Germain's Ashley Lawrence, widely regarded as one the best fullbacks in the women's game. Lawrence was a driving force in the attack down the left side, as was fellow fullback Jayde Riviere down the right flank. Kadeisha Buchanan and Vanessa Gilles cemented their status as a formidable centre-back pairing, while midfielders Jessie Fleming and Quinn were brilliant on both sides of the ball.

Canada's Vanessa Gilles (24) celebrates with teammate Janine Beckie after scoring during the team's Arnold Clark Cup game against Germany on Sunday. (Harriet Lander/Getty Images)

Priestman managed to give midfielder Marie-Yasmine Alidou her senior team debut, while also giving newcomer Cloé Lacasse (five caps) some valuable playing time.

"We've found ways to get Ashley Lawrence higher [up the pitch], we've got more combinations and more trusted players, we've widened the depth and I've tested more players," Priestman said.

After drawing England, Priestman bemoaned her team's lack of bravery in going forward in attack and trying to make something happen in the final third of the pitch. Her players responded with a more fearless display against Germany.

Against Spain, the Canadians started out strong before seeing their opponents take the lead going into halftime. Following the break, Canada looked revitalized in creating several scoring chances, and was unfortunate not to at least end up with a tie.

Priestman's objective now is to build upon its showing at the Arnold Clark Cup, and to make sure to get a full 90 minutes out of her team during this summer's Concacaf Championship, which serves as the qualifiers for next year's World Cup and the 2024 Paris Olympics.

"It's disappointing to lose, you hate losing more than you love winning," Priestman admitted. "Incredible second half [vs. Spain], I thought we were brave — this team across this tournament has shown moments of braveness, they just need to do it across the 90 minutes, but I think it's the reality of where we're at in terms of physically being able to compete over 90 minutes.

"We've shown some attacking threats, we had some clear-cut chances that maybe 12 months ago we wouldn't have had."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Molinaro

Freelance contributor

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for a number of media outlets, including CBC Sports, Sportsnet and Sun Media. During his time at CBC Sports, John travelled to South Africa to cover the 2010 FIFA World Cup for CBCSports.ca. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of the Canadian game.

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