With the 2018 U17 Women’s World Cup kicking off in Uruguay this week, I wanted to take a look back at the previous iterations of the team. Canada is one of only six nations, and the only one from CONCACAF, to have qualified for every edition of the U17 WWC, but has never progressed past the quarterfinals.
As this is Carolyn’s College Corner (more articles will be up soon, I promise), I initially intended only to look back at the 2014 and 2016 rosters, as the bulk of those players are now playing in NCAA, but as I started it became more interesting to see where the older players are now. U17 players from 2016 still have time to grow into the senior team; U17s from 2008 probably aren’t going to break in now if they haven’t already.
There are a couple of ways to interpret the following information—one, as pure trivia, which is always fun. John Herdman fans will say that something about his development path obviously worked, because the 2010 team advanced almost nobody to the senior team while the 2012 roster now makes up the young core of the senior WNT1. Even if he didn’t have much say on the roster—it’s unclear how much impact Herdman would have had on a roster that was assembled only a year after he was hired—his ability to integrate these youth players into the senior team is clearly notable.
One could also look at this list and decide that U17 rosters and performance are unlikely to have much bearing on senior performance for the future, so we shouldn’t try to interpret too much while watching the upcoming tournament. The 2012 U17 team, featuring the likes of Buchanan, Lawrence, Quinn, Prince, and Sheridan, among others, went out in the quarterfinals after a group stage draw with Nigeria and an unconvincing win over hosts Azerbaijan. Four years later, those players all won a medal at the Olympics. The United States, 2015 Women’s World Cup winners, were runners up in 2008. Since then they failed to advance from the group stage in 2012 and 2016 and failed to qualify at all in 2010 and 2014.
The major hope for Canada is that the current coaching staff can continue developing these youth players into solid senior national team players, regardless of this team’s performance in one U17 tournament. The 2008 team seemed promising at the time but only two of the players on that team have developed into CanWNT mainstays, which leaves a bit to be desired in terms of youth player integration.
Now, a look back at Canada’s previous U17 rosters. I’ve stuck to the World Cup rosters, though most did not change dramatically from qualifying rosters. Bolded players have earned at least one senior WNT cap; italicized players are those who have earned senior caps but have not had a recent enough call up to still be considered part of the player pool. When noting other rosters players were on, I checked only the highest level Canada attained that year—any U15 CONCACAF championships, U17 Women’s World Cups, the U20 Women’s World Cups in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2016, and CONCACAF U20 qualifying in 2010 and 2018.
The 2019 CONCACAF Women’s Championship is over, the Canadian women’s national team has no more games scheduled for 2018, and Christine Sinclair is eight goals away from passing Abby Wambach for the all-time women’s international soccer record.
Eight goals. Christine Sinclair has scored eight goals in 2018. She scored eight goals or more in 2015, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2003, 2002, and 2000. Her international goals per 90 minutes this year is 0.736, her best since 2012. If you watched Sinclair play the United States Wednesday, your eye will confirm common sense: the 35-year-old woman is slowing down. But she was regardless our best attacking player on the night against a first-rate opponent that looked sharp. Had Sinclair spent the tournament shooting as singlemindedly as Adriana Leon, we might be planning the #ChasingAbby parade already.
Any way you cut it, the grande dame of cansoc has been the country’s leading attacker. Her eight goals for the senior WNT led the team for the first time since 2015. In the women’s game, one year of international soccer is not that small a sample size: Sinclair has played 12 matches for 978 minutes for Canada plus 2,160 for the Portland Thorns. In the NWSL Sinclair scored nine goals, tied for fifth in the league and second on the Thorns behind Lindsey Horan.
International scorers for CanWNT, 2018
Whitecaps Girls Elite
TSS FC Rovers
All figures accurate as of October 18, 2018. All club figures are league play only, 2018 summer season or 2018–19 winter. Asterisks indicate seasons still in progress.
Sinclair also bagged six NWSL assists (tied for fourth in the league, second on the Thorns behind Tobin Heath) and her biggest impact internationally was behind the strikers, holding up and chipping balls to the front line. When we played the United States or Germany and had a nice spell of passing, odds were Sinclair was the fulcrum. If you don’t plan to put Christine Sinclair at the top of your ballot for 2018 Canadian women’s player of the year then I’m not sure who else you can have in mind; it has been a glorious Indian summer for our captain. But the real focus is on her finishing, because the question around her is “can she still pass Abby Wambach?”
I looked into it last December. At the time the tail end of Sinclair’s career was lagging a mile behind Wambach’s: at ages 30, 31, 32, 33, and 34, Abby Wambach scored international goals at a considerably higher rate than Christine Sinclair1. Indeed, the lines for Sinclair and Wambach trended with spooky similarity, except Sinclair was just that 0.4 or so goals per 90 minutes behind. But Sinclair’s age 35 season has been a clear exception. In 2015 a 35-year-old Abby Wambach scored seven times in 24 appearances with a goals/90 minutes of 0.678. This is a darned good number, but, to date, Sinclair has just surpassed it.
Wambach spent 2015 scoring against the likes of Ireland, Mexico, and Costa Rica in friendlies and at the Women’s World Cup. Not first-raters but no minnows. She didn’t get no three goals against Panama and Cuba to pad her totals, as Sinclair did, though when you look at it Sinclair’s 2018 goals against South Korea, Germany, and Costa Rica hold up pretty well. Given how close the figures are you’d probably still give 35-year-old Wambach the edge over 35-year-old Sinclair as a pure finisher, but suddenly it’s an argument again. More importantly, the prospects of successfully #ChasingAbby have probably improved in the past ten months.
Sinclair’s 2019 World Cup qualifying gave her four goals, tied for second on the team behind Adriana Leon, who played 180 minutes, and with Jordyn Hutiema, who got 111. But Huitema and Leon shredded Cuba. By the time Sinclair entered at half, Leon was gunning for a career-best tally and not inclined to give chances away. An opportunity missed. Four is still nice, and Sinclair did unusually well in the first half of the year’s European friendlies, producing a season none of her countrymen could match. In fact Sinclair’s eight international goals is the best among the fifteen women nominated for the 2018 Ballon d’Or Féminin, though not the best in the world2. This isn’t to say Sinclair was the best player in women’s soccer in 2018 but she’s deservedly on the longlist.
If Sinclair is healthy she’s got at least four probable games in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Since France, the host country, is a world leader anyway Canada has a fair chance of being seeded for the draw, which would mean a group as weak as the one we got in 2015. In an inflated 24-team tournament we can count on a game against a minnow and a second-rater, and being seeded would improve our chances of advancing to score more. There’s a goal or two for Sinclair there, and Wednesday’s final against the Americans demonstrated that Sinclair is still a money player.
Moreover, the Canadian Soccer Association tends to schedule plenty of friendlies in World Cup years. In 2015 the WNT played nine pre-World Cup friendlies, in 2011 nine, in 2007 a mere five, but in 2003 we played fifteen. Not for nothing has Sinclair scored at least eight goals in every World Cup year of her career, and at least ten every year but 2011. She gets opportunities. If she was on bad form we might be nervous but she isn’t, nor for club nor country. And with Janine Beckie’s skillset broadening, her runs taking her wider and her playmaking instincts improving, there’s no need for Sinclair to defer to a more athletic poacher unless Leon or Prince makes a leap.
Touch wood, but barring injury Christine Sinclair passing Abby Wambach in 2019 is no longer just “possible.” It’s probable.
We Canadian soccer fans have had a good six weeks. Unusually, both the men’s and women’s senior national teams are playing competitive tournaments, with the gentlemen playing qualifying for the first ever CONCACAF Nations League, and the women playing the confederal championship that doubles as World Cup qualifying. Even more unusually, both teams are living up to all our hopes against, admittedly, shabby opposition.
Neither tournament is an end of itself. The women have three goals: first, qualify for the 2019 Women’s World Cup (already done in style), their second to beat the United States, God willing, and their third to lift CONCACAF’s huge, silly trophy for the third time. The MNT is in a double qualifier: they must finish top ten in this 34-team tournament to make the 2019 Gold Cup1, and a top six finish puts them in the top group of the Nations League proper starting next September with all the teams you care about.
Since the men’s tournament is the 34 teams in CONCACAF that didn’t make the hex, among whom Canada actually looks pretty powerful, and the CONCACAF women’s tournament is, well, a CONCACAF women’s tournament, you will guess that we are playing lousy teams. We are. In four women’s games and two for the men there has hardly been a moment of adversity. Give or take Scott Arfield and Desiree Scott the teams are even healthy. It is, and this is not a word you get to use much in Canadian soccer, relaxing.
When the women beat Panama 7-0 in the Sunday semi-final that was gratuitous, even unsportsmanlike, but goal difference might have counted in the earlier group stage where both Mexico and Costa Rica were burned by big upsets. The final, Wednesday against the United States, is not likely to be a large Canadian victory, and if somehow it is then sportsmanship can go hang. The men are cursed with needing as many touchdowns as possible: the ridiculous Nations League format has each team play different opposition then compares the goal difference, with all the favourites guaranteed plenty of chances against minnows. Without some big wins Canada could go undefeated and miss the Nations League’s top tier anyway. Even Junior Hoilett flopping in the box with an early 2-0 lead against an island with less population than Saanich had a purpose.
Anyway, our country is scoring more than a ten on Tinder. The MNT broke its record win by beating the US Virgin Islands 8-0 away in September. The WNT’s record 21-0 win over Puerto Rico in 1998 is, we almost hope, unbreakable2, but 12-0 over Cuba set the national record for a win against an independent nation-state.
gg jk ez no re
In both cases, teams cap-tied exciting teenage talent. Okay, maybe we weren’t worried about Julia Grosso turning to Portugal, but this is the best soccer we’ve seen from her yet and we should be glad to have her. Liam Millar, Jonathan David, Ballou Tabla, and Alessandro Busti are getting quite a bit more hype and, until FIFA changes the rules again, they’re stuck with us. Besides, there are other teenagers: Alphonso Davies, Jordyn Huitema, Jessie Fleming, you might have heard of them.
Both teams are bidding adieu to legends. Atiba Hutchinson, on a shortlist for the best Canadian men’s player of all time, has already announced his plans to retire from international soccer after the 2019 Gold Cup. Christine Sinclair has not given us her timeline, but at age 35 she’s obviously winding down and may well be done by 2020. She’s on the shortlist for best female soccer player ever, full stop, and both Hutch and Sincy are worth showing the grandkids while you can under any circumstances at all.
And of course, given Canada’s unbiased love of skipping international windows, it’s delightful to get the lads/lasses together for extended camps. This goes double when you’re getting used to a new head coach, and it so happens both teams are doing that as well. John Herdman left the WNT to coach the MNT, his assistant Kenneth Heiner-Møller replaced him, and as such they have had more-or-less identical amounts of time as the new boss.
Really, the similarities are spooky.
But there are differences. The men are, through no fault of their own, engaged in a truly risible tournament. Their game in September against the US Virgin Islands was played in Bradenton, Florida, because facilities in the islands were considered inadequate. Soccer fans of Toronto did a magnificent job making BMO Field look good for the Dominica game: the Voyageurs were in fine voice and an attendance of 10,500 on a Tuesday evening was terrific. Compare it to 9,749 when Dominica visited for a World Cup qualifier in 2015 and I guess all that promotion of Ballou Tabla did some good. But the game itself is ridiculous. Busti, the 18-year-old backup goalkeeper with Juventus’s U-23 team, made his professional debut starting in goal for a competitive international; John Herdman admitted quite frankly before the game that he wanted to captie the kid. Given that we wanted goals, we couldn’t go full silly-season: the outfield starting lineup was something like our best ten minus the injured Arfield. But later in the game Herdman brought in two teenagers, Tabla and Zachary Brault-Guillard, plus one 23-year-old trying to find his international scoring touch in Cyle Larin. Sam Piette and Tosaint Ricketts sat, unneeded, on the bench. It was goofy, a friendly in which you were obliged to humiliate the other team. Dominica played with pluck throughout and deserved a more dignified context.
The way the Nations League qualifying works is that each of the 34 teams are separated into four spots, based off ranking. Given that the six 2018 hex teams aren’t included, you run out of quality teams before you finish Pot A: top-seeded teams include Haiti, Cuba, and three French overseas departments, including a Florent Malouda-less French Guiana. Each team plays four games, two home and two away, one against a member of each pot. But there are no groups: Canada plays the US Virgin Islands, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, and French Guiana. French Guiana plays Anguilla, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana (ooh aah), and us. Everybody gets thrown into one huge table and may the most lopsided scores win.
Whose bright idea was this? We have four games that would be comic if it wasn’t so important to pummel these trash bags as hard as ever we can. Many fans are getting excited for these games and I don’t know how. At least when we go to Spain and play Mauritania we’re seeing something different and potential unpleasant surprises. These games are nearly pointless, apart from cap-tying kids: you could build as much chemistry and get a better game by gathering in Toronto and playing the League1 Ontario all-stars.
The women’s tournament has blowouts, but also structure. Canada went to a semi-final as a top seed because we won the group. The real minnows, the 21-0 teams, got a chance to qualify fair and square but were weeded out long before they faced anybody of quality. It’s not all according to Hoyle: nobody would have picked either Jamaica or Panama to impress before the tournament but one of them is going to the World Cup and the other has a shot in a playoff against Argentina. Plus there’s the #ChasingAbby factor, with Christine Sinclair grinding four goals closer to a world record. Tosaint Ricketts is playing so little behind all these kids that #ChasingDeRo isn’t even on the board for the five of us who’d cheer for it.
In hindsight Jamaica’s 2-0 loss to Canada, while flattering to the Reggae Girlz, laid the groundwork for their famous win over Costa Rica. Nations League qualifying will give us no such consolations. The closest thing to an upset so far was St. Vincent’s win over French Guiana, and despite their 2-0 loss to Nicaragua they are alive in the race for the Gold Cup, but to be the top six of 34 teams playing four games each means more than one upset win.
This format is not the Canadian Soccer Association’s fault. 10,500 fans at BMO Field prove the CSA is doing all they could. Nor is it their fault that the women, playing the more interesting games, are playing down south for the third consecutive championship, in empty stadiums with indifferent media attention and broadcast rights allocated to the federation’s streaming service. CONCACAF is CONCACAF and always will be. But while blowouts are always fun, for now the women’s are more compelling.
Later the camp roster was released. Of the college players Carle, Grosso, Fleming, Regan, and Rose were called into camp, and only Huitema among those younger. There are still three cuts, one a goalkeeper, to be made from this camp before the final roster of 20 is named. Hilariously, Jenna Hellstrom is listed as a fullback despite playing as a forward for her club and Gabrielle Carle is listed as a forward despite playing as a fullback or wide midfielder for FSU since arriving there. I am not here to tell anyone how to coach but perhaps a switch is in order there.
Canada faces Jamaica, Cuba, and Costa Rica in group play, beginning October 5th in Edinburg, Texas. Group winners and runners-up move on to the semi-finals, played in Frisco. CONCACAF has 3.5 qualifying spots, so the winners of both semi-finals as well as the winner of the third place game qualify directly, while the fourth place finisher will play for the final spot against Argentina in a two-legged qualification playoff.
This has nothing to do with college, but Sophie Schmidt has been training with the Whitecaps REX kids ahead of qualifiers.
Starting line up for the U18s match last night, featuring Sophie Schmidt as part of her preparation for the CONCACAF Womens World Cup Qualifiers pic.twitter.com/FC7ZdNvb8d
Conference play has begun for NCAA woso teams. The Big 10 is likely your best bet for decent play and good number of Canadians, though the Big 10 network does require you to pay money (and possibly tell it you’re in the United States) to be able to watch it.
Recent Standouts (trading quality for quantity this week, I’ve been busy)
These two teams have 19 Canadians rostered between them, so look out for high Canadian content in this matchup. Vital Kats and Isabelle Mihail have both been strong offensive performers for the Golden Flashes, while for Eastern Michigan, Sabrina MacNeill and Kristin Nason have both been significant contributors.
Hannah Taylor has been a regular starter for the Ducks and will look to continue her strong play as the PAC-12 season begins. Canadians Natalie Kump and Kristin Fairbairn have both made several appearances for Utah, with Fairbairn winning three starts and collecting two assists.
I’d like to start this article with some important insight or analysis every week, but it has been one week, not a ton has happened, and I didn’t really have any ideas. So instead we’re going to start with The Multitude of Ways in Which College Soccer Was Kind Of A Mess This Week:
Animal invasions of the pitch.
This is an old favourite in all sports, but I must admit this is the first time I’ve heard of a soccer game being stopped because of a serpent. Regrettably the creature was not photographed.
During the game between Texas and Rice University, taking place at Rice, a entire half of the stadium went dark somewhere around the 69th minute. As Texas Soccer was quick to point out, the game is not official until the 70th minute has been played, so I can imagine they were… keen to get out and play just a little bit more and get this counted as an official game (given that they were ahead 2-0 at the time), but I was watching this game and it was Very Difficult To See. Did Rice turn the lights off on purpose to try and get the game nullified? We will never know (they did not). They did play out the rest of the game, with Texas attacking into The Dark End, and the prevailing strategy on corner kicks became “chuck the ball anywhere at all into the box nobody can see it anyways.”
69' – AND A BANK OF LIGHTS JUST WENT OUT! Dark on the left side of the pitch…and we're delayed. 2-0 Texas at Rice.
This is not a college soccer thing, per se, it’s an Anson Dorrance/UNC thing that is permitted by the college rules, but I hate it. For those not familiar, NCAA rules permit re-entry at halftime and then once in the second half—so a player can start the game, come off at some point in the first half, go back in at halftime to start the second half, come off at some point in the second half, and then go back in the game again. If she comes off again, that’s it. Many people have many opinions about this substitution format, but UNC seems to be making an intentional mockery of it by going for wholesale line changes multiple times per game. UNC has played three games so far this season, and their substitutions in those games look like:
There is nothing wrong with this except that I hate it, but Anson Dorrance has now coached UNC (men + women) to 1000 NCAA wins and THIS IS DUMB.
The University of Louisville scored to win their game with eight seconds left in overtime and did not set their highlight video to “Over My Head (Cable Car)” by the Fray. Admittedly this is not on the same level as the others.
You’re going to want to turn the 🔊 all the way 🆙 for this one!
A trio of NCAA players—Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose, and Julia Grosso—are on the roster for the upcoming CanWNT game against Brazil on September 2nd in Ottawa. If it were up to me, players in college would be left alone for the short amount of time that they are in the college season, especially for friendlies, but Canada’s senior player pool is dramatically too thin for this to be a realistic option. This is the last (of frankly too few) warmup games before CONCACAF qualifying, where Jessie Fleming and Deanne Rose at the least will be expected to make significant contributions, and the NCAA does not break for the FIFA calendar. There is an extra sense of disappointment with this particular callup because it means both Fleming and Rose will miss the game their teams are playing against each other on August 31st.
Three players who have not yet reached college age were also called in—Jayde Riviere, Maya Antoine, and Jordyn Huitema. Riviere is verbally committed to Michigan for next fall, and Antoine to Vanderbilt (though it should be noted that verbal commitments are not binding). Huitema has not yet committed, and while she would be a massive addition to any college program, her training with PSG while they were in the US this summer could also indicate that she is considering forgoing college to pursue a professional contract.
Week 1 Standouts
First, some caveats: this will be biased towards attacking players who score a lot because their stats are easy to observe. Sorry defenders. It will also tend towards games I actually managed to watch, because it is easier to observe a good performance when you can actually see it. With that said, some Canadian standouts from week 1 of NCAA play:
The Memphis forward scored three goals over Memphis’ first two games, matching her goal total from all of last season, and if we use the NCAA points system where a goal is good for 2 points while an assist is worth one, Larisey is currently the Canadian NCAA points leader. Her goal against Omaha was a highlight reel-worthy bicycle kick, but Memphis did not actually include it in their highlight reel.
Stratigakis scored a goal for the Wolverines this weekend in their win over Western Michicgan, which can been seen at 1:44 of this highlight video. Her real standout performance came in Michigan’s first game against Boston U, where she completed 94% of her passes, was successful in all eleven of her dribble attempts, and was the top rated player for the game in inStat.
Regan did not appear on the stat sheet for Texas in their first two games, but was part of a backline that kept a clean sheet against Rice and held #4 UNC to one goal. In the game I was able to watch, against Rice, she also made several dangerous runs going forward, including one highlight-worthy dribble through at least 5 Rice players. She made several dangerous crosses, so look for Regan to pick up some assists over the course of the season.
Josiah, a freshman at Prairie View A&M in Texas, made twenty (20!) saves in her collegiate debut vs. McNeese State, while conceding just one goal. Twenty saves in one game is a lot. Twenty saves in two games would be a lot. I didn’t see the game, so I cannot offer much more context, but definitely keep an eye out for Josiah because this was quite the start to her college career.
This game features three veterans of Canadian youth teams with Gabby Carle at Florida State, and Victoria Pickett and Emily Borgmann at Wisconsin. Carle has already seen some time with the senior national team, having been an alternate for the 2016 Olympics, and I think both her and Pickett definitely have the chance to break into the senior team more regularly in the future.
Memphis is well known at this point in Canadian Soccer circles for always featuring a plethora of Canadians on the roster, and this year is no different. The Tigers count fourteen Canadians from six different provinces on the roster this year, including the Levasseur twins, Marie and Catherine, and Tanya Boychuk, a member of Canada’s most recent U20 team. Mississippi State features two Canadians of their own, Tianna Harris and Andrea Tyrrell.
Pittsburgh vs. Kent State
August 24th, 5 PM Eastern/2 PM Pacific
ESPN Player (cable subscription required, and basically impossible to get in Canada).
Two Canadians, Taylor Pryce and Ashley Moreira, play for Pittsburgh, who are under their first year under new coach Randy Waldrum, formerly of the Houston Dash and of twice-national-champion-under-his-coaching Notre Dame. After a number of poor seasons, Pittsburgh is off to a 2-0 start this year. Pryce and Moreira both participated in U20 qualifying for Canada in 2015 and are key players for Pittsburgh. Kent State features a number of Canadians, including youth national team veteran Vital Kats, defender Paige Culver, and starting goalkeeper Faith O’Neill. Striker Isabelle Mihail is from Kitchener, Ontario, and now competes for the Romanian national team.
Deanne Rose, at this point a senior national team regular, is looking for her first goal for the Gators this season after leading the team in scoring last year, playing alongside Courtney Douglas, the redshirt senior at Florida from Brampton, ON. Ohio State has two Canadians of their own, Marike Mousset of Montreal, a veteran of the 2016 U20 WWC, and Devon Kerr, of Barrie, who was a member of Canada’s 2014 U17 WWC team, though has since attended various US U19 and U23 national team caps. (Kerr has not, as far as I can tell, competed in any official capacity for the US, and thus remains eligible to compete for Canada if she should choose to.)
The NCAA women’s college soccer season opens today, so it is time to unleash upon the world my ridiculous project tracking all of the Canadians currently playing Division I soccer in the college system in another country.
This data tracking originated mostly out of personal curiosity. Like it or not, nearly every Canadian women’s soccer prospect spends the years after high school in the NCAA system, and I was interested to know exactly how many there are. There are a host of problems with NCAA soccer (an article for another day), but when the season is on it is my favourite time of year, even when the soccer is not the best. Also, I was supposed to be writing my master’s thesis and the 2017 spreadsheet proved an excellent distraction.
It’s not perfect, and I hope to improve it with time, to include notes such as whether the player has competed internationally for another nation, or if they have been invited to CSA camps, or if the player redshirted the season in question. Currently players are only included if they have a Canadian hometown listed on their school roster or if they have recently been invited to a Canada camp (Hannah Taylor is currently my lone member of this category). There are undoubtedly many players eligible to represent Canada, but until the CSA pays me to I am not investigating the family history of every player in NCAA Division I women’s soccer. (Dear Canada Soccer, Carly Wickenheiser, daughter of the late Doug Wickenheiser, who you might remember as the #1 overall draft pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 1980 or as “Hayley Wickenheiser’s cousin”, currently starts at Texas Tech. For more tidbits like this, contact me through the site.) If there are any Canadian players I forgot (very likely) or that have non-Canadian hometowns but you think it would be valuable to include, let me know, I’ll add them to the list.
I’ve included the 2017 RPI ranking in both the 2017 and 2018 data for now, and will update with 2018 RPI data when it becomes available. RPI (Rating Percentage Index) is not perfect, but it is readily available and will help to add some context to the data by giving some indication of how well a team performed. The top NCAA teams and conferences are a lot better than the lower ones, so consider this when looking at data. I’d like to at some point also add strength of schedule data, but it’s not quite so easy to find.
I will try to keep the current season’s data as up-to-date as I can, though there are a lot of college soccer games and some teams are pretty slow at updating box scores. The spreadsheets are available on Google Drive for 2018 and 2017.
To begin this section, I think pre-season honours are dumb. We are meant to celebrate these players because they have looked good in the past? One of these things is a watch list for an award based on this year’s performance. This is dumb. We should watch all of the players to see who is good. But they include a bunch of Canadians this year, so I will report on them.
I do not know who selects this list; it includes Casey Murphy, who chose to forgo her senior year of college at Rutgers to play professional soccer in France (and was drafted by the NWSL’s Sky Blue FC) and I imagine is ineligible to win. I would not trust the creators of this list with deciding who is the best player in college soccer, but it is nice to see these Canadians get recognition. Fleming was a finalist for the award in 2017; Kadeisha Buchanan won it in 2016 while at WVU, and Christine Sinclair won in 2004 and 2005 while at the Univeristy of Portland.
Top Drawer Soccer, a website that does a lot of valuable reporting and and is thus ascribed a lot of power in ranking teams and players, also released their pre-season best eleven teams. The top XIs feature Canadians Fleming (UCLA; first team), Viens (South Florida; second team), Foster (West Virginia; second team), Pickett (Wisconsin; third team) and Emma Regan (Texas; freshman team).
Most of those same players are included in the top 100 players to watch, with Fleming at #2, Viens at #19, Pickett at #23, Foster at #25, Culver at #42, and St. Georges at #59 (the list intentionally does not include freshmen, who are ranked independently once the season begins, so Regan was not in consideration). Other Canadians included are Marie Levasseur (Memphis; #41), Olivia Gauthier (Memphis; #57), and Devon Kerr (Ohio State; #66). I do not know where Deanne Rose is, she absolutely belongs on this list.
Week 1 Games to Watch
I will do my best to highlight some games each week that will be of some interest to Canadian viewers. Hopefully some of them are watchable to Canadian viewers. My apologies in advance if I link to a stream that either asks you for a ridiculous sum of money to watch, is geoblocked, or convinces you to pay a ridiculous sum of money to watch only then to inform you that it is geoblocked. Also I promise not to list UCLA every week. Maybe.
I totally lied in my previous paragraph, you absolutely have to pay for BTN2Go and I’m pretty sure it’s also geoblocked, but if you’re into that, Wisconsin is led by midfielder Victoria Pickett (in addition to Canadian forward Emily Borgmann) and North Dakota State features six Canadians on their roster.
Two names likely familiar to CanWNT fans, Julia Grosso and Emma Regan, are both entering their freshman year at Texas, where they are coached by former Canadian WNT midfielder and Canada Soccer Hall of Fame member Angela Kelly. Rice has six Canadians on the roster, including Caleigh Boeckx, who has participated in several U20 CanWNT camps.
There aren’t any Canadians at Long Beach State but you should absolutely take any chance to watch and enjoy Jessie Fleming dominating the college game. UCLA also features Kennedy Faulknor and Shana Flynn, of Canadian youth national teams, but you’re here for Jessie Fleming.
There is a meme among Canadian soccer die-hards—and if you’re reading a post with Jordyn Huitema at the top you’re at least die-hard-adjacent—that our country takes success in women’s soccer for granted. We have been good because we have a built-in social advantage in women’s sport compared to traditional soccer powers. However, as the waves of sexual equity wash across the globe that will disappear and countries that are actually good at teaching soccer will catch us up. Meanwhile most Canadians with an interest in ladysoccer are sitting around with their thumbs up their butts, counting bronze medals and assuming the good times will last forever.
Personally, I don’t know any serious follower of Canadian soccer who does anything but worry about the future of our WNT, even as it has two Olympic medals in two tries and enough under-23 stars to crew a destroyer. Panic is our default mood. The most optimistic fan I know might be me, and I’ve spent years saying the CanPL should be a women’s league partly to address a weakness in our game that might someday cripple the women but is far less important for the men. But the real pessimists have spent this week running riot.
On Sunday, Canada’s girls lost 1-0 to Haiti in the CONCACAF third-place match, thereby failing to qualify for a U-20 Women’s World Cup some thought we had a shot at winning. The reason we were in the third-place match to begin with is that we lost on penalties to Mexico in the semi-final, a pretty grim sign on its own1. The Canadian team, though sans Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose, and the late Kennedy Faulknor, had a number of recognizable faces: Huitema, occasional senior national teamers Gabby Carle, Julia Grosso, Sarah Stratigakis, and Ariel Young, young uncapped talents like Emma Regan and Rylee Foster. Down the other end, Haitian players are never household names but 19-year-old captain Nerilia Mondesir has already made a couple Ligue 1 Féminine appearances with Montpellier and might get there. That was it.
Half of this Haitian team, including Mondesir2, beat 11 of these Canadians 2-1 in the 2016 CONCACAF U-17 tournament with Canada that time winning a very scrappy bronze medal rematch. This year Canada dominated a meaningless group stage game where Haiti played nine second-choice players but when it counted, chance for chance, Haiti was better. Sherly Jeudy’s goal was a cracker while at best Canada generated moments that should have been scoring chances and weren’t. Watch the game on YouTube if you want, though you don’t want to because it was terrible, and feel the despair for yourself. I may not be making the best “watch the games, nerd” pitch here.
This loss was no fluke. Haiti played dirty, dove, and feigned injury so constantly that they spent more than the five minutes of second-half stoppage time with perfectly healthy players on stretchers, to the disapproval but not the discouragement of American referee Ekaterina Koroleva. It was the most embarrassing display of poor sportsmanship I have ever seen in almost twenty years of CONCACAFing, but Haiti did the same thing in the U-17s and Canada had no excuse not to be prepared. A more skilled team in that position ought to at least generate something, and Canada didn’t. We were not screwed by the referee, with maybe one borderline penalty for Carle not called and Jessica De Filippo earning her late red card; criticizing the disgraceful opposition is not the same as excusing the disappointing Canadians.
So the past few days in cansoc have been one long freak out. Social media and message boards are on fire looking for human sacrifices. A long list of nominees was available, from CSA supremo Steve Reed, through double-national-team-destroyer John Herdman, down to the coaches at your kids’ club. Our structural failures were biting us hard. The question was not whether we’d improve on our bronze medals in 2020, but whether we’d qualify. Anyway Christine Sinclair and Ashley Lawrence might keep us ticking along for a few more months but we’re ultimately doomed. RIP in peace Canadian soccer’s only decent team, 2012 to 2018, mourned by those who have always said that if we cheer for this we’re part of the problem.
Fair enough, to a degree. There’s no way to sugarcoat looking inferior to Haiti. But we’re not talking about one bad tournament, we’re talking about the future of a program. And the future’s not bad.
Players born in…
17y 9m 10d
17y 9m 28d
19y 2m 15d
18y 6m 13d
18y 4m 9d
17y 7m 14d
18y 6m 30d
18y 2m 3d
18y 6m 23d
18y 9m 22d
17y 11m 17d
17y 10m 24d
Trinidad and Tobago
18y 2m 22d
18y 3m 13d
18y 9m 21d
18y 9m 6d
All player dates of birth from CONCACAF.com. Ages as of January 18, 2018. Rosters of 20 players each, except for Trinidad and Tobago who were listed with 22. One Jamaican and four Trinidad and Tobagan players were missing dates of birth and are not counted.
Those who paid attention to the tournament know that Canada had sent an inordinately young team. We had the lowest median age of any of the eight teams, two months younger than sadsacks Nicaragua and six months younger than Haiti. The Haitians had a lower mean age because their roster included every one of the five 2003-born players in attendance. Three of those 2003s3 started against Canada, but that still give their starting eleven a median age of 18 years, one month, and 24 days. Canada’s was 17 years, six months, and 30 days. Eight of our starters4 are eligible for the next one of these things. The gulf in maturity showed to some extent against Haiti, where their older players were imposing, and 19-year-old Jeudy’s fine goal came because she was able to bust between 16-year-old centrebacks Ariel Young and Maya Antoine. But it was more notable against Mexico, who were able to shove around some of the smaller Canadians, lean off them easily, and physically dominate us for 90 solid minutes. Mexico also played well, full marks to the champions, but they drew that game like Canada used to.
There are those who will say that, rather than sending its most talented prospects who should have been good enough to get out of CONCACAF anyway, coach Bev Priestman should have called the oldest prospects for the best chance to win games in the short term. This seems like a fairly mental use of finite development minutes. The likes of Emma Regan, who with even ordinary luck will play for our senior WNT within five years, needed these hard lessons more than bigger, more physically mature players would have benefited from winning some shoving matches. In fact, I’m so old that I remember fans criticizing the Canadian programs for worrying too much about physical maturity and not enough about skill; Owen Hargreaves was totally justified shopping around his international career because he was cut from a Canadian youth team when he was 15 years old, you know.
Huitema won the Golden Boot, assisted by a generous schedule but punished by a tournament that viewed “foul the tall girl” as legitimate strategy. Carle was Canada’s heroine against Mexico and our most dangerous element against Haiti. Foster made mistakes, as a teenage goalkeeper always will, but was a big, big net positive and kept us in the bronze-medal match, including a penalty save. Among the role players, my co-podcaster hated her against Haiti but Tanya Boychuk has “future Adriana Leon type” written all over her. Stratigakis was not always at her best but could not conceive of the word “quit” and earned more time. Some players who we expected more from didn’t show much, and while politeness forbids my naming them that’s valuable feedback too.
And that is the only thing that matters. Carolina Morace’s failure to qualify for the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2010 was not notable because we lost to Mexico and Costa Rica, but because hardly any of the young women she spent months trying to win with developed into anything. Neither Mexico nor Costa Rica, incidentally, has been close to passing us at the senior level in the eight years since, so anyone shouting about a changing of the CONCACAF guard was way premature. Of course it would have been much better to qualify for the 2018 U-20 Women’s World Cup and for our best young players to test themselves against the world, but our failure to do so is not proof of anything structural. If the many kids we took to Trinidad and Tobago learn from this experience, there’ll be a lot of red faces as we redeem ourselves in 2020. And if they don’t, well, then we can worry.
I believe it was John Molinaro who broke it, but as soon as it was broken the news rushed through Canadian soccer like water through a breached dam. John Herdman, the most accomplished coach any Canadian team has ever had in any sport other than hockey, is out of the Canadian women’s senior national soccer team… and in for the Canadian men’s senior national soccer team. Octavio Zambrano, after nine months as men’s coach, a Gold Cup quarterfinal that was relatively a success and objectively a failure, and enough enemies in Canadian soccer that every dialed-in media person in the country was saying “well that part wasn’t a surprise” before the ink on the tweets was dry, is out.
This is the most surprising thing that has ever happened. Not just to us fans, though we’ve spent several hours of our Monday evening trying to get our heads around the news. Our players seem just as taken aback. Stephanie Labbé, the starting goalkeeper for the women’s team for almost a year now, kicked things off with:
And, while all teammates are equal, we know in our hearts that some teammates are more equal than others, so take a moment to realize that Christine Sinclair, the best player in women’s soccer history, used her first Tweet since November to give every indication of having found out about this through the press release:
This was handled abysmally. A good rule for the Canadian women’s national team is the “is this going to make Christine Sinclair speechless” test, and this failed1. The new women’s coach, Kenneth Heiner-Møller, was already a first team assistant as well as the former boss of Denmark. He is a familiar face and, professionally, no joke. From the perspective of keeping the women onside he’s probably the safest appointment this side of telling Sinclair “sorry, this happened suddenly and we had to get it out before Sportsnet did, we didn’t have time to ask if you wanted to player/coach.” But my God this is going to be a hard one to swallow for a team that, as of January 7, 2018, was one of the five favourites for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
In the interests of equity I looked through some Canadian men’s national teamers’ Twitter accounts for their reactions. Scott Arfield, Milan Borjan, Junior Hoilett, Nik Ledgerwood, Atiba Hutchinson, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Samuel Piette, none of them seemed to be bothered. They surely have thoughts and reactions, but aren’t exactly rushing to their cellphones2. Which makes sense. The men’s national team is only a very small part of a player’s life. Julian de Guzman recently retired as the Canadian men’s national team’s all-time appearance leader with 89 senior caps. This would not be anywhere near the women’s leaders: Christine Sinclair has 262 and counting. Women’s players, by various means, almost always get most of their income and exposure through the national team. For men’s players the national team has, if anything, been an impediment except at the best of times.
Which is bad news for John Herdman. Herdman has done some very good things in the conventional coaching arena. His players are consistently fit, which was not always the case under Carolina Morace or Even Pellerud. He is responsible for a couple brilliant innovations, such as the Ashley Lawrence Fullback Experiment, and a bevy of young players who stepped right into the first team and looked like established parts of his tactics. But his greatest strength has always been forging a team that would run through brick walls for each other. That is not a skill that translates to the international men’s game. Training camps are short and infrequent, and you never have the same team for two in a row: player A prefers his club commitments, player B is unattached and trying to find work, player C would love to come but it’s not a FIFA window and he’d have a 19-hour flight with seven connections between Oslo and Fort Lauderdale and his coach told him that if he tries he’ll be training with the junior handball team. And it’s hard to become devoted to your soccer family when half the times you play somebody ranked north of El Salvador you get your ass kicked. It’s also hard for a male Ashley Lawrence to become a world-class fullback when he’s trying to learn with 360 minutes of MNT soccer every year, 180 of which are against countries you forgot were countries. And while Herdman’s tactical history is good, he can get stuck in his ways and has never looked like a Football Manager-style genius who is going to turn an awful team into a great one.
Herdman’s team-building will be an asset for, even if he can’t get the full 99 friendship, he can at least avoid some of Octavio Zambrano’s more flagrant pratfalls—provided he can connect with young men who are only with him because they couldn’t make Portugal and earn $500,000 a year in the same way he can communicate with young women committed to their country doing it for an ordinary middle-class salary. His history with youth players is also positive in the MNT context, and of course he knows how to deal with Canada Soccer and Canada Soccer knows how to deal with them. He and youth development supremo Jason de Vos have a mutual admiration society that can only be beneficial. I would go so far as to say that Herdman will not be any worse than Zambrano, or Benito Floro, or Stephen Hart, or Dale Mitchell, or any of the other coaches who underachieved and did things wrong and left in disgrace. But probably not any better.
Molinaro’s Sportsnet article implies, and Duane Rollins outright says, that he would otherwise have taken the vacant England women’s job; he was certainly being pursued by the FA. While my preference would have been for the Canadian Soccer Association to write Herdman the biggest cheque the bank would cash for him to stay at the WNT, if Herdman was out of the women’s team regardless this may have been the least bad option. Even giving them the benefit of the doubt, the transition was handled incompetently: if they couldn’t give Herdman a signed contract promising him the MNT in 2020 if he guided the WNT through the World Cup and the Olympics, they could have at least sacked Zambrano today and pushed the Herdman announcement back long enough for all the women to be informed3. This is 1990s CSA stuff, and if it pushes Sinclair twelve months closer to retiring in disgust it’ll hurt us as badly as the actual coaching change did.
Yet even in the best-case scenario, Herdman being “promoted” from the excellent WNT to the abysmal MNT will quite fairly feel like an insult. Many Canadian soccer fans, including me, like the WNT either as much as the MNT or a bit more, because they’re nicer and win a lot. The women get higher attendances (against, admittedly, superior opposition) and have a stronger national fanbase. Objectively, on a national level in 2018, the Canadian women are a bigger deal than the Canadian men. However, John Herdman is not Canadian, he is English. The English women, though quite good, are not a bigger deal than the English men. Herdman’s gaze is not consumed by the maple leaf. World-wide being a good men’s coach is a much bigger deal, with much more fame and enormously more pay, than being the best women’s to ever live. Like any of us he wants to rise to the top of his profession, which is “soccer manager.” Not “women’s soccer manager.” And that would mean coaching men.
I quite understand Herdman’s logic. If he wants fame and fortune outside this humble dominion this is the greatest opportunity he will ever have. There’s been talk that Herdman wanted to coach men going back to after the London Olympics, but I don’t think he imagined he would be thrown straight into the shark-infested waters of a reasonably serious, if lousy, senior men’s national team like it was an entry-level job. Yet he is also forfeiting the best chance he will ever have, barring miracles at CanMNT that lead him to Real Madrid or something, to win silverware: the 2019 Women’s World Cup and 2020 Olympics with the best team in Canadian women’s soccer history.
Soccer coaches have flipped genders at the professional club level, with mixed success. Harry Sinkgraven will be the name best-known to Canadians: the former SC Heerenveen women’s boss went on to briefly coach the FC Emmen men, disastrously, before joining FC Edmonton and accumulating a legacy of failure. Prior to her Canada days Morace coached A.S. Viterbese Castrense, then of the Italian men’s Serie C1, and French legend Corinne Diacre had a respectable spell with Clermont Foot of the French Ligue 2. Hong Kong’s Chan Yuen-ting led powerhouse Eastern Sports Club to the first division title in 2015–16. But all three were all-time great players in their own countries. Morace and Diacre went back to women’s soccer in the end, and anyway none were coaching men at a level anywhere as high as even the Canadian men4. To my knowledge Herdman’s path, from no playing career to speak of to elite women’s coaching to elite men’s coaching, is absolutely unique.
You can’t blame him for trying. You can’t blame the Canadian Soccer Association for resorting to this if it keeps him. The players are shocked but if it works out they’ll be fine, and this is not the fragile group of 2011. The great thing about a team of friends is that they don’t actually need a coach to keep them together; perhaps they will discover the magic was in them all along. And yet this whole affair feels distinctly shabby, in the way only Canadian soccer can.
For Canada’s women’s national team, 2017 was an intermission. No Olympics, no World Cup, no qualifying, 365 days of the calendar you got out of way to prepare for the next thousand. 2018, 2019, and 2020 are what count: Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose, Rebecca Quinn, Ashley Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan, and hopefully players we didn’t expect developing into the most competitive lineup Canada has ever had. If we’re ever going to win some gold these are the women who’ll do it.
However, there’s another piece of history Canada is chasing for which 2017 mattered a great deal. In our last game against Norway Christine Sinclair scored the 169th goal of her international career and fourth of the year. She needs 16 more international goals to pass Abby Wambach for the most in the history of soccer.
16. Not that many, not with CONCACAF World Cup qualifying bringing games against Haiti and Puerto Rico and that lot next year. But Sinclair is 34, old for her position and her sport. It’s not certain she has enough time left.
The good news is we don’t need to put the old lady on the ice floe yet. Sinclair’s scoring rate over the past two seasons is better than Adriana Leon’s career rate and basically tied with Deanne Rose. Behind Nichelle Prince, but Prince has 1,013 senior minutes and hasn’t scored in the last 655. More importantly Sinclair’s been piling up the assists: seven in 2017, four in 2016, four in 2015, our leading playmaker each of the last two years. On a roster that despite Herdman’s improvements can get very direct, Sinclair and Janine Beckie are the only forwards moderately capable of holding up the ball and Beckie has better things to do. Sinclair would be in the eleven on merit if her name was Jane Smith and her idea of leadership was telling Sophie Schmidt “your she-man-bun looks very nice.”
You couldn’t say that about Abby Wambach at this stage of her career. When she retired at age 35 nobody, American or otherwise, argued it was too early. But then her team was a lot deeper. The American attack her last year included world player of the year Carli Lloyd, a not-very-broken-yet Alex Morgan, and Christen Press, with Crystal Dunn the coming woman. Running the attack through Wambach made no sense, using her off the bench rather than Dunn or the Amy Rodriguez/Sydney Leroux depth players of the future set seemed unwise and out of her character. If anything most of us seemed to think she’d gone a year or two late. But selfish old Abby was a much better goal-scorer than kind old Christine.
This graph compares Sinclair and Wambach’s goalscoring records in the seasons in which they turned a given age. For example, Christine Sinclair turned 34 this year, so 2017 was her age 34 season. Abby Wambach turned 34 in 2014, so 2014 was her age 34 season.
Sinclair and Wambach were both early June babies so we are truly comparing their performances at the same age. That’s only the first coincidence; it’s weird how closely they trend together. Right down to both slumping at 31 and bumping back in their age 32 seasons. Of course, when Wambach “slumped” in her age 31 season she started the year ice cold and ended it with four goals in six matches at a FIFA World Cup. Sinclair, with nothing much to play for in 2014, scored once.
My co-podcaster Carolyn reminded me that, as recently as 2009, Wambach and Sinclair were within a few goals of each other. Wambach made her century on July 19, 2009 at age 29 against, coincidentally, Canada. Sinclair scored her hundredth five months later, on February 20, 2010 against Poland despite being three years younger. Sinclair had 130 caps, Wambach had 129. It was only in old age that Wambach pulled away.
All through their thirties, Wambach outproduced Sinclair very heavily. Wambach’s worst 30+ season (2011 at age 31, 0.566 G/90) was essentially identical to Sinclair’s best 30+ season (2015 at age 32, 0.570 G/90). Wambach’s advantages included more home games, more easy qualifiers that Canada skipped for 2015, and teammates who deferred to her on scoring chances. Big goalscorers past their primes can make a lot of hay against CONCACAF minnows. Wambach’s age 30-34 seasons included an Olympic qualifying and a World Cup qualifying campaign, running wild both times. Sinclair only had 2016 Olympic qualifying, where she was mostly injured. But for the moment we aren’t asking who was the better player, but who put the ball in the net more. The good news is that Wambach’s production did not decline much from age 30 to age 35, and if Sinclair can do the same she might win on endurance.
In her last two years, Sinclair has scored 0.439 goals/90 minutes clip. That would put her 3,278 minutes away from goal #185 and immortality, or just about three years. Assuming she isn’t injured any more often, and scores at the same rate, and gets just as much playing time every game. As she goes from her mid to her late thirties none of those assumptions are safe. Healthy and productive 2018 Olympic and 2019 World Cup qualifying runs will help Sinclair; age, wear, and tear will hurt.
History’s best female strikers tend to retire around Sinclair’s age. Wambach was 35, Birgit Prinz, Tiffeny Milbrett, and Carolina Morace all 33, Mia Hamm only 32. The exceptions have either been multi-position stars like Kristine Lilly or Michelle Akers or, encouragingly, super-annuated veterans for second-rate countries who still had roles into old age. Scotland’s Julie Fleeting is 36 and still active. Italian Patrizia Panico hung on until age 39. The late 30s are not quite unexplored territory.
Canada’s second-best all-time goalscorer, Charmaine Hooper, not only kept going up until age 38 but provided value. Playing second and sometimes third fiddle behind Sinclair and Kara Lang, Hooper played 1,683 minutes over 24 games from age 36 and up, scoring 11 times, which for Sinclair would do nicely.
Alas, Hooper’s old age flatters to deceive. In her last eight caps Hooper hit one final vein of form, scoring eight times including a hat trick against Sweden to wind up with 71 senior goals in her career. But that was another age. When she last played in July 2006 (it would be inaccurate to say she “retired”) women’s soccer was still young. Today, give-or-take the inevitable blunders, decent teams can basically defend a savvy but unathletic striker. In 2006 players with sometimes questionable fitness could play 90 minutes every night and chip in multi-goal games. Melissa Tancredi got a miracle brace against Germany at the Olympics, but 2016 Melissa Tancredi was Alex Morgan in her prime compared to some of the forwards you saw ten years earlier.
On the other hand, Sinclair’s a lot better than Hooper was.
The odds may still, just, favour Sinclair. Barring injury or the unforeseen, the natural arc of Christine Sinclair’s career will close after the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, when Sinclair will be 37. It’s hardly likely she’ll hang on for another cycle into her forties, but it would also be surprising for her to retire after an Algarve Cup or something unless life makes her. Moreover, and I’m touching wood just typing this, Canada’s 2019–20 team might be highly competitive: the best Sinclair’s ever had, and worth hanging on for at the end of an endlessly frustrating international career. If Sinclair does play through 2020, and has a couple productive qualifying campaigns, that’s just enough time. She’ll never come close to Wambach on goal rate but she might show the fortitude to hang around and catch Abby with sheer guts and longevity, to say nothing of being popular enough that her teammates won’t freeze her out when they don’t need her anymore.
Which, come to think, would be pretty appropriate for a Canadian heroine.
Prior to the Canada – US friendly in San Jose, California on Sunday, November 12 I had never attended a United States women’s national soccer team match in person. The experience was instructive.
In every way the show played to national stereotypes. The northern Dominion has insurance companies moving adorable families to sweet seats, Karina LeBlanc pumping us up on the video board, and Big Shiny Stadium Tunes 1867 on the PA. Modern enough for me, in my “kids these days” fashion. The Americans are exactly what someone who knows the United States only from television would expect: brasher, brassier, and louder.
Pregame and halftime were the private property of a just unbelievably incompetent video host who, in between condescending to teenagers and mispronouncing difficult names like “Rapinoe” and “Abby,” tried like Henry Ford to sell us US Soccer merchandise, memberships, and “upgrades.” It was so loud that in an empty section I had to yell to be heard. Seldom do I get to use this phrase correctly: it was literally unspeakable.
Anyway it got worse. A DJ, with pink hair, whose name I have no excuse not to remember since she displayed it on the Jumbotron a lot, “energized” the “crowd” with dance remixes of crappy teen songs including proud American Justin Bieber1. This lasted something like half an hour, with frequent exhortations to get on up and make some noise which every man jack in my section, at least, ignored pitilessly. The Band-Aid company made teenagers smile awkwardly for a really long time to support the USO, then asked all current or former military to stand up and be applauded at. Carli Lloyd appeared in public service announcements. Whoever sang the anthems massacred the Canadian one so badly that Maegan Kelly, who isn’t even from here, grinned with as much bewilderment as long-time Canadian Christine Sinclair. But don’t be offended: “The Star-Spangled Banner” got it in the neck as bad. It was awkward. And noisy.
I was blown out by sensory overload and ready for a nap. This was all before kick-off which, by the way, was twenty minutes late. And I didn’t even have to play.
Imagine being a young Canadian player in that situation. Not just Ariel Young, Julia Grosso, or Jayde Riviere, the 16-year-old debutantes. Imagine Jordan Huitema, who had only ever played in Canada before 20,000 friends or in Portugal before 20 strangers. Or Kelly, making her second Canadian cap against people she must have hoped would be teammates only months ago. Or Lindsay Agnew, fresh off a 291-minute rookie professional season, marking a scorching-hot Megan Rapinoe at the unfamiliar position of right back before an amped-up and hostile crowd. Even Olympic bronze medalist Janine Beckie had never played in the United States against the USWNT before, and as an American-born former member of the US youth pool this was probably an Occasion.
The crowd, though disorganized and smaller than BC Place (from our section we heard one American Outlaw and heard her a lot), was enthusiastic and admirable. The field, on the other hand, was among the worst I had ever seen for an international. Patchy, frequently divoted, with rugby lines highly visible, US Soccer kindly provided their Canadian guests with a first-rate advertisement for artificial turf even before players started slipping on it and Christine Sinclair nearly suffered a serious non-contact injury.
So the new players were in trouble from the start. Kelly, not a native fullback, was torn to shreds by Rapinoe, and was redeemed only in hindsight by even-less-of-a-native-fullback Agnew looking even worse (but with a darned good excuse). Young, who had probably never before tried to mark anybody tougher than Jade Kovacevic, was awkward against Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, though a couple lovely balls forward showed that she definitely has something. Julia Grosso actually looked good but that was in garbage time down two goals. Deanne Rose, for her half-hour, couldn’t accomplish anything including “get out of her teammates’ way.” Beckie did one very good thing indeed but otherwise was hard to notice for the second game in a row. Even Jessie Fleming, who has done it all if any teenager has, put in probably the worst game I’ve ever seen her play, turning the ball over with the generosity of the stereotypical Canadian on tour, although with the caveat that by the end of the game she was trying to play three positions at once.
Even the veterans could let us down. Shelina Zadorsky made mistakes. Christine Sinclair, who once put in the single best day’s work for Canada against the United States since Sir Isaac Brock, was up high to hold the ball up but aerially against defenders of the Sauerbrunn standard is now sound and fury signifying nothing. You can see her winding up to go for a jump from space, and she doesn’t get a hell of a long way anymore. Ashley Lawrence hurt us worst by jetting back to Paris and not being around to help Canadian woman of the match Allysha Chapman hold things down at fullback.
On the bright side, Adriana Leon, though clumsy in her usual way, was trouble. Chapman was up for both punishing runs from left back and some murder. Stephanie Labbé, after getting kicked in the head by Megan Rapinoe, had the crayon in her brain that made her treat the ball like quantum physics knocked loose and was positively brilliant both distributing her kicks and coming out. And Nichelle Prince, who I could have sworn would be the answer to a trivia question someday, has begun compiling an undeniably substantial highlight reel.
Never get carried away praising any match in which Canada was dominated as thoroughly as the Americans dominated us. Looking on the bright side is Canada Soccer’s job but their so-called “signal to the world” has been rightly mocked. I wouldn’t care to take this team to the 2019 Women’s World Cup if I could help it. But there were, in context, more good things than bad on display. Now John Herdman has a year and a half to test options like Jenna Hellstrom or Amy Pietrangelo, and fire his squad in the crucible of an occasional intense friendly. We play the Americans in the United States too seldom. There are lots of good national teams, but the United States are unique in providing talented opposition plus a crowd that sort of wants to kill us. Even for a fan, that atmosphere takes some getting used to. Let’s give the players as many chances as we can.