Next gen of Canadian women's soccer offence gives veteran Sinclair relief in 1st CONCACAF W win
Coach Priestman's tactical substitution in 2nd half leads way to 6-0 rout
A blowout win was exactly what a goal-shy Canadian women's team badly needed to kick off its CONCACAF W Championship campaign.
Julia Grosso bagged a brace, Christine Sinclair scored her 190th international goal, and three other players found the back of the net for Canada in a comprehensive 6-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night in Monterrey, Mexico.
Goals have been hard to come by for the Olympic champions after winning gold last summer. Going into Tuesday's encounter with the Soca Warriors, the Canadians had scored more than one once in just three of their 10 matches since beating Sweden in the final in Tokyo, including suffering through a dour 0-0 draw against South Korea in a friendly in Toronto in late June.
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But against Trinidad in its opening match of this CONCACAF tournament, which serves as the qualifier for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup, Canada rediscovered its scoring touch in registering its biggest victory since thrashing Jamaica 9-0 on Feb. 1, 2020.
"The narrative about lack of goals, I think that plays into players getting tense," Canada coach Bev Priestman said afterward. "I was just pleased to put that to bed now and just focus on the process."
WATCH | Julia Grosso scores a pair to lead way for Canada:
What has to be especially gratifying for Priestman is that all but one of the goals on the night came after Sinclair was subbed out as part of a quadruple substitution early in the second half, a tactical switch that injected new life into a Canadian attack that had become somewhat stagnant following a dominant first half.
The main criticism of this Canadian side over the years has been that it hasn't weaned itself off its dependency on Sinclair; that it still relies far too heavily on its iconic captain to provide the offensive spark. We saw evidence of that when Canada failed to break down the ultra-defensive South Koreans as Sinclair watched the entire match from the bench as an unused substitute.
Against Trinidad, though, Canada exploded for five goals in the final 23 minutes of regulation time without Sinclair on the pitch.
The Canadians completely controlled the opening half, as it enjoyed 77 per cent possession, a 21-0 edge in shots (six on target), and out-passed their opponents 292-97. But for all of their domination, the Canadians took only a 1-0 lead going into halftime courtesy of Sinclair's header in the 27th minute. The Canadian captain also drew a penalty minutes later, but Jessie Fleming, who was lights out from the penalty spot in Tokyo, sent her attempt over the crossbar.
Even with a 1-0 lead, it looked like it was going to be another one of those nights for Canada in which it struggled to break through on the offensive end. But in putting the hammer down in the second half, Canada showed that it is capable of getting the job done without its 39-year-old captain, who now has 190 international goals in 311 appearances.
WATCH | Sinclair scores 190th international goal in Canada's win:
"For me, the good thing is the goals are coming from more than one player. I think that's where this team will continue to evolve ... That's going to continue to grow," Priestman said.
Frustration was clearly etched on the faces of Canada's players as they walked off the pitch at Estadio BBVA with only one goal to show for their efforts going into halftime. At times through the first half, the Canadian attack was a bit too predictable, and Priestman noted that her team has a tendency to sometimes "stick to a script too much."
But to Priestman's great credit, she kept the players focused, and told them to simply go for it in the second half, and not worry about making mistakes or losing possession.
"I'll never tell this team to play it safe; I think we've got to take the handbrake off. That was the message, particularly to the fullbacks at halftime," Priestman said.
The Canadian coach's quadruple change in the 59th minute was the turning point, especially the introduction of 21-year-old midfielder Julia Grosso for veteran Desiree Scott and Jordyn Huitema for Sinclair.
Grosso's star on the rise
It was Huitema who teed up Grosso in the 67th minute as the Vancouver native scored her first international goal to double Canada's advantage. Grosso bagged her second just 12 minutes later when she latched onto a ball played across the box by Janine Beckie.
Grosso then turned provider when she went on a probing run down the middle before slipping a pass into the box for Beckie to fire past the Trinidadian goalkeeper to make it 5-0. Huitema completed the rout when she poked a shot home from close range deep into injury time.
For Grosso, this breakout performance has been a long time in coming. Her star has been on the rise ever since her standout performances in Tokyo last summer, which included her scoring the winner in the shootout win against the Swedes in the gold-medal match.
But her pathway into the starting 11 has been blocked by the indomitable Scott, nicknamed "The Destroyer," and who has made 177 appearances for Canada since 2010.
Grosso has improved both offensively and defensively since graduating from the NCAA ranks and turning pro earlier this year with Italian club Juventus. Now the challenge for her is to do it on a consistent basis for Canada.
"With Julia she's just got to believe in herself, and join more, and play forward more. That's exactly what she did tonight, and credit to her. I think her defensive part of the game, she's working hard at that," Priestman said.