Canada Players at the U17 Women’s World Cup: Where Are They Now?

By Carolyn Duthie · November 12th, 2018 · No comments

Billy Dzwonkowski/Canada Soccer

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.

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#ChasingAbby Down to the Ground

By Benjamin Massey · October 18th, 2018 · No comments

Steve Kingsman/Canada Soccer

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
Player Int. Caps Int. Goals Int. Goals/90 Club League Club Apps Club Goals Club Goals/90
Sinclair, Christine 12 8 0.736 Portland NWSL 24 9 0.375
Leon, Adriana 10 6 2.167 Seattle NWSL 7 0 0.000
Huitema, Jordyn 8 4 1.545 Whitecaps Girls Elite none N/A N/A N/A
TSS FC Rovers WPSL 0 0 nan
Prince, Nichelle 11 4 0.588 Houston NWSL 20 1 0.088
Beckie, Janine 11 4 0.430 Sky Blue NWSL 15 0 0.000
Manchester City FA WSL 0* 0* nan*
Fleming, Jessie 10 3 0.302 UCLA NCAA Pac-10 3* 1* 0.556*
Quinn, Rebecca 11 2 0.199 Washington NWSL 17 0 0.000
Rose, Deanne 5 1 1.200 Florida NCAA SEC 4* 0* 0.000*
Matheson, Diana 10 1 0.154 Utah NWSL 21 2 0.129
Lawrence, Ashley 12 1 0.091 Paris Saint-Germain Ligue 1 3* 0* 0.000*
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.

Carolyn’s College Corner Weeks 5 and 6

By Carolyn Duthie · September 21st, 2018 · No comments

Bowling Green University

Apologies for the lack of article last week—I just started a new job and had to shift some focus away from the college game.

News and notes from the past bit of time:

Canada dropped their CONCACAF-mandated 35 player provisional roster ahead of qualifying, featuring a selection of college players (alphabetically by first name because that’s how the CONCACAF list was released, for some chaotic reason): Deanne Rose (Florida), Emma Regan (Texas), Gabby Carle (Florida State), Jessie Fleming (UCLA), Julia Grosso (Texas), Kennedy Faulknor (UCLA), Rylee Foster (West Virginia) and Sarah Stratigakis (Michigan). The roster also includes several pre-college aged players: Jade Rose, Jayde Riviere (verbally committed to Michigan for 2019), Jordyn Huitema, Kalia Novak, and Maya Antoine (verbally committed to Vanderbilt for 2019). Evelyne Viens did not make even a 35-player roster for Canada, which is upsetting.

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.


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)

Claire Larose, Austin Peay State: Scored a goal in each of Austin Peay’s last two games.

Erica Hubert, Bowling Green: Three goals and one assist for Bowling Green in last week, including a five point night against Youngstown State.

Connie Awuku-Darkoh, Central Arkansas: Two goals last week vs. Sam Houston State, and two assist the previous week against Arkansas State

Kelly Chiavaro, Colgate: Two consecutive clean sheets vs. Loyola Maryland and Fairfield, making 9 saves.

Kelsey Smith, Grand Canyon: The defender tallied three assists in Grand Canyon’s win over Portland State.

Chandra Davidson, Indiana: Scored a goal for Indiana against Michigan and added an assist vs. Michigan State, helping Indiana to two straight wins to start Big 10 play.

Isabelle Mihail, Kent State: Scored both goals in Kent State’s 2-1 win over Syracuse, including this shot for the golden goal in overtime.


Serena Dolan, Memphis: Scored a goal in each of Memphis’ wins over Arkansas State and Ole Miss.

Annie Ibey, Niagara: Has scored a goal in three straight games for the Purple Eagles.

Kennedy Faulknor, UCLA: Scored her first collegiate goal in UCLA’s win over LMU while helping the Bruins keep three straight clean sheets.

Rylee Foster, WVU: Kept two consecutive clean sheets in goal for the Mountaineers, while also tallying an assist in their September 7th win over Clemson.

Saje Brar, Yale: The former Whitecap is off to a strong start for the Bulldogs, colleting three assists in her last two games.

Week 6 Games to Watch

Eastern Michigan vs. Kent State

September 21st, 5 PM Eastern/2 PM Pacific
No stream
Live stats EMUEagles.com
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.

Oregon vs. Utah

September 21st, 7 PM Eastern/4 PM Pacific
Broadcast Pac-12 Oregon or KWVA Radio
Live stats None
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.

Yale vs. Princeton

September 22nd, 4 PM Eastern/1 PM Pacific
Broadcast ESPN (American subscription required)
Live stats YaleBulldogs.com
Natalie Grossi and Olivia Sheppard are both significant contributors for the Tigers, while Saje Brar has had a strong start to her freshman season at Yale, tallying one goal and four assists so far.

Nebraska vs. Purdue

September 23rd, 3 PM Eastern/12:00 PM Pacific
Broadcast BTN2Go ($)
Live stats Huskers.com
Nebraska’s Natalie Cooke and Dakota Chan, who both played with TSS Rovers over the summer, have contributed for the Huskers. Purdue’s Hannah Melchiorre, from Thunder Bay, has two assists this season.

Carolyn’s College Corner Week 2

By Carolyn Duthie · August 23rd, 2018 · 1 comment

University of Memphis

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:

  1. 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.

  2. The stadium just breaking.

    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.”

  3. UNC Seems To Think That They Are Playing Hockey.

    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.

  4. 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.

Canada – Brazil Roster

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:

Clarissa Larisey, Memphis:

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.

Sarah Stratigakis, Michigan:

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.

Emma Regan, Texas:

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.

Quinn Josiah, Prairie View A&M:

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.

Week 2 Games to Watch

University of Wisconsin vs. Florida State

August 23rd, 6 PM Eastern/3 PM Pacific
Broadcast BTN2Go, subscription required
Live stats UWBadgers.com
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 vs Mississippi State

August 23rd, 7 PM Eastern/4 PM Pacific
Broadcast GoTigersGo.com
Live stats GoTigersGo.com
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
Broadcast ESPN Player (cable subscription required, and basically impossible to get in Canada).
Live stats SidearmStats.com
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.

Florida vs. Ohio State

August 24th, 7 PM Eastern/4 PM Pacific
Broadcast ESPN again or Gatorvision radio (free!)
Live stats FloridaGators.com
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.)

Carolyn’s College Corner Week One

By Carolyn Duthie · August 16th, 2018 · No comments

Matthew DiMaria/UCLA

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.

Pre-season Honours

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.

The MAC Hermann watch list was released this past week, featuring 8 Canadian women: Paige Culver (Kent State), Jessie Fleming (UCLA), Rylee Foster (WVU), Victoria Pickett (Wisconsin), Deanne Rose (Florida), Bianca St. Georges (WVU), and Evelyne Viens (South Florida). Special shoutout to Evelyne Viens, who has been so criminally ignored by Canada Soccer in all of her time playing soccer that they even failed to include her in their first publishing of an article about this list.

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.

University of Wisconsin vs. North Dakota State

August 16th, 8 PM Eastern/5 PM Pacific
Broadcast https://www.btn2go.com/game/n-dakota-st-at-wisconsin-on-08162018
Live stats http://uwbadgers.com/sidearmstats/wsoc/summary
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.

Rice vs. Texas

August 17th, 8 PM Eastern/5 PM Pacific
No stream indicated
Live stats https://riceowls.com/sidearmstats/wsoc/summary
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.

UCLA vs. Long Beach State

August 17th, 10 PM Eastern/7 PM Pacific
Broadcast Pac-12 Network and DAZN in Canada, so I no longer have to promote pirated webstreams.
Live stats http://www.statbroadcast.com/events/statbroadcast.php?t=1&gid=ucla
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.

Chasing Abby or Catching Abby

By Benjamin Massey · December 1st, 2017 · No comments

Kyle Thomas/Canadian Soccer Association

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.

Raising the Middle

By Benjamin Massey · November 12th, 2017 · No comments

Bob Frid/Canadian Soccer Association

Canada’s women’s national soccer team drew a close-to-full-strength United States 1-1 at a very well-attended, if atmospherically indifferent, friendly in Vancouver last Thursday. This we’ve done before, twice in the John Herdman era. What’s unique is that we really, really deserved it!

The Americans were, as they have been for the past two years, mediocre. Shelina Zadorsky probably committed a penalty that went uncalled in the second half. And we would have lost anyway had Steph Labbé not made a miraculous kick save on a deflection. That said, Jordyn Huitema had a foul called against her late in the game for getting her head busted open in the penalty area, the American goal only happened because of a Labbé punching mistake, and we made a veteran-laden American team featuring Rapinoe, Lloyd, Morgan, and Press look incapable of retaining possession for, and I am being absolutely literal here, the first time in Canadian history.

Therefore, that game was automatically a Very Good Time. ESPN named tireless Jessie Fleming the woman of the match. Deanne Rose mauled Megan Rapinoe so severely that after Rose came off Pinoe broke up with her girlfriend by text. Huitema looked plainly inexperienced at this level but was a net contributor all the same and played great off Christine Sinclair. She survived her head wound, which contrary to what condescending writers would clickbait you into believing, is exactly what an elite athlete like her should do. Then she celebrated with a post-game ginger ale because she’s nine. Our wünderkinds were, by any fair standard, wunderful.

But everyone talks enough about them. We’re so enthusiastic that Huitema wearing a bandage becomes Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. That’s good, really; Fleming, Huitema, and Rose deserve support. The trouble is that we risk forgetting our solid but not headlining prospects. In a way, they should excite us more, because that indicates that something we once did wrong, we now do right. But I am damned if I can figure out what.

Even our worst youth teams, coached by mad Italians losing to Mexico and Costa Rica, have provided interesting players, but the leap from U-20 to senior soccer has been a long way. Even players who came into the senior team as useful pieces at a young age have tended to remain only useful. I am thinking particularly of Brittany Baxter (née Timko), Jonelle Filigno, even Sophie Schmidt. We would have been poorer without them, but they never seemed to make the leap they should have made. Their games did not evolve.

In the past few years, this has begun to change, a long, slow process whose fruits are only beginning to appear. If we exclude the obvious deities the best mortal on the pitch Thursday was Rebecca Quinn. Never as preternaturally gifted as her confrere Kadeisha Buchanan, Quinn has always gotten good reviews after coming into the national team at a young age. She recalled a young Emily Zurrer, the very archetype of the useful young player with a long way to go to become a star.

The difference is that Quinn keeps getting better. Born a centre back, she is now a safe starting option in defensive midfield and has an Olympic qualifying hat trick in her scrapbook. Boasting a new, 2015-Sophie Schmidt-like haircut, Rebecca looked like a new woman on Thursday… but in fact it was the same Quinny, only improved, facing threats as varied as Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Andi Sullivan with equanimity. She was better than her defensive partner, Shelina Zadorsky, who has a few seasons’ NWSL experience and has herself improved a bit the past couple years. And Quinn’s best position may be in defensive midfield, where she has, implausibly, surpassed Desiree Scott on many fans’ depth charts.

And Quinn’s not even the most impressive mid-lister. The gold medal for development goes to Adriana Leon, who at age 25 should surely not be classed as a prospect at all. In two years when most players’ destinies are fixed Leon has gone from an on-field liability and one-time Twitter malcontent to a magnificent opposition-bothering impact sub and scorer of two fine senior goals this year. I cannot explain how this possibly happened. After an indifferent NWSL career, not much for the senior WNT, and being changed for a better thing, she went to FC Zürich in 2016. With that underrated little club she showed well in Switzerland, had a three-goal-and-two-assists game in the Champions League, returned to both Canada and the NWSL, and was suddenly pretty good. Thursday’s goal-scoring turn against the Americans was only the most entertaining moment in seven months of good form.

A lot has changed since Adriana’s early days: she was the star striker on that U-20 team Carolina Morace got eliminated very early indeed. But John Herdman and company can’t take credit from a technical perspective: they didn’t see her for over a year. The person most responsible for Leon’s mid-career development spurt must be Adriana Leon. But the country did something right, insomuch as it remembered her and let her stay in the game, and brought her back when she was ready.

These things never used to go so well. For decades the classic Canadian role player was a physical specimen rather than a technically developed, versatile contributor. Changing this was a conscious goal of many coaches and administrators throughout the country. Now that it is happening, and the results are before our eyes, we are so blinded by Roses and Huitemae that we can’t see it. Leon, a hard-charging bull in a china shop, and Quinn, who is tall, would both in a different era relied upon their obvious physical powers too heavily. In November 2017 they look like soccer players.

We are not World Cup champions yet. Quinn has learned much of her trade at Duke, Leon picked up her magic boots in Europe; the path to long-term success requires a road through Canada. Nor has everybody been equally successful, because that never happens. But we’re going the right way. Leon scoring against the US because Quinn hit the crossbar bodes just as well for our program as Jessie Fleming descending from heaven.

Josée Bélanger, the Most Improbable Heroine of All

By Benjamin Massey · May 29th, 2017 · No comments

Kyle Thomas/Canadian Soccer Association

So farewell then, Josée Bélanger. At a small press conference Monday, Bélanger announced that she is retiring from professional soccer two weeks after her 31st birthday. She will reportedly open a soccer school, and has already done youth coaching around her native Quebec[1].

This announcement, while sad, has surprised nobody. Bélanger took the year off from the NWSL[2] and has publicly contemplated her post-soccer future. She told the Orlando Sentinel last September that she wanted to be a mother and alluded to the wear and tear soccer’s put on her body which might not make that easy[3]. It is a dilemma male players never have to deal with, and guarantees respect for the early departure of a rare Canadian who can make an honest living playing soccer.

It turns out Bélanger’s last ride was, appropriately, February’s bronze medal celebration match in Vancouver, where she provided 57 minutes of effective right-back work before giving way to Rhian Wilkinson. Wilkinson, along with Marie-Eve Nault and Melissa Tancredi, were being honoured for their many contributions in one last pre-retirement bash. Bélanger was not. When she left the Canadian national program for good it was to a chorus of applause, but the applause was aimed at Wilkinson because all thought, or at least hoped, Josée would be back. Bélanger had earned an individual tribute, but flew under the radar again.

Bélanger hangs them up with a modest 57 senior international appearances, seven goals, one Olympic bronze medal (she missed London 2012), and a forgettable club career. She was twice Quebec professional of the year, ranks with Nault and Isabelle Morneau as the best female French-Canadian players of all time, and has a devoted following in her home province, but to the rest of the country she was never a first-tier star. But when the time comes to write the history of the great Canadian WNT of 2012 to the present, the best national team Canada has ever produced, Bélanger will deserve a chapter.

First off, she scored one of the great Canadian goals, when at the 2015 Women’s World Cup she gave Canada a 1-0 win over Switzerland in the round of 16. Vancouver would have cheered her out of that celebration friendly for the sake of this moment alone.

In more ways than one she was not supposed to be there. She had never been one of the golden girls, playing CIAU soccer at Sherbrooke, USL W-League in Laval, getting a few appearances in the youth programs, and being rated promising but not brilliant. Her debut in 2004 proved premature, and at the end of 2010 she had a run as a regular on the senior team under Carolina Morace. She played regularly in World Cup qualifying, scored a few goals, badly injured her ankle, came to camp for the Cyprus Cup and the Yongchuan Invitational without getting on the field and, like many a young striker of that era, went straight to obscurity.

Though she’d left the highest level Bélanger hung around, playing more W-League in Laval and Quebec City. She did some youth coaching in Sherbrooke. She met her boyfriend and got into Crossfit. She even had the hidden blessing of missing the 2011 Women’s World Cup, one of the worst things ever to happen to Canadian soccer. By all accounts she was content. John Herdman was interested in her when he took over after the 2011 debacle but Bélanger stayed in Quebec, trained kids, Crossfitted, and got on with her life. Until, in November 2013, she returned to the national fold for a first-team training camp. Even then she was the forgotten woman, because the other returning player that camp happened to be Kara Lang.

Lang’s comeback, enormously hyped-up, amounted to not much. Bélanger’s, hardly noticed except by the hardcore, was for real. She made her twelfth cap, and her first in over three years, on January 31, 2014 against the United States. As Canada began its run up to 2015 Bélanger became a regular; she went 90 minutes only twice but routinely started and came on as an early substitute when she didn’t. Her performances, when she appeared on TV, were admirable. Eyes turned in her direction.

But here is the other way in which Bélanger was not supposed to be there. To that point she had been an attacking player for both club and country. With Lang’s injury ending her career for good and Janine Beckie not yet in the senior picture Canada was shallow up top. But when Bélanger returned to senior Canadian soccer she was our right fullback. We’ve since grown used to John Herdman turning forwards into fullbacks through the success of Ashley Lawrence, but in 2014 it was an innovation. Bélanger was not only competent defensively, but her attacking brio and dynamic crossing down the right flank gave Canada a totally different look than that long-provided by veteran Rhian Wilkinson.

Wilkinson entered the 2015 World Cup injured so Bélanger made her long-belated World Cup debut, aged 29, on a backline with Allysha Chapman, Kadeisha Buchanan, and Lauren Sesselmann at Commonwealth Stadium against China. Next to Buchanan Bélanger was the defensive standout, as the Chinese refused to say die until nearly the last kick of the game. Not only was Bélanger’s defending effective but she nearly won the match herself in the first half, hitting the crossbar after a muffed Chinese clearance. She chipped in to the clean sheet against New Zealand and, in Montreal, started at right back before moving up top for the last ten minutes, a virtual offensive substitute as Wilkinson returned from injury and Canada tried unsuccessfully to win a 1-1 draw against the Dutch.

Had it ended there, Bélanger would have been a pleasant on-field surprise and an excellent feel-good story. But as we know there was more to come, and the forgotten woman of 2011 became the hero of 2015 by returning to forward and defeating the Swiss. If she did not get the full sports-movie ending with that 2-1 quarterfinal loss to England, she had still done enough to make sure she would never be forgotten again.

That was the high point of Bélanger’s career, but she had many other contributions to make. She had a brief but fruitful run with European powerhouse FC Rosengard and was a highly-popular member of the Orlando Pride alongside fellow Canadian Kaylyn Kyle. At the 2016 Olympics she was less vital than in 2015; Chapman and Lawrence were the first-choice fullbacks, Beckie, Sinclair, and Deanne Rose had locked down the front three, and when Bélanger did draw in she got herself suspended for the semifinal. That semifinal was, not coincidentally, the only game Canada lost, and when we won she mattered. She had a strong supporting role in The Melissa Tancredi Game against the Germans, played super-sub for the injured Chapman in the quarterfinal against France with a vital clearance, and in the bronze medal match, against Brazil, killed the game off excellently as a substitute. It did not capture the national imagination to the same degree, but the Rio 2016 bronze medal was a greater achievement than London. It is typical of Bélanger that she missed immortality, then helped win something less fêted but more difficult.

The most recent Canadian camp in Europe saw the remarkable return of Shannon Woeller, a 27-year-old defender whose last appearance came before the 2012 Olympics. Woeller had been all-but-forgotten, scraping out a decent career in Germany, and was not even named to the national team roster before showing up more-or-less because she was in the neighbourhood. Then she got on the field against the Germans, and now she’s one of two veterans at our Vancouver pre-training camp. If Woeller fights her way back into the national picture it will be one of the most unexpected comebacks of all time. But, she can think to herself as Bélanger leaves with such respect, not an unprecedented one.

(notes and comments…)

Putting the Team Second

By Benjamin Massey · March 5th, 2017 · 1 comment

Ville Vuorinen/Canada Soccer

On a dreary Friday morning, far from and unseen by almost all of her fans, Christine Sinclair scored. She does that a lot. On this occasion, Russian forward Anna Cholovyaga dropped a long way back and attempted a backpass to… well, it’s hard to say who she wishes it went to, but anyway it went to Sinclair, and she buried it with the nonchalance of Kutuzov against Napoleon. The only thing easier would have been to knock away a failed clearance while unmarked, which come to think of it is how she scored against Denmark on Wednesday.

Sinclair, 33 years old, now has 167 international goals, 17 behind American legend Abby Wambach for the all-time lead in the history of international soccer. Two have come at this year’s Algarve Cup and both were cheapies. But the only reason we phrase it that way is because we compare the goals to the good old days when Sinclair could never capitalize on an awkwardly-handled Deanne Rose cross because there was no Deanne Rose to cross it to her. If she’d been doing this all her life we’d call her a “poacher” and count it in her favour, but because we’re used to her being the team, notwithstanding a Melissa Tancredi having the game of her life or a Kara Lang having moments of inspiration between months of injuries, it seems like an insult. This is how genius, as it fades to mere intelligence, becomes its own condemnation.

There are asterisks all over the record. Male soccer players play many fewer international games than women. Sinclair has 253 senior international appearances, no Canadian man has more than Julian de Guzman’s 89, and the leading male worldwide is Egypt’s Ahmed Hassan with 184. The top men’s international goalscorer of all time is Iran’s Ali Daei with 109, dozens away from the both-genders podium. In short women’s soccer is one of the few athletic fields where men are statistically behind the women, and with the enormously different economics of their respective games they will never catch up.

Whichever of Sinclair or Wambach finishes on top will probably be there forever. The age where large, lone strikers can write the record books like Charles Dickens being paid by the word are passed. Alex Morgan caught the tail end of the glory days and possessed a preternatural innate talent, and is still over a hundred goals behind Wambach with no prospect whatsoever of catching her. Brazil’s Marta has 105 goals in 101 caps, hurt by her association’s indifference to the women’s team outside Olympic years, but for all her great early seasons she’s no record threat. Truly excellent young strikers no longer score such circus numbers thanks to tactical developments, and while the men’s record book is full of Arab players who got loads of opportunities against mediocre opposition, this for obvious reasons will not affect the women’s game in the foreseeable future.

The Sinclair/Wambach duel is one for history. It’s like when Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky were fighting for scoring titles: they were both obviously historic greats, but whichever one of them set the highest mark was never going to lose it.

Wambach scored her 167th goal at the age of 33 years, nine months, and ten days, on March 12, 2014 against North Korea (at, coincidentally, the Algarve Cup). On the day of her 167th Sinclair was 33 years, eight months, and 19 days old. Moreover, and I do not pretend to be objective when I say this, on quality I would take March 2017 Sinclair over March 2014 Wambach.

But Wambach infamously hung on too long, all-but-forcing the United States to carry her to another World Cup victory in 2015 when on merit she certainly should have been dropped. Sinclair is already overall less effective than Janine Beckie and has the reputation of a woman who will not put herself ahead of the team. The alarm clock will go for her eventually, and it’s hard to imagine her playing boardroom games to keep her minutes up. Essentially tied with Wambach at her age, Sinclair may not have the same advantage in her autumn years.

The day will come, if it has not already, when Canada will have to ask whether it would rather Sinclair passes Wambach or Canada wins soccer games. Promising Canadian attacking players such as Deanne Rose and Ashley Lawrence have been shuffled around the formation, buying Sinclair time, but this will not last forever. Another promising forward who’s scored plenty in the NCAA, Alex Lamontagne, just made her senior debut. At any time her own development or Canada’s wide defensive frailty might necessitate moving young Deanne Rose to the centre of the park, where Sinclair currently roams. Against the weak Russians, Beckie was involved in several good chances, but she was substituted off for Lamontagne while Sinclair went the full 90. This probably isn’t strategy, since Canada faces the also-feeble Portuguese on Monday and only after that will meet a real team in whatever their placing match is. If anything, Canada should have pumped goals past the mistake-prone Russians to improve their goal difference. But coach John Herdman apparently wanted Christine Sinclair to get them.

This could have hurt the team, though since China and Sweden drew later in the day Herdman probably got away with it. But he was right.

Dedication to the individual rather than the whole runs contrary to what we know we should think, in sports and in life. English writer E. M. Forster, with his usual straightforward contrarianism, said “if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” This was most famously quoted by Soviet spy Anthony Blunt when, still unexposed, he defended not reporting friend and fellow-traitor Guy Burgess. In his context the inevitable first thought is that either Blunt did not know what sort of swine his “friend” Burgess really was, in which case protection reflected poorly on him, or that he did know, in which case it reflected even worse. We now know it was the latter: Blunt was himself in the pay of totalitarianism and by supporting Burgess he was supporting “his” country, the Soviet Union. So Forster’s attitude, that of the individual ahead of the institution, did not really apply, and yet the ordure that sprayed from the wound of Blunt’s treachery caught Forster as well.

Yet even those of us who would dissent as a rule have to admit that Forster was, maybe not right, but right enough. His aphorism is unusual because it’s wrong in general but right in detail. Most of the time the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but sometimes the needs of the one trounce them both. It is impossible to define when those times are. Sometimes you need to fire the pleasant but incompetent employee to help save the jobs of six others. But once every blue moon you’ll give up the ship to save one man, and there is no formula to tell you if a dilemma is coming until it arrives.

The object’s own opinion does not always matter. Part of why we honour Christine Sinclair is because we know that if we grabbed her and said “answer now: world record or World Cup?” she’d say “World Cup!” without hesitation. And we’d believe her! Like Cato the Younger, she would subordinate all to the health of her people, and if we insisted on raising personal ambition would not sneer, but remind us when the time came to pay the price. She’s the one we can trust above all, to act for us rather than for herself, and so we should honour her especially. It is the contradiction where sincere public-mindedness in an individual means that individual should get more of our favour.

Every four years, somebody wins a World Cup, and every four years, somebody wins the Olympic Games. Huge achievements that will survive the players who won them. But however great such a victory is, give it a few years and there’ll be another one for somebody else. Galt FC won Canada gold in men’s soccer in 1904, but to the casual or the foreigner it’s an excellent trivia question. So it will be if Canada wins the World Cup in 2019: our grandchildren rubbing foreheads over the Trivial Pursuit board, mumbling, “I know we won it somewhere in there…” A heck of a thing, immortality of a kind, but not Mount Olympus.

I want players like Sophie Schmidt and Desiree Scott and Ashley Lawrence to wear gold medals. I want them to win, lots. I want them to have it all. If a soccer team made up of good, dedicated Canadian men or women wins a world championship, that should be the greatest day of my sporting life. But if Lucifer popped up at the crossroads and said “Ben, I will let you choose. Either a senior Canadian soccer team will win the World Cup, or Christine Sinclair will become the leading scorer in international soccer history,” I’d decide for Sincy. She wouldn’t. If she found out I cast the deciding vote, she’d probably be pissed. That’s part of why I’d vote for her. Nobody said philosophy should be easy.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge

By Benjamin Massey · August 9th, 2016 · No comments

Al Quintero/Canadian Soccer Association

Al Quintero/Canadian Soccer Association

It’s a bastard, but the Canadian women’s soccer team was better off losing today and everybody knew it. Defeating Germany, the current second-ranked team in the world[1] and the overall strongest nation in women’s soccer history, would give Canada its first-ever perfect group stage in a major international tournament and represent our biggest upset of all time. Incidentally, it would also make our lives much worse, all-but-guaranteeing Canada a quarter-final matchup against world number three France rather than a relatively sweet game against China or Sweden.

In FIFA tournaments the knockout-round brackets are drawn before the groups are set and life is unfair: the winner of Group F, Canada’s group, was predestined to face the second-place team of Group G, containing both France and the United States. Whereas the second-place team in Canada’s group would take on the second-place team from Group E; in any event much easier opposition. The Olympics are a twelve-team tournament and, thanks to FIFA’s format, even with Japan out in qualifying it’s probably impossible to balance what Canada boss John Herdman calls the “tier 1” teams of the United States, Germany, France, and Japan fairly. In 2012 Canada got lucky with the draw and in 2016 we didn’t. Such is life.

With the rewards for second place being so great, the attitude of the Canadian supporter was unusual. No result against Germany, however disastrous, could have eliminated us from the tournament, and the pressure was off. I don’t think any fans went so far as to say we should deliberately lose today; this isn’t the NHL. But there was a definite feeling of “not necessarily losing, but losing if necessary;” that while we shouldn’t give Germany the three points, we could put ourselves in a position where it would be easier for Germany to take them. I think John Herdman agreed. Christine Sinclair, the best player in the history of women’s soccer, started on the bench. So did Janine Beckie, the leading scorer of the Olympics so far, and Ashley Lawrence, Canada’s presumptive 2016 player of the year. They joined Kadeisha Buchanan, the 20-year-old world-class centreback who had been suspended thanks to a yellow card against Zimbabwe that definitely looked deliberate, and Erin McLeod, one of the five best players in Canadian history but out for as long as two years with a knee injury, on the shelf.

As for the Germans? The senior Canadian women’s team first played them July 27, 1994 in Montreal and lost 2-1, giving up two goals to a debutante named Birgit Prinz who would become the best female player in European history. Since then Canada has played Germany in three World Cup games and nine friendlies, and lost every single one. Our women’s U-20s have also lost every game against Germany, including the 2-0 German victory in 2014 that eliminated us from the U-20 Women’s World Cup at home, and our U-17s can boast only a single 2-2 draw on March 15, 2014, when Jessie Fleming and Marie Levasseur got us a precious point at the U-17 World Cup. By any measurement, at any age group, Canada is hugely inferior to Germany. There is no improvement with context and no space for an asterisk. The Germans have played us more than a dozen times and dominated almost every one. Canada plays Germany, Germany wins easily, and we walk away thinking “we did okay, considering.” That is how it works.

Now, the remorseless calculus I detailed above applied to Germany as well. They wanted to finish second in their group as much as Canada did, but there was a hitch. In a shock result on Saturday, Germany managed only a 2-2 draw against Australia. As a result, while a draw would have suited the Germans very well, a loss might have been a problem as there was a possibility they’d finish third in the group and life would suddenly get a little too interesting. Besides, when you’re Germany, the prospect of facing France isn’t quite so intimidating.

Therefore Germany did not dare run out the full “B” squad. Anja Mittag, the closest German equivalent to Sinclair, started. So did skipper Saskia Bartusiak, legendary midfielder Melanie Behringer, and defender Annike Krahn, one of the best defensive players to ever live. Their second-best forward, Dzsenifer Marozsán, started, but their best, Alexandra Popp, did not. Call it an A- team against Canada’s full B. A boring 0-0 would have been fine by Germany’s lights, and when Behringer converted an early penalty (well-deserved by the lovable but aggressive Allysha Chapman) to put Germany up 1-0, that should have been that. Canada wouldn’t mind losing, Germany might give up one the other way but no more than that, the two teams would fight about the details but that would be all. As a truly competitive fixture this would be done.

That’s where we were wrong.

I don’t mind tooting my own horn here. On Twitter and this past weekend’s episode of 99 Friendship I was unequivocal: I wanted Canada to go for it and beat Germany, if we possibly could. Sure, it would give us a tougher quarterfinal game, but the rewards in terms of morale and pleasure would be well worth it. Canada doesn’t beat “tier 1” teams, except for the bronze medal match at London 2012, and that game has lived forever. To do it again, albeit in a somewhat lesser context; yes, that would be worth giving up a good shot at a fourth-place finish.

But if I brag, you’ll take it in context. Because the one thing I believed more fervently than “we should beat Germany if ever we can” was “Melissa Tancredi should be nowhere near the Canadian starting eleven.” In fact I wouldn’t have taken her to Rio at all. 34 years old, slow as hell, uninspiring even against Zimbabwe, having never recovered her accuracy or reflexes from when she took time off to get a fake chiropractic degree, she didn’t belong in the same universe as a national soccer team. The jokes I made about her were actually cruel, and though I sometimes tried to temper it with “but I remember when she saved our asses in 2012…” I didn’t always. 2015 was ever-so-much-more-recent, after all, and had we taken Janine Beckie instead of Tancredi that World Cup might have gone very differently.

It wasn’t personal. Big, humble in both attitude and origin, always giving her 100%, and willing to be a complementary player while also being unafraid to take the team on her back, Tancredi is everything you want a Canadian athlete to be. Her flaws are age and athleticism and neither is her fault. But this is high-level sport, and so I was right out in front saying Tancredi should be given a fake “retirement game” in which she plays six minutes then gets put out to pasture without so much as a handshake and a plaque. God love her but she’s useless. The idea of her taking minutes from a Janine Beckie, a Deanne Rose, or a Nichelle Prince is an actual insult, and while friendship and connectedness are all very well, this is a business and John Herdman needs to make a business decision once in a while. When the Canadian Soccer Association announced that both Sinclair and Diana Matheson were sitting, and that Tancredi was not only starting but taking the captaincy for the day, I reacted badly.

If ever you read this blog again, please remember that I am an idiot.

Forget the goals. Tancredi started great. She launched a beautiful flick-on header to Josée Bélanger, then swept another one-touch ball to Bélanger off her foot, in the first ten minutes. Neither amounted to anything because, as I said above, Germany is excellent, but Tancredi was all over the shop in the best way. Making herself available for passes, playing the pass accurately when it arrived, looking like the woman of four years earlier. It was inspiring stuff, even before she’d troubled the scorers, even when Behringer had converted that penalty and Germany was outchancing Canada ten to one. Even when it looked like we were about to lose 3-0 and not mind too much. You couldn’t say Tancredi had done a thing wrong, come what may.

Then the game changed. Desirée Scott (another popular whipping girl for the past few months) pushed the ball forward through an open channel to Tancredi, and am I crazy or did Tank take it out left, try the shot, and miss the ball? Hahaha! She’s so old! She’s so awful! Janine Beckie would have scored! Except one of the advantages of her experience is that you know how to compose yourself when things don’t go just right, and Tancredi was going for another shot before Germany had realized their chance. This time she got it just right, sliding it low into the corner, and Canada had tied the game.

Now, at this point it was 1-1 in the first half and Germany was still playing well. Tancredi was in line to be Canada’s man of the match but no more than that: a “she exceeded my expectations, fair play to her,” a footnote in history, a little “hey you remember when Tancredi…” in five years’ time. She kept working hard, giving the German defense fits, and throwing herself around the field to make plays, but that’s no more than even her most fervent haters would have expected.

What changed the game was not, without diminishing her accomplishments, Tancredi as an individual. It was that her teammates picked up on her energy and raised their own level to meet it. An old, popular player was absolutely on form against a marquee opponent, and which of those Canadians was going to give anything less than her best and cause Tanc to lose face? Which of them would dare be responsible for turning what might be their friend’s last great game into a lowly piece of trivia? The long-time comrades of Tancredi’s, like Rhian Wilkinson and Sophie Schmidt, certainly felt it. But so did the solid Rebecca Quinn and relatively recent re-introduction Josée Bélanger. Maybe we shouldn’t make fun of #99friendship and the #mostconnectedteam so cavalierly, because that game was a demonstration of its value.

We sat down to watch a meaningless scrimmage, and an all-time classic broke out. Germany was still on their game, still pushing, but Canada was a step ahead and slowly gaining the ascendancy. At half, jokes about “well, what if Canada wins and has to play France?” had suddenly become a little more serious and a lot less terrifying. The spark of magic was in the air, and Tancredi getting her head to a bombed-in free kick from Quinn was only justice. 2-1 to Canada! It was the first time Canada had led against Germany in over a decade, when Charmaine Hooper and Kara Lang staked Big Red to a 2-0 lead on September 4, 2005 that they’d subsequently blow for a 4-3 loss.

We didn’t blow this one. Tancredi was a massive reason why, clearing defensive headers from our own box on set pieces. So was Diana Matheson, who came on as a substitute and immediately threw herself into slide tackles like she was playing for two medals at once. Steph Labbé, another player I think I may have said a few bad words about, not only shagged some crosses but made a dandy save late in the second half to preserve a 2-1 lead. The Germans brought out Popp, threw everyone forward, went like hell to get a draw and a point that might be precious. In reply, John Herdman sent on Nichelle Prince for Deanne Rose, and I would bet a million dollars that, before the game, Herdman had conceived that move as “Prince for Tancredi.” But a good coach knows how to adapt to the situation, and it wound up being a good move in its own right. Prince showed an unexpected level of defensive intensity, winning the ball in the climactic minutes of stoppage time to get Canada that 2-1 win and its first ever point at the senior level against the Germans. A relatively new player, but she wasn’t going to let her friends down either.

As a result, Canada will face a quarterfinal of death against France. There will be no restraint in France, no “well a draw would be better…” They will be too happy to avenge their loss in the London 2012 bronze medal game. We played them very hard in a recent tune-up friendly, but France held some of their stars back and still won 1-0. The bookies will make them big favourites to beat us and, let’s be honest, squinting through the haze of victory, they’re probably right. If we’re dispassionate, odds are that despite playing much better than we did four years ago, Canada’s 2016 Olympics will end in the quarterfinal.

And you know what? I don’t care. For the first time ever Canada beat Germany. They did it without Buchanan, without McLeod, without Sinclair. They did it to a German team that, notwithstanding some early uncertainty, definitely wanted to stop us and ran out every gun they had. They did it in the Olympic Games, and in women’s soccer it’s debatable whether the Olympics rank behind the World Cup at all. I hope we can beat France, keep this wonderful run going, but even if we do lose it’ll be worth it. We beat Germany, fair and square. That’s one to tell the grandkids about. And Melissa Tancredi was the heroine, reminding us all that you don’t get to the pinnacle of sport if you can’t prove the haters wrong once in a while.

(notes and comments…)