Despite tough loss, Bev Priestman encouraged with where Canada's soccer women are heading
‘This is the motivation now,’ Priestman says of Canada's 1-0 defeat to U.S.
Bev Priestman had every right to go on an impassioned rant after the Canadian women's team's loss in Monday's CONCACAF W Championship final in Monterrey, Mexico.
The United States earned a slim 1-0 lead at Estadio BBVA via a 78th-minute goal from Alex Morgan, a goal that was a by-product of a dubious penalty decision just moments earlier when Canadian fullback Allysha Chapman was judged to have tripped up Rose Lavelle from behind inside the 18-yard box.
The American player went down far too easily, and while replays showed there was barely any contact, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) booth didn't intervene and the call stood. Yet, Canada's coach took it all in stride, and was gracious in defeat, recognizing that the U.S. was the better team on the night.
"I think it was a soft penalty. But these things happen. A penalty is a penalty, and it was a decision that was made," Priestman told reporters after the game.
She later added: "I don't take [anything] away from the U.S. They brought it to us, and all credit to them."
In exacting revenge for its loss to Canada in the semifinals of last summer's Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. was crowned the queens of CONCACAF, and also qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Canada will now have to face Jamaica, the third-place team at this tournament, in a playoff in September, 2023 to determine who'll claim the other Olympic berth on offer in the CONCACAF region.
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Losses to U.S. always sting
Losses against the U.S. always sting. Before Canada's victory in Tokyo, that's pretty much all it knew when dealing with the Americans, as the Reds hadn't defeated their neighbours in 37 consecutive games, a streak that dated back to their previous victory on March 11, 2001.
Despite Monday's loss, there were still plenty of positives from Canada at this CONCACAF tournament.
For starters, goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan erased any doubts as to whether she was ready to take over from Stephanie Labbé. For six years, Sheridan was Labbé's understudy, unable to unseat the veteran as Canada's starter. When Labbé retired earlier this year, Sheridan graduated from back to the No. 1, and she hit the ground running by posting four shutouts and winning the Golden Glove award as the best goalkeeper at the CONCACAF W Championship.
Although she came out on the losing end on Monday, this was Sheridan's best performance in Mexico, coming up with a number of fabulous saves to deny the Americans as they bossed most of the game with their surging attack. It's not an exaggeration to suggest that the damage could've been far worse for Canada if not for Sheridan's heroic efforts on the night.
"A lot of people talk about Stephanie Labbé in the [Tokyo] Olympics, and how that's big shoes to fill. Kailen has shown that she's ready… I thought she was fantastic. [She] showed her leadership, showed her calm, collected approach with and without the ball," Priestman said.
Just as impressive for Canada was Vanessa Gilles. It's incredible to think that she only has six appearances for the national team prior to last year's Olympics. But Priestman made a bold move in swapping her into the starting lineup in Tokyo at the expense of the more experienced Shelina Zadorsky.
The move paid off huge dividends. Gilles forged a partnership with Kadeisha Buchanan that has since blossomed into one of the best central defensive pairings in the international game, and she has played in 20 of Canada's 28 matches since 2021. The Ottawa native was a tour de force in Mexico in a Canadian back line that registered four shutouts and only conceded once in five games.
Gilles puts her body on the line
Against the U.S, Gilles routinely put her body on the line in making a number of important tackles, interceptions and clearances that stopped the Americans dead in their tracks as they surged forward in attack.
"What an absolute warrior," Priestman enthused. "Top players play in big games like this and deal with threats, and I thought Vanessa was outstanding."
At the other end of the field, Canada's attack blossomed and benefited from a variety of sources for goals, rather than simply leaning on Christine Sinclair to provide the offensive spark. Eight different players accounted for the team's 12 goals, with midfielder Julia Grosso scoring three times to win the Gold Boot (on a tiebreaker) as the competition's top scorer.
Janine Beckie not only bagged her 35th goal for Canada, but she was her team's most effective creator with her dynamic and dangerous play down the right wing, and tallied a tournament-high three assists.
Fullback Jayde Riviere, 21, had her best run of games for Canada in Mexico, lending her support to the attack with her bombing runs down the flanks, while Jessie Fleming scored three times to solidify her status as one of the best midfielders in the entire CONCACAF region.
All of this gives Priestman plenty to work with as Canada spends the next 12 months preparing for the 2023 FIFA World Cup that will be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
"The most important thing for us is that we keep moving forward," Priestman said. "I'm incredibly proud of them, and this is the motivation now… [to] do the thing we want to do, which is to conquer the World Cup. That's our first hurdle, and hopefully we come off the back of a great World Cup and then we get to Paris."