Canadian women's soccer team in fighting form
Italian manager Morace has changed tactical approach
The metamorphosis of the Canadian women's national soccer team has been startling and nothing short of amazing.
For years, Canada was regarded as one of the top sides in the women's game, but it regressed when it bowed out in the first round of the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup and could not advance beyond the quarter-finals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Since taking over as coach in early 2009, Carolina Morace has whipped Team Canada into shape, instilling the virtues of maintaining possession and playing one-touch soccer.
How the tournament works
The CONCACAF World Cup qualifier is an eight-team competition for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.
The tournament, scheduled for Oct. 28 to Nov. 8, will see Canada compete in Group A with hosts Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana. Group B is comprised of the United States, Costa Rica, Haiti and Guatemala.
The tournament finalists will automatically qualify for the World Cup, while the third-place team will meet Italy in a two-game playoff for the right to travel to Germany.
Morace's arrival marked a distinct tactical switch for the Canadian women's team. Previous coach Even Pellerud preached a one-dimensional style of play that emphasized the long ball, physical strength and endurance.
But under Morace, the Canadian team is playing a more stylish, technical and direct brand of soccer — something that was in full evidence when Canada defeated China 3-1 in a recent friendly in Toronto.
Now riding a bit of momentum, Canada hopes to breeze through the upcoming CONCACAF tournament in Mexico and qualify for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany. Considering how well the team has responded and is playing under the Italian manager, Canada looks a good bet to secure a World Cup berth.
"I think the team loves [Morace's system] and me personally, I think this is the way that soccer was meant to be played," forward Christine Sinclair told CBCSportsca.
"The first year and half with Carolina as a coach was an adjustment for us and in that China game it showed what we are capable of and the progress we have made under her. Hopefully we can bring that into the CONCACAF tournament."
It's not just the veterans like Sinclair, 27, who have bought into Morace's tactical system. The team's youngsters have, too.
"In our old system, the midfield did the grunt work, where now we are able to get forward, attack and make runs," explained Kaylyn Kyle, a 22-year-old midfielder who has flourished under Morace.
"With Carolina's style, it suits me more because I love to have the ball. Everyone enjoys it more. [Veteran midfielder] Diana Matheson now fills a great attacking role for us, whereas before she was always defensive. It's been great."
Soccer fans can watch the Canadian women's national team compete at the 2010 CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on CBC.
All three of Canada's group-stage matches will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca and air on the main CBC network and on Bold, CBC's digital channel.
Fans can also watch live coverage of the semifinals and final on CBCSports.ca
To read about CBC's broadcast coverage of the tournament, CLICK HERE.
A change in playing style is only half the story behind the Canadian team's renaissance. Morace has also changed the team's training methodology, and demanded her players be faster and more physically fit.
Sinclair, in particular, has benefited from the changes in training regime. Not exactly a slow player under Pellerud, the star forward has dropped weight and picked up an extra touch of speed since the Venice-born Morace took over as coach.
"Carolina has brought in a completely different training environment that's focused a lot more on quickness and speed, and changing the direction of attack, as opposed to endurance," Sinclair explained.
"Especially as a forward, it's all about being faster than the defender you're up against. Me personally, I've bought into her program and implemented it daily when I train and I think it's made a huge difference in my game"
So has Kyle, who said; "Before I was slow and one speed. Now, I think my quickness has picked up and my fitness level has improved, I've never been this fit."
One of the reasons why the players have so much respect for Morace is because the Italian played the game at the highest level.
Morace debuted for the Italian women's national team in 1978 and went on to score 105 goals in 153 games for her country. She played in the first ever FIFA Women's World Cup in 1991 in China, scoring four goals before Italy was knocked out in the quarter-finals.
Morace is also the only woman in Europe to have coached a pro men's team, having run Serie C side Viterbese in 1999.
She demands that her players be professional at all times — both on and off the field — and Sinclair and her teammates have responded.
"She's a type of coach who expects a lot from her players in training and in the games. She expects players to be disciplined outside of training in terms of nutrition and diet, rest and things like that. At the same time, she jokes around with the players," Sinclair said.