EDMONTON, Canada — Christine Sinclair has been a world-class player ever since she stepped on the pitch for Canada. The 31-year-old striker has often been the lone potential scoring threat for Canada. Opponents have zeroed in on Sinclair as a way to shut down Canada. Sinclair is always closely marked, and given very little room to make her presence felt on the score sheet. It is imperative for Canada to find a strike partner who can assist and help take the pressure of Canada’s all-time leading scorer.
Coach John Herdman has brought in a few talented strikers who are all hoping to find that much-needed chemistry with Christine Sinclair. Sky Blue FC striker Jonelle Filigno and Laval Comets forward Josee Belanger are two players who would like to be on that Canada team sheet when the World Cup begins next June.
The Mississauga, Ontario, native talked about the Canada attack and how the chemistry is building between herself and the other strikers Canada has brought into residency camp. Filigno is confident with the players Canada has as they look to form a bond that can only improve leading up to the World Cup.
“We’ve been working on those relationships up top with our front five,” Filigno said. “I think the chemistry is really coming a long. It’s definitely progressed from when we first got in to camp until now. We’re really confident going into this game with the connectivity we have up top.”
Canada has played eight matches in 2014 and Christine Sinclair has found the net on only one occasion. Sophie Schmidt is Canada’s leading goal scorer this year with four goals, three of which came during the 2014 Cyprus Cup in March. For the host nation to be successful next year they’re going to need scoring by committee from every field player. Filigno knows the emphasis on scoring goals will always be something she and the rest of the Canadian strikers will have to embrace going forward.
“I think the goal for any forward is to always score goals, Christine has always been the leading scorer and I’m sure she does feel some pressure at times, but we are also forwards just like Christine Sinclair is a forward,” Filigno said. “The goal is always to get goals, and to help her you’ve got to get goals. You’ve got to be doing everything you can to be scoring goals and be dangerous in and around the box.”
It’s been almost a year since Josée Bélanger returned to the Canadian team. The 28-year-old credits the change in atmosphere and an overall better team environment as reasons why she wanted to come back and be a part of the national team program.
“For sure things are very different,” Bélanger said. “Now we really have a pro environment so everything is really taken care of, the medical, psychological, physical and also technical and tactical on the field. Everything is super well-organized so we are well supported and more than just an athlete, but also a person. I enjoy being back with the team.”
Bélanger is consistently one of the quickest and fastest players Canada has on its squad. Her vision and ability to get behind defenders is something she can use to create open space when Canada is going forward. Bélanger last scored for Canada during a match in Brazil on Dec. 19, 2010, against Brazil. She is not feeling pressure to score and just like most focused strikers she knows the goals will eventually come for her and her teammates.
“It’s not pressure, I guess it’s self pressure because we want to help the team,” she said. “I don’t feel that pressure from outside or from coaches, it’s part of the game and we need to score so obviously I’m trying to be in a good position where I can get shots or rebounds. I think it’s more about being ready to play as a team. Maybe I’m not going to be the one that will score, but I will affect the play by what I’m doing with my runs.”
At the 2012 London Olympics, Melissa Tancredi was the go-to forward beside Sinclair. It’s way to early to tell which Canadian will be partnered with Christine Sinclair on June 6, but Filigno and Bélanger are both hoping they get that opportunity. Filigno says she is up for whatever Herdman and the staff need.
“I’m comfortable wherever John puts me,” Filigno said. “As an attacking group in general, whether that’s attacking mids of forwards we all need to know the responsibilities. In a game you can start at wide forward and end up as the attacking midfielder, so you need to know every role and be confident playing that role.”
What does Sinclair think about all the attention and focus she draws? For the most part she is calm and looks at the bigger overall picture. The bottom line is simple: Canada needs to win matches however possible. With Erin McLeod in net, a shutout victory is always possible. Developing the younger players with Canada and succeeding together as a team is what Sinclair always hopes Canada is striving to do each and everyday.
“I just want to see this team succeed,” Sinclair said. “I hope we can put together two performances we can be proud of. It would be nice to get a bunch of players on the score sheet, but it’s just about team performance right now.”
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