These are exciting times for Canadian women’s soccer. The team captured the imagination of the country by taking the bronze medal at the Olymic Games last summer, they are hosting an emotionally-charged friendly against the United States this Sunday, and the Canadian Soccer Association ponied up salaries for 16 players evenly divided among the eight NWSL teams. All of it is scheduled to reach a zenith two years from now when the World Cup hits Canada.
“To be honest we’ve had a lot of battles with the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) in the past but they’ve really started to get behind us,” said Erin McLeod of Canada and the Chicago Red Stars. “To me the biggest indication has been that they’ve been willing to pay our salaries. It’s incredible. I couldn’t have imagined this 10 years ago. The fact that they’ve really come behind us shows that they’re behind the 2015 World Cup and they want us to do well and they want us to win.”
Early indications are that the CSA’s investment is paying off. The inaugural NWSL season failed to attract the best players from outside North America, but the Canadian contingent has been a bright spot with positive contributions all over the league and at various positions.
“I can’t help but be proud every time I watch one of my teammates do well. I think this league is wonderful for that,” McLeod said.
Canadian presence has been particularly strong in midfield where Sky Blue FC’s Sophie Schmidt will exit May leading the league on five goals. In the group with four goals is the Spirit’s Diana Matheson and Thorns FC’s Christine Sinclair who has played as much at attacking mid as forward. FC Kansas City’s Desiree Scott is not a scorer but she has been dogged in preventing opponents from doing so out of her holding midfield spot.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Lauren Sesselmann, the FC Kansas City center back who plays behind Scott. “I think everyone is bringing something different to their team.”
“Me and D (Matheson) we’ve kind of mentioned a little goal rivalry thing that we’ve got going on,” Schmidt said when asked if the Canadian players around the league discuss each other’s success. “But we support each other. We’re such a close team and if they’re succeeding on other teams we’re happy for each other. I just want to see them do well in this league. I think it’s good for soccer in Canada and the growth of the game in general.”
This Sunday, 12 of the 16 players being subsidized by the CSA will join two other NWSL players and six non-NWSL players for one of the more anticipated friendlies in recent soccer memory. Canada will be the home side at BMO Field in Toronto against the United States.
“I think it’s fair to say this is the most fired up I’ve ever been for a friendly,” McLeod said.
It was McLeod who, last summer in the Olympic semifinal, held on to the ball in her penalty area long enough that a yellow card and indirect free kick were awarded to the United States. The controversial call begat a more controversial penalty that allowed the U.S. to tie the match and they would later win it on a 123rd minute extra time header from Alex Morgan.
“I reviewed the game this week,” McLeod said. “It’s the first time I watched it; I hadn’t been able to watch it. I still get emotional. But it’s a game and I love what I do and I’m grateful that I still get emotional because I will be bringing that emotion to the next game.”
The emotion is such that Canada coach John Herdman has stacked his side with veterans for the match. One of them, Melissa Tancredi, is working her way back into the mix midway through what had been declared a year off to focus on academics. Herdman cited a very simple reason why he’s taking the absolute best players available.
“In the past I have talked about having an absolute 2015, 2016 focus and the development steps this year. But I think for this game you’ve got to consider the significance for Canadians,” Herdman said. “We can’t hide from this. I think it’s an important game for Canada and a game we’re really interested in. When you bring in the world No. 1, a team that hasn’t been beaten in 35 games and that we haven’t beaten in 12 years, you want to make sure that you have a really strong team out there that can cope with that experience.”
Herdman will also be looking to see how his side reacts to playing in front of a stadium that sold out in less than an hour. It will be only a fraction of the pressure Canada will face in 2015 when they host the World Cup as one of the favorites.
“I think there’s different pressures,” McLeod said. “Crowds are one thing but then home crowds are another. There’s that expectation that you have to win and represent your home country well and all those things. It’s just more pressure. We have some very young players and then very experienced players. I think for everyone no matter how long you’ve been on the team it’s going to be a challenge. We had qualifiers in January (2012) in Vancouver for the Olympics and we were selling out then. It was such an incredible feeling so now we have a new batch of players. For them to feel that (and) get used to that is going to be great.”
Canada’s top handful of players, especially from the midfield forward, are every bit as good as the U.S. top players. They continue to lack in both breadth and depth–there are not outstanding Canadians to be found at all positions, and the current team is not in a position to withstand any significant injuries. Paying 16 players to compete in NWSL will not solve either issue, but there is a good chance it becomes part of a more broad solution to the issue of player development north of the border.
Where are the goals coming from
Throughout the season The Lowdown will track where the goals are coming from in terms of the different levels of roster building. Here’s how the goals break down with Week 7 totals in parentheses:
Allocated players – 37 (4)
United States – 19 (2); Canada – 13 (1); Mexico – 5 (1)
College Draft – 4
Free Agent – 15 (3)
Supplemental Draft – 7 (1)
Discovery et al. 3
Own Goals – 1
Note: Free Agent refers to any player signed during the free agent window immediately following the college draft; Discovery includes any player acquired through means not included in any other category
– The surprise Red Stars call-up turned out to be Rachel Quon, but the bigger surprise was her being called up by Canada. Quon’s father is from Rosetown, Saskatchewan (“kind of in the middle of nowhere,” Quon says.) “I’ve always been Canadian and I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to play for the U.S. all my young career.”
– Asked who she rooted for in last year’s Olympic semifinal, Quon laughed heartily – and then refused to answer. “It was a very exciting match.”
-The Red Stars will lose Lauren Fowlkes who was recently accepted into a Physician’s Assistant program and has retired from soccer. She nearly went out in style with a late equalizer in Rochester but her header off a Red Stars corner kick went high.
– The Breakers have added a pair of new sponsors. As part of their arrangement with Dependable Cleaners, fans will have a chance to win free dry cleaning. The Breakers also announced SonoSite as their new sleeve sponsor.
– In more enticing news out of Boston, Sydney Leroux was held out of the starting lineup Saturday night against the Spirit. Stay tuned…
– Brittany Taylor notched a pair of assists for the Flash on Friday night, a rare feat for a central defender, particularly when neither come via serving in set pieces.
– One night after Taylor, Lianne Sanderson became the first player to notch three assists in an NWSL match, making the final passes on goals to Heather O’Reilly, Katie Schoepfer, and Kyah Simon.
– I’m still trying to process the penalty kick awarded to the Thorns late Saturday night. Most of the time, on a bad penalty call, the reason for the call is obvious but you disagree with it. In this case, unless the camera was blocking something entirely, it appears to be an entirely phantom call. Having consulted with several people around the women’s soccer world I have yet to find one who has even remotely hinted at a penalty being justified there.
– Sticking with the Thorns-Reign match, the Thorns looked particularly average and it is still worth noting that their six wins have come in pairs over the Spirit, Red Stars, and Reign who are now a combined 1-15-6. The Thorns have not played the Breakers or Flash, and in matches against FC Kansas City and Sky Blue FC they are 0-1-1 and have not scored in the run of play.
– The Flash have suddenly won three straight to conclude an awkward May during which they played home matches May 1, 11, and 24 and are now into another extended break with their next match June 5 in Boston. It will open a stretch of eight away matches out of 10. “This will decide our season,” coach Aaran Lines said. The back-end of the stretch is a grueling run of four matches over 11 days, the last in Portland.
– Sky Blue FC now have four consecutive clean sheets for Brittany Cameron whose goals against is at 0.50. Cameron has 6 wins and 5 shutouts this season.
– Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar have advanced to the Asian Women’s Cup next year. From that eight-team tournament the top five finishers will qualify for Canada 2015.
– McLeod says she expects to be ready to play for Canada on Sunday.
– Kelley O’Hara went to Toronto with to meet up with the U.S. national team after hurting her ankle in the first half of Sky Blue’s win over Kansas City. She is currently listed as “day-to-day.”
– Hope Solo made her Reign FC debut on Saturday and — coincidentally or not — the team played by far its best match of the season. The Reign carried the play in the first half and looked like they may have escaped with a draw until the dubious penalty call gifted the Thorns a goal.
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