Sabrina, the Keeping Hitch

By Benjamin Massey · May 30th, 2016 · No comments

Mexsport/Canadian Soccer Association

Mexsport/Canadian Soccer Association

When John Herdman announced his roster for the coming WNT friendlies in Toronto and Ottawa there was one, and only one, surprise. Which was not surprising. Herdman gives his big tournament teams away in advance; there are no Theo Walcotts or Julian Greens in his philosophy. Usually, three or so fringe players battle for two spots but that’s it; even the much-discussed Selenia Iacchelli was a well-established part of the roster before the World Cup. Yes, he’ll find players we didn’t expect a few months in advance, but the best of them will stay with the team all the way (Iacchelli and Allysha Chapman for the World Cup, Deanne Rose for the upcoming Olympics) and during the proper tournament prep period there will be no shocks.

This is pretty much entirely a good thing. For all the Twitter jokes, the Canadian women’s national team really does look like the #MostConnectedTeam and that is to their advantage. They know each other, are happy for each other when things go well, and fight for each other when things go badly. When you’re less talented than the Olympic podium contenders that’s an important edge. No, of course personal chemistry and being intimately familiar with your teammates doesn’t make up for a skill deficit, but it helps, and the example of London 2012 shows that sometimes that help is enough.

However, this approach has downsides. We saw one of them last summer. Lauren Sesselmann had been through the wars with her friends and adopted countrymen, was one of the biggest reasons we won the London bronze medal, had suffered a horrible knee injury, worked like hell to recover for the World Cup, and in every moral sense deserved a chance to play Canada 2015. But only in the moral sense. A year later, respect for her past achievements makes it cruel to dwell on this, but had Herdman been relentless rather than loyal, a Mourinho rather than a mentor, Sesselmann would have been out, replaced by Rebecca Quinn say, and Canada would probably have beaten England in the quarterfinal. It really was that important. (This is without even entering into the Iacchelli question.) That said, Herdman had form with bringing a much-loved, hard-working player struggling to recover from a knee injury who, on form, arguably should have been left at home, and Diana Matheson did okay in London. Moreover, we can never know whether a team run by the sort of person single-minded enough to cut Sesselmann would have achieved anything. Carolina Morace was that sort of coach and her teams always, always let you down.

This is relevant because of that one surprise on the friendly roster: goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo. I like D’Angelo. In fact I believe that, with Erin McLeod’s nightmarish multi-year injury, D’Angelo should start the Rio Olympics as Canada’s number one ahead of the more experienced Stephanie Labbé. However, a couple weeks ago D’Angelo fractured her left wrist during warm-ups with the Western New York Flash. The current word from the Flash is that she’ll probably be healthy by the Olympics but is unlikely to play any league games before then[1]. When signing autographs with teammates at a Toronto Sportchek yesterday, D’Angelo still had her cast on[2]. This is not a case of “well, if the doctors clear her and she trains well we might get her in for a half.” D’Angelo is injured and will not play. This has been obvious to the public for a week, and hopefully has been known by John Herdman for longer than that.

A fractured wrist is a simple injury but a goalkeeper sort of needs it to be 100%, complications happen, and the margins here are extremely tight. If, God forbid, D’Angelo is unfit for Rio, 20-year-old Kailen Sheridan will back up Labbé. In light of Herdman’s aforementioned unsurprising rosters we may take this as a given. However, Canada will need to carry a third goalkeeper on the so-called “taxi squad.” This goalkeeper will not normally be available but, if Labbé or Sheridan is hurt, will step in to the eighteen-woman roster. Who will that goalkeeper be?

Marie-Joëlle Vandal, who backed up Sheridan at the 2014 Women’s U-20 World Cup, recently with the Université Laval and now starting her professional career in lower-division Sweden? Rylee Foster, our 17-year-old starter at the most recent CONCACAF U-20s and FIFA U-17s? Erin McNulty or Justine Bernier, who attended senior camps as late as December 2014, have relatively recent professional experience, and were mentioned by Herdman on a press call just this morning[3]? Rachelle Beanlands, unseen for a few years but whose clean sheet at the 2011 Pan-American Games was the last senior appearance by a keeper other than McLeod, Labbé, D’Angelo, Sheridan, or Karina LeBlanc? Hell, what about Karina LeBlanc? Fans keep asking her to unretire, if it gets that desperate maybe she’ll say yes! She’s going to be in Rio anyhow, may as well bring her gloves!

Of the three favourites, Foster hasn’t even attended a senior training camp yet and is an unknown quantity at this level. McNulty and Bernier are obviously still in Herdman’s contacts list but it’s been a year and a half since they spent time with the team. Alternate goalkeeper is not a high-pressure duty and any of those three would probably discharge it fine. But as the current injuries to McLeod and D’Angelo should remind us, you never need your third-string goalkeeper until you really really do, and this is the best opportunity John Herdman could ask for to run the rule over one. Two home friendlies with a week of training in the middle, a pair of good games guaranteed even if the third goalkeeper only watches them from the bench, both coach and player would learn a lot, and if the first choice fails there’s just time to test another. Instead, Herdman calls upon D’Angelo, who right now can contribute nothing besides friendship and connectedness. She could have hung out with the team had Herdman named another goalkeeper anyway, but instead our strategy seems to be “D’Angelo will be fine and if she isn’t it won’t matter.” At this late stage better not to add a stranger to the mix, even if that stranger might be nominally needed.

And you know, that strategy is probably right. If by some mischance D’Angelo does miss out then in five years we probably won’t even remember the third goalkeeper’s name. Foster, if Foster is the heir presumptive, has plenty of time to show her stuff. (Though a Bernier, a McNulty, or a Vandal would probably have killed for a few days in the shop window.) Still, we don’t often get to expand the player pool without cutting a sister from this happy few while protecting ourselves against a remote but real contingency. We’re missing out.

EDIT, 10:30 AM: thanks to Eric de Sousa via Twitter for informing me that Marie-Joëlle Vandal has recently signed with Swedish third-division side P18 IK A.

(notes and comments…)

The Canadian Messi

By Benjamin Massey · February 12th, 2016 · No comments

Mexsport/Canadian Soccer Association

Mexsport/Canadian Soccer Association

Yesterday, 16-year-old Deanne Rose of Alliston, Ontario took Guyana to school. In her first competitive start for her country Rose scored two goals, had an assist, and would have added to her total had John Herdman not subbed her off in the sixty-second minute. Canada beat Guyana 5-0 (thanks to Ashley Lawrence recording the most overlooked hat trick of the century) and seldom have we faced an opponent so hopelessly out of their depth. Usually it’s Canadian teams that look like that, defending in desperate fear, putting eight women in the box, hoofing without even trying to maintain possession, their only hope of a goal being Lauren Sesselmann apparating at centreback and backpassing up a storm. But the Guyanese team is mostly Canadian, so that makes sense[1].

What a shellacking. By the end of the game Guyana looked like they just wanted to go home. (To Toronto.) Canada had 80% of the possession and 100% of the shots. Despite spending the first half crossing so badly even John Herdman was obliged to notice, Canada was constantly in control and treated the minnow as a minnow deserves. Without some awkward non-finishes and a great save it would easily have been 8-0. It wasn’t always pretty, but our dominance was absolute even with Sinclair, Schmidt, and Matheson jogging, Chapman and Belanger launching runs for the six-yard box like over-excited U-8s, McLeod visibly bored, and Herdman practically screaming “hell with it, it’s Guyana” as he played some real-life FIFA 16 and brought on Jessie Fleming for a fullback.

The kids played like they had something to prove. Gabby Carle shot from everywhere, Fleming tried to play keepaway, Lawrence scored a goal or three or something, Buchanan and Zadorsky were both fine on those rare occasions they were in the picture, and the real star of the show was Rose. As is tradition, I am using a handful of games against mostly second-rate opposition or worse to formally anoint her the Canadian Messi.

Rose’s best comparable is Christine Sinclair, who surely would have named the Canadian Messi herself had Uncle Leo not been a 13-year-old with Newell’s Old Boys. Sinclair’s first senior goal for Canada came on March 14, 2000, when she put one past Norway in a 2-1 loss at the Algarve Cup. She was 16 years, 9 months, and 2 days old. When Rose scored her first two goals yesterday she was 16 years, 11 months, and 8 days old, the fifth-youngest scorer in Canadian senior women’s history and 13 days younger than her teammate Jessie Fleming[2].

The pity is that Rose was substituted out after only an hour before she could complete her hat trick. With Guyana’s defense impotent on the flanks another goal would have been almost probable. Carle had a good fistful of chances off the left wing but struck them just wide or into the keeper. She very nearly got a piece of Lawrence’s first. Had Rose managed another goal she would have been the second-youngest hat trick hero in Canadian history behind Aysha Jamani. Well ahead of Sinclair, whose first hat trick came at the age of 17 years, 26 days against… Guyana, finished with two quick goals in the 73rd and 76th minutes.

With these omens, not to mention speed that left the Guyanese gasping and technical ability which isn’t limited to South American minnows but looked interesting last December in Brazil, it is clear that Rose is the future of Canadian sport. Anybody who said “who’s Aysha Jamani?” in the last paragraph and thinks that maybe we should reserve judgment on young goalscorers is clearly a pessimist.

Poor Ashley Lawrence. Sure she scored three, but the first ended in a gratuitous defensive miscue by Guyana’s Kayla de Souza (from Scarborough and normally a midfielder at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology), inexplicably standing a foot and a half behind her own goal line when she attempted a last-ditch “clearance.” The second probably should have been an own goal, though Lawrence played it well. The third was a terrific finish made possible by Sinclair’s munificence. She’s twenty years old, by our standards an old lady, and has scored before – at a World Cup, no less. Yawn. Make way for the new generation, Ashley.

Some talk, as Steven Sandor did in relation to another Canadian Messi, about the dangers of over-hyping a young player. But how on Earth do you over-hype a Canadian woman? The Houston crowd watching Rose’s excellence probably didn’t amount to a hundred people. The game was webcast by CBC with Andi Petrillo, Karina LeBlanc, and Nigel Reed taking it half-seriously from a studio in Toronto, and that was unusually major coverage. News and blog articles, raving over Rose, have come exclusively from the usual suspects. As of this writing the CBC’s recap of the match isn’t on the front page of their sports site, although the Jerome Valcke ban is, and if you go searching in the bowels of their page you’ll find only Gavin Day’s story for the Canadian Press. The die-hards who watched the Brazil tournament last December already had a pretty good idea that Rose was worth following, and said so, but it didn’t amount to a hill of tweets in this crazy world.

What Canadian girls have been talked up at all by the general public? Sinclair, who became the greatest female forward ever to live. Kara Lang, who could have been a superstar if not for her knees. Jessie Fleming, more recently, but there’s no sign that a couple interviews during the Women’s World Cup or her young goal against Scotland have ruined her. She hasn’t been seduced by the cash, the 24/7 media frenzy, the fast cars, the supermodels, because none of those bloody things exist and she’s going to UCLA this fall. She missed a recent training camp because she had to study. 20-year-old Kadeisha Buchanan won the Holy Grail by scoring against the Americans and bulldozing Abby Wambach in a wildly-attended 2014 home friendly, being Canada’s best player at a home World Cup, and becoming the only defender nominated for 2015 FIFA World Player of the Year. Even she, among the world’s best defenders and as widely-covered as any non-Sinclair Canadian, has fewer than half the Google hits and 4% the Twitter followers of, say, Jay DeMerit.

No of course Deanne Rose isn’t on the verge of succeeding Christine Sinclair. She has so much more work to do it’s unbelievable. But that doesn’t mean we fans should restrain ourselves from getting excited out of some misplaced sense of caution that we will ruin potential by our applause. Any young woman whose head fatally spins from the infinitesimal Canadian woso hype machine never had the mentality to succeed anyway. Let’s have fun, and allow ourselves hope, and give a young player her due for a great game entirely without self-consciousness.

(notes and comments…)

Christine Sinclair: The Greatest Female Forward of Them All

By Benjamin Massey · December 16th, 2015 · No comments

Ville Vuorinen/Canadian Soccer Association

Last Sunday, Christine Sinclair #ChasedMia to ground. Canada’s totemic heroine buried an 85th-minute goal against hapless Trinidad and Tobago at the Brazilian Torneio Internacional de Futebol Feminino in Natal. It was a well-taken goal against demoralized opposition, our unmarked superstriker sidefooting Josée Bélanger’s cross over the keeper with perfect accuracy, and it tied Sinclair with Mia Hamm on 158 goals as the second-highest scoring woman in the history of international soccer.

Christine Sinclair is no longer one of the three best women’s soccer players alive, not even the best Canadian, but like an aging but wily tiger she holds dangers for the unwary. Earlier in this tournament she would have had a hat trick against the generally-decent Mexicans if Cecilia Santiago hadn’t gone full Camarón in the second half. At the Women’s World Cup Sinclair scored two goals and played better than her numbers. 32 years old, Sinclair can still catch Abby Wambach, who is 26 goals ahead entering her retirement match today. Wambach scored her 158th goal on her 207th cap as part of a four-goal frenzy against Korea on June 20, 2013, two weeks after her 33rd birthday. Sinclair has 230 caps but is some six months younger than Wambach was. After an unproductive 2014 Sinclair has ten goals so far in 2015 including three against England, three against China, and one against France. Not Canada’s player of the year, no, but not washed up either.

She is, in fact, finishing her case as the greatest female forward in soccer history.

Besides Sinclair, three of the top five scorers in women’s international history are American and the fifth is German immortal Birgit Prinz. These four played on the best teams in the world. But Sinclair is undisputed champion for women from more modest countries and that’s a considerable point in her favour. Not only has she got a decent chance of retiring as the leading scorer of all but she does it while playing without the support of her rivals. Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, and Kristine Lilly were, year in and year out, the beating heart of the unparalleled American attack. For all that Sinclair boasts a strike rate per game superior not only to Hamm and Lilly (and Prinz) but today’s Americans in their primes: Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Sydney Leroux, take your pick. Only Wambach has scored at a higher rate than Sinclair and she’s been fed by Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Heather O’Reilly, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Early in her career Wambach had the support of Hamm; lately it’s been Morgan and Press. Sinclair’s best fellow forward was Kara Lang and since 2011 she’s mostly partnered with Melissa Tancredi, who scores a goal every five games. Sophie Schmidt and Diana Matheson are good midfielders but neither gets World Player of the Year buzz as Lloyd, Rapinoe, and even Shannon Boxx have. It’s impossible to deny that Wambach is among history’s pre-eminent finishers, but you and I would bang in a few goals if we had her kind of help. Wambach was also more limited in every field other than scoring goals; she could afford to be, there were ten elite women behind her. Sinclair stands alone.

The top strikers from lesser nations are Sinclair, Scotland’s Julie Fleeting, Italy’s deathless Patrizia Panico, the Chinese duo of Sun Wen and Han Duan, and South Africa’s Portia Modise. Panico has been around so long she flew Sopwith Strutters against Austria-Hungary in 1917 and never had a world-class strike rate. Fleeting pillages European minnows like a Panzer division but rarely beats anybody good: Sinclair has more goals against England for God’s sake. Modise reaped bushels of goals from extraordinarily bad African teams, some of the weakest opposition in the world, but was hurt by disputes with the South African federation over her lesbianism and played only one major tournament. At London 2012 she got on the highlight reel but was generally unsuccessful. Modise is a great “what if?”s but you can’t say she was immortal on the field. Han Duan was rather average but Sun Wen can argue she belongs in the Sinclair/Hamm/Wambach class. She won the Golden Ball at the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the start of the modern era of women’s soccer, and was an important factor as late as 2003. In my books too many of her achievements were pre-historic; twentieth-century women’s soccer was so inconsistently competitive that relatively modest players on well-trained teams could knock up pinball-machine totals against teams which only assembled every two years. These are all good forwards, but “greatest of all time?”

Serious countries today need a balanced attack, so gaudy Wambach/Sinclair-style totals are falling by the wayside. Modern Germans have nobody good for more than a goal every two games. France’s Marie-Laure Delie and Japan’s Yuki Ogimi are both terrific, as good as anyone today, but not Sinclair level, Spain’s Verónica Boquete doesn’t play enough, and as for the interchangeable “look out for!” media terrors who roar out of assorted Asian shitstates to fall apart on the world stage, come on. There is one challenger under thirty, and it’s Marta.

Like Sinclair, Marta plays for a nation that’s good enough to be respected but isn’t a true women’s soccer power. Unlike Sinclair, Marta has a World Player of the Year award – five of them, actually, a dominant total in a meaningless award. Marta has scored more against Canada than Sinclair has against Brazil. Marta has ten goals against the United States, Sinclair has eleven in more appearances. Hell, Marta just scored five goals against the Trinidadians Sinclair beat once. Marta’s strike rate, nearly a goal per cap, is terrifying: she would have reached her century already were the Brazilian federation not so slapdash. Statistically Marta is well ahead of Sinclair, and when you compare countries they’ve both played frequently Marta probably has her nose in front.

But the devil, as always, is in the details.

In recent years Marta has shown that she isn’t quite Marta anymore. Up until 2010 she genuinely was a force of nature, but since the 2011 Women’s World Cup reputation has served her as well as skill. The same is true of Sinclair except it happened to Marta some three years earlier. 29 years old is awfully young to lose your prime, and it’s an open question whether she can have a late career on the level of Sinclair’s and Wambach’s. There’s more to all-time greatness than peak value.

Brazil has a lot of weak opposition, and it’s partially their fault. No, they can’t help being the only country in South America worth a damn, and they play the Americans a lot. However, the Brazil women’s budget is not consistent with their talent, meaning the European tours where Sinclair and the Americans prove their mettle are rare treats for Marta. Marta has actually never scored against France or Japan and has only one against Germany; Sinclair has two, five, and three goals respectively.

Besides that, a much greater proportion of Marta’s games, and goals, come at home than Sinclair’s. The Canadian women’s national team travels as much as any first-class formation in the world, with two or three home friendlies per year at best whenever we aren’t hosting a World Cup. CONCACAF Olympic and World Cup qualifying tournaments are held in individual countries, which usually means the United States. Home field advantage applies to Marta’s raw numbers in a way they don’t for Sinclair.

Finally, Brazil’s got Cristiane, maybe the best second forward outside the United States and France. Canada has never had such a luxury. Kara Lang should have been but wasn’t. I place a lot of emphasis on this point, but any observer of the Canadian women’s team over the past decade will know how many miles above her comrades Sinclair has truly been. A forward’s achievements rely on her teammates, and Sinclair started a step behind.

As it happens, Marta and Sinclair play each other today in Natal and are guaranteed a rematch in Sunday’s final. Two games with the two masters. Marta and Sinclair have met loads of times and two more won’t settle anything, but in an obscure, irrational way they could be an indicator. Marta has to catch up to our Canadian. If Sinclair is better on the day, why believe Marta will reel her in? It might change very soon but today, at this moment, Christine Sinclair is the greatest forward in the history of women’s soccer.

Canadian Soccer Studies

By Benjamin Massey · November 27th, 2015 · No comments

Ville Vuorinen/Canadian Soccer Association

Ville Vuorinen/Canadian Soccer Association

Yesterday Canada announced its roster for CONCACAF Women’s U-20 World Cup qualifying[1]. There are many interesting names on it – senior national team fullback Sura Yekka, Calgary talent Sarah Kinzner, promising 16-year-old Pan-Am Games veteran Sarah Stratigakis, and two 15-year-olds in Vancouver’s Emma Regan and Brampton’s Shana Flynn – and many interesting names absent. Marie Levasseur, Gabrielle Carle, Deanne Rose, and Kennedy Faulknor are all eligible for the U-20 team but are staying in Vancouver with John Herdman and the senior team. More importantly, wünderkind Jessie Fleming is nowhere, left off both the senior and U-20 rosters.

We freaked out when the roster was announced yesterday and we noticed she was missing. (And I mean “we;” me and Carolyn Duthie.) It took hours for the explanation to come, but when it did it was good. Canadian women’s soccer journalist Sandra Prusina reported[2] that Fleming is staying in school but will join the senior women for an invitational tournament in Brazil starting December 9.

Who can blame her? Fleming is in Grade 12 and expected to play for UCLA in the next NCAA women’s soccer season[3]. However, women’s soccer is not football: you can’t snatch a full-ride scholarship with a fractional GPA and a bogus major. You have to be a bona fide student, and Fleming’s missed more class than a juvenile delinquent. Focusing on the Women’s World Cup during the middle of exam season is tough enough; how about two-week trips to Cyprus and China, or friendlies across western Canada and the US, all in Grade 11? It’s not like she can shrug off scholastics for a lucrative professional career; there are no professional women’s soccer clubs in Canada and those in the United States don’t pay well. Even marquee NWSL players paid by the Canadian Soccer Association earn McDonald’s wages, and an ordinary office worker’s salary will get you on a list of the ten highest-paid women’s soccer stars[4]. Careers are short, and benefits aren’t great, and to start a family you quite literally have to retire.

So yes, Jessie Fleming, please take a week now and again to do your homework. Your teammates did and they turned out all right.

Many Canadian female internationals have honest four-year degrees, but often in sports-related subjects. After their playing careers they go into coaching or physiotherapy. Others enter the sports media: as with many men below the international level, soccer is what they know and they stick to it. However, this is not the rule, and I wonder how many of the world’s major teams have been as well-rounded as the Canadian soccer women. For example, until earlier this month Selenia Iacchelli and Emily Zurrer operated a food truck in Vancouver[5]. Selling frozen yogurt out of a van sounds goofy but few professional athletes have such humble side businesses; Zurrer has a degree in advertising, for heaven’s sakes, and how much less of a prototypical jock can you be? Well, you can be Erin McLeod, who not only has an advertising degree from Penn State herself but is a professional artist when not busy being the best money goalkeeper in the world.

Diana Matheson, the beating heart of Canada’s midfield, has a bachelor’s in economics from Princeton, which has led to many “microeconomist” jokes over the years. Melissa Tancredi holds three degrees and memorably missed almost a year of games to finish up a doctorate in chiropractic. Stephanie Labbé has a degree in Early Childhood Development and Education, Shelina Zadorsky’s is in psychology. Kadeisha Buchanan, already one of the ten best female defenders alive, is an honours student in criminology at West Virginia. According to Sportsnet’s Kristina Rutherford, Fleming aims to study science or engineering at UCLA[6], hopefully bringing a little STEM rigour to what has been a very soft-science-focused locker room.

Among former players, Dr. Clare Rustad (45 caps from 2000 to 2008; scored against Brazil at Commonwealth Stadium in 2002) had a BSc in molecular biology from Washington during her playing days and is now a real doctor. (Christine Sinclair is also a doctor, but an honourary one; her real degree is in biology from the University of Portland.) Silvana Burtini, a former national player of the year and the third-most-capped Canadian of all time, is a police officer and holds the British Columbia Police Award of Valour. Countless former Canadian national teamers have gone on to productive careers outside soccer, from advertising to yoga. After all, they had to.

This is because of an unequal system. Elite athletes who, if they had penises, could count on prosperous careers and six-figure salaries instead spend their glory days with one eye on the future. Elite male athletes doing well in school have an “insurance policy;” for a top female player, like the rest of us, it’s necessary to put food on the table. Only your Sinclairs and Alex Morgans will earn enough as players to save for retirement, and full-time coaching gigs are very thin on the ground. Their performance as athletes suffers, for nobody does two things at once perfectly, and adds to the stress of their lives. It’s unavoidable economics, and not even unfair, but it’s the way it is.

However, speaking strictly as a fan, there is a bright side. The Canadian women’s soccer team is embraced by those who, like your humble correspondent, stand quite outside the mainstream of women’s sport. It’s not just the usual platitudes about girls being inspired and these women work so hard and they’ve proven they belong etc. etc. ad nauseum, it’s that our national teamers are genuinely interesting people. Your average top athlete got there by being so consumed by his sport that he was able to succeed in the most cutthroat environment in the civilized world; there’s no time to develop a personality, and if one does come through it’s usually bad or boring. An NHL player can become a cult favourite with a sense of humour that’s tiresome and derivative at an office party.

Our women are a cut above. We can relate to them on a personal level. While you can’t get to know a professional athlete from afar, any fan young or old can see there is someone there to know. Catch them outside the bubble of an active player and they can be interesting company. Journalists like talking to them (though it’s not always reciprocated). Even Sinclair, who’s spent twenty years learning to mouth platitudes on demand to microphone-wielding strangers, flashes genuine personality to the world just often enough to notice. They’re people, with varying interests and intellects and ideas. We like people! We want the athletes we cheer for to be people, and because we cheer for them and spend so much money on them we create a system where those athletes become automatons under constant pressure to suppress whatever glimmers of positive individuality they may possess. It is destructive, and self-defeating, and unavoidable.

Canadian women’s soccer has not yet reached that point. Let us be grateful, and let us be glad when Jessie Fleming hits the books like any other 17-year-old, just as we are when her shots hit the target.

(notes and comments…)

Candace Chapman Officially Retires

By Benjamin Massey · May 29th, 2015 · No comments


So farewell then, Candace Chapman. Probably the best defender the Canadian women’s program ever had, Chapman’s retirement was officially announced in a press release today by the Canadian Soccer Association. In truth she’s been off the field for some time, not being heard of as a player since the Washington Spirit waived her at the beginning of 2014. Her most recent work has been as a coach for the Washington, D.C.-area Arlington Soccer Association, as well as helping the CSA for recent youth training camps. However, this announcement will allow one of Canada’s best players to be honoured in today’s national team friendly in Hamilton, only an hour and a half from her adoptive hometown of Ajax, Ontario.

Freestyle/Canadian Soccer Association

Freestyle/Canadian Soccer Association

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, the Chapman family emigrated to Ajax when Candace was six years old. Her’s was a soccer family and it wasn’t long before Candace began to star with Ajax United where her father, Gerard, was an assistant coach. Chapman was a perennial leading scorer for Ajax and led them to the girls U-16 Ontario Cup title in 1998. Soon she was nosing her way into our international youth teams. Chapman’s first appearances for her adoptive country came in Len Vickery’s May 2000 U-17 camp, alongside Erin McLeod, Clare Rustad, and Sasha Andrews. Many more were to follow.

Starting in 2001 Chapman attended the University of Notre Dame, and it was that year that she really started to rise up the Canadian ranks. She was very much an all-rounder, and 2001 included the slim consolation of scoring Canada’s only goal in an 11-1 loss to the United States. Chapman won her first senior international cap at the 2002 Algarve Cup and, aged only 18 years old, started all four matches of one of the world’s most prestigious women’s soccer tournaments, lining up for the first time with Burnaby teenager and national team wünderkind Christine Sinclair.

Chapman had five senior starts when she hit the grass at Commonwealth Stadium for the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship. Under head coach Ian Bridge Chapman was a key player, handling multiple roles and was, as would become her trademark, playing every second of the tournament. Her finest match was the semi-final against Brazil; she held down a strong Brazilian attack that included Marta and Cristiane, destroyed Brazilian skipper and long-time international star Daniela with a thunderous bodycheck, traumatized a talented Brazilian midfield through regular and extra time, took the first Canadian penalty, and was stopped only because goalkeeper Giselle was three strides off her line. But she earned plaudits for her performance against the United States as well, helping to blank an extremely strong American team for agonizingly close to two hours. While Sinclair, McLeod, and Kara Lang were the headline-makers of the Canadian team, Chapman belonged up there with anybody: seldom seen on highlight reels, but without her the marvelous Canadian run would have been impossible. She faced an variety of responsibilities unmatched by the other, more one-dimensional Canadian players and mastered them.