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Canada cautiously optimistic ahead of Concacaf opener

VANCOUVER, B.C – The 2018 Concacaf Women’s Championship resumes tonight with Group B getting underway. No. 5 ranked Canada are the favorites to win a group that also features 34th ranked Costa Rica, 64th ranked Jamaica, and Cuba who rank 88th.

“It’s going to be challenging,” goalkeeper, Steph Labbe told The Equalizer by phone in Texas. “We know they’re going to be fast and technical. Cuba, we don’t know much about them. Jamaica, we have a like bit of knowledge. We know Costa Rica is challenging. We had a tough match against them in last (Olympic) qualifying. The biggest thing is focusing on ourselves, doing what we can do, and dominating the field in that sense.”

All three of Canada’s group matches will take place at H-E-B Park in Edinburg, Texas. Canada will kickoff vs Jamaica tonight, Cuba on Monday, and Costa Rica on Thursday.

Finding form and getting intro a groove is exactly how Canada wants to build momentum before a possible semifinal match on Sunday, October 14 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The winner of Group B will face the Group A runner-up. That means Canada could play Mexico, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago or perhaps even the United States.

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On paper Group B looks like a cake walk for Coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller and his Canadian squad. However, as we know, matches aren’t played on paper or in the fantasy world. A win in the semifinals, and a spot at the 2019 World Cup in France is up for grabs.

“You can assume, think, and predict what’s going to happen,” Labbe explained. “Inside here, we’re taking it one game at a time, and building a trjectory. You want to learn from the small mistakes, and build throughout. It’s about putting in a good performance in each game, and that’s how we’re going to be successful.”

How does a team with the resources, finances, and experience that Canada has prepare for teams that don’t play as many matches, and aren’t as well-known? What about any surprises, or obscure Concacaf rules? It comes down to research, scouting, and video.

“We’ve watched video on the teams,” Center back, Shelina Zadorsky explained. “Concacaf brings out their own challenges. There are quality players on each of those teams. Obviously, there’s some skill there, and Jamaica look comfortable on the ball. They like to move it, to play it. We’re not taking any team too lightly. We respect our opponent. We want the result and we also want to perform well in each game, and that means shutting down some quality players.”

One of Canada’s challenges in qualifying for the World Cup could come from a string of injuries picked up during training camps in the last month. Shannon Woeller, (broken arm), Desiree Scott (foot), and Erin McLeod (foot) aren’t available. That’s 271 combined caps from three quality veterans.

How do you replace someone in the midfield who is nicknamed ‘The Destroyer’?

“I don’t think anyone can step in and do what Desi does,” Labbe said. “She’s world-class. There’s nobody that can step in and fill her roll. We have someone like Rebecca Quinn who can come in. She’s really grown and established herself. She can make a lasting impact. It’s going to be exciting to see her flourish and grow.”

Canada’s always youthful squad features five teenagers including. Jordyn Huitema (17), Emma Regan (18), Julia Grosso (18), Gabrielle Carle (19), and Deanne Rose (19). The old football adage rings true for Canada: ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’.

After winning back to back bronze medals at the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio Olympics, Canada want to show that they can own the podium in not just an Olympic year. The 2015 World Cup in Canada saw the hosts bow out after the quarterfinals.

The 25 year-old Zadorsky joined the first team as a mainstay following the last World Cup. Having helped Canada win a medal in Rio, Zadorsky is eager to help Canada qualify for what would be her first World Cup experience next summer in France.

“That’s the goal,” Zadorksy said. “Well, obviously that’s the far out goal, but we’re trying to take it one game at time. We’re here to a job in this tournament and get to France next summer. It would mean everything for us.”

The former Washington Spirit teammates won’t be the only players to watch. Christine Sinclair is chasing Abby Wambach’s all-time goal-scoring record. Sinclair has 173 international goals, and is coincidentally 12 goals away from breaking Wambach’s record of 184. There’s a good chance Sinclair will feast on Canada’s CONCACAF’s opponents.

The CONCACAF Women’s Championship is sure to bring some exciting, and entertaining football. Canada has a strong shot to qualify for France, but before any earned medals can be tossed into the stands. They’ve got to conquer Group B and come out on top.


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