While the United States has enjoyed a relatively simple run through the qualifying event for the 2015 Women’s World Cup, there is at least one country that has it even easier: Canada.
As soon as the event was awarded to the Great White North, Canada was guaranteed a spot in the expanded field of 24. So while the U.S. and the rest of CONCACAF have been duking it out for the last week, Canada has been sitting it out.
In lieu of qualifying, Canada will host the world champions from Japan this Saturday in Edmonton and again next Tuesday in Vancouver. It is a route the team hopes to take again in July since the winner of Canada’s Group A would play its semifinal in Edmonton with the final in Vancouver.
“It comes with pros and cons,” Canada head coach John Herdman said of his team sitting out qualifying. “My experience is with the tournament for the Olympic Games and it typically comes down to two games. And then the pressure of those two games and what you learn about the team in those times, you don’t get back.”
At the same time, had Canada been part of what is being called the CONCACAF Women’s Championship, they would have been heavily favored to go through while playing several inferior opponents. And while a longer qualifying phase is likely needed for the minnows to truly catch up to the power teams, Herdman is relishing his team’s opportunity to take on the world champions.
“When you’re this close to the event you need to know how close you are to the real Thoroughbreds,” Herdman said while ticking off Canada’s 2014 schedule that has included the U.S., Germany, England, and now Japan. “We’ll certainly have our measuring stick out and hopefully the gap isn’t too big that we can’t make it up by the time we get there.”
In the nascent world of women’s soccer, only European nations play stand-alone World Cup qualifiers. The other regions do as CONCACAF does by either doubling up continental championships or putting on short tournaments that decide every qualifier in a short period of time. The European model benefits the weaker teams, but says Herdman, it does not necessarily make for better matches or preparation for the big guns.
“Until the gap really closes, the challenge you’ve got is the meaningful games,” he said. “If you were to ask the Germans how many of their (qualifiers) were meaningful, most of the games they scored eight plus goals. And they conceded maybe six goals throughout the whole qualifying (they actually outscored their opponents 62-4 and scored 8 goals on four occasions out of 10). And then they have to go off and play the USA and Canada in friendly matches which is a completely different style and approach.
“If you look at Canada, we can put destiny in our hands, we can target the type of teams we play each year. We can go and play Asian teams or we can play European teams. That’s the beauty of not being tied down to the European type structure.”
The matches against Japan may not carry the same sort of intensity as Tuesday night’s, must-win showdown between Mexico and Jamaica, but as Herdman points out, how much could Germany really have taken away from beating Slovenia 13-0 last October.
Herdman said he has 33 players in the running for the World Cup roster, and 20 of those will be available for the two matches against Japan. While acknowledging that a few of the staples of the club are practically locks to make the World Cup roster, he suggested that every position remains up for the taking between now and the June 6 kickoff to the World Cup. And he stressed that Canada is still in need of improvement if they are to be good enough to win it all next summer.
“You may see some of the big faces that have always played be pushed out by players that have really committed to this period that we have to prep. Every place is up for grabs, that’s for sure. The only way you’re getting in to this team is if you’ve got the ability to help us win the World Cup.”
The 39-year-old Englishman who will be coaching his first World Cup said the 2015 Canadian side will be a strong mix of old guard and young blood. “We’ve got two groups of players together now. We’ve got this younger generation and we’ve got an older generation. Those (older players) are three years older now from the Olympic Games (in 2012 when Canada won the bronze medal) and some of them are passing their physical peak. So we have to be really careful about how we prep them. And then we’ve got a younger group that is just gung ho and bullet proof. Bringing that group together is always a challenge; to get the chemistry right and connect around a common mission of what we’re trying to achieve as a team.”
Herdman’s first major tournament was the 2012 Olympics during which Canada played inspired soccer and came within minutes of upsetting the United States and playing for the gold medal. He said the team rallied around a common connection that got stronger as the tournament went on and that the current team is working on and off the field to see to it a similar connection peaks next summer.
“We’re making as much opportunity of the time we’ve got to do the things that Canada needs to do to get us ready for (the World Cup.)
HERDMAN ON CHRISTINE SINCLAIR AND HER SUBSTANDARD NWSL SEASON: Christine is just one of those players that every day she comes to training and she’s world class in every training session. And if you go watch her play when she plays for Portland, she’s still doing the right things. The main thing for Christine, particularly with our team bringing a Melissa Tancredi back into the lineup, I’m sure we’ll be providing her with more opportunities to score goals. I’ve never seen a change in her.”
HERDMAN ON PLAYING THE WORLD CUP ON TURF: I think it’s fair to say the World Cup is on turf. I think everyone knew that when Canada took the World Cup. We’ll be ready for it. We’ll be sure to take advantage of what our country provides us and we’re excited. We’re excited to play in whatever stadium is put out there. And what we know is we’ll get a consistent surface. That’s all you need as players.
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