June 17, 2011

Group A Preview: Canada

Canada (#6)
Region: Concacaf
Coach: Carolina Morace
How They Qualified: Won Concacaf Region Qualifying
Prior Cups:
2007: Group Stage
2003: 4th Place
1999: Group Stage
1995: Group Stage
1991: DNQ
Returnees from 2007 WWC: (11)LeBlanc, Gayle, Wilkinson, Matheson, Chapman, Sinclair, Tancredi, Timko, McLeod, Schmidt, Robinson.

Roster (Average Age: 25.96)
Stephanie LabbeGKNone248/0
Karina LeBlancGKNone3188/0
Erin McLeodGKNone2862/0
Candace ChapmanDFWNY Flash2888/6
Robyn GayleDFNone2544/0
Carmelina MoscatoDFNone2752/2
Eve-Marie NaultDFNone2943/0
Brittany TimkoDFNone25101/4
Rhian WilkinsonDFNone29100/7
Emily ZurrerDFVancouver Whitecaps2345/2
Kaylyn KyleMFNone2232/2
Diana MathesonMFNone27122/10
Kelly ParkerMFAtlanta Beat2914/1
Sophie SchmidtMFmagicJack2263/3
Desiree ScottMFVancouver Whitecaps2322/0
Chelsea StewartMFUCLA2123/0
Jonelle FilignoFWRutgers University2039/8
Christina JulienFWNone2328/7
Jodi-Ann RobinsonFWVancouver Whitecaps2250/7
Christine SinclairFWWNY Flash28159/116
Melissa TancrediFWNone2961/13

Recent Matches:
6/14/11ItalyFriendlyW 2-0
6/7/11HungaryFriendlyW 1-0
5/28/11HollandFriendlyW 2-0
5/18/11SwitzerlandFriendlyW 2-1
5/15/10SwitzerlandFriendlyT 1-1
4/2/11SwedenFriendlyL 0-1
3/9/11HollandCyprusW 2-1
3/7/11EnglandCyprusW 2-0
3/4/11ItalyCyprusW 1-0
3/2/11ScotlandCyprusW 1-0
1/25/11SwedenFour NationsW 1-0
1/23/11USAFour NationsL 1-2
1/21/11ChinaFour NationsW 3-2
12/19/10BrazilSao PauloT 2-2
12/15/10BrazilSao PauloT 0-0
12/12/10MexicoSao PauloW 1-0
12/9/10HollandSao PauloW 5-0
11/8/10MexicoConcacafW 1-0
11/5/10Costa RicaConcacafW 4-0
11/2/10MexicoConcacafW 3-0
10/31/10GuyanaConcacafW 8-0
10/29/10Trinidad & TobagoConcacafW 1-0
9/30/10ChinaFriendlyW 3-1
9/15/10GermanyFriendlyL 0-5

In preparation for the 2011 World Cup, Canada played perhaps the most ambitious schedule in their history. They took the field no fewer than 24 times in a little over nine months, posting an impressive 18-3-3 record. Make no mistake about it, this Canadian team is prepared.

Last November, they took the Concacaf Championship by defeating Mexico 1-0, not having to face the United States in the entire tournament. They then went to Brazil, where they won the Cidade de Sao Paulo tournament, posting two wins and then two ties against the hosts. Next, they went 2-1 at the Four Nations, before winning the Cyprus Cup. Their only three losses over the past year have been to quality sides, Germany, the United States, and Sweden.

The Canadians have survived a spring of unrest, with a dispute between the CSA and Coach Carolina Morace, as well as the players. But with all that behind them, there is nothing to do but play soccer.

At the heart of this team is a group of veteran players who have been through the 2007 World Cup together. Candace Chapman, Brittany Timko, Rhian Wilkinson, Diana Matheson, Karina LeBlanc, Melissa Tancredi, among others, were with this team four years ago. That team failed to make it out of the group stage, surrendering a goal in stoppage to Australia in their final match. The match ended 2-2 and the Aussies advanced instead.

But when speaking of veterans on the Canadian team, the spotlight must fall on striker Christine Sinclair. She now has 159 caps and 116 goals in her great career. At age 28, she is in her prime and is one of the top players in WPS. Sinclair is experienced and smart. Her runs are almost always perfectly timed. She has good enough speed to get behind defenders, good enough height to head over defenders, and is cunning enough to beat most defenders.

While Canada has a great many seasoned veterans, they also have talented youth as well. Sophie Schmidt, Jonelle Filigno, Kaylyn Kyle, and Emily Zurrer are all 23 years old or younger and all start. American soccer fans are quite familiar with most of these players as they played college soccer in the US. Schmidt starred at Portland, Zurrer at Illinois, and Filigno is presently at Rutgers.

While this team has been performing well, there are concerns. Injuries have been a problem, already keeping young Josee Belanger out for this competition. Stephanie Labbe and Candace Chapman have been nursing injuries lately.

Another concern is scoring. The Canadians play a lot of close, low scoring matches. With solid defenses keying on Sinclair, can the rest of the team provide enough offense to get them through?

Finally, could Canada have overprepared? With 24 matches, several training trips to Europe, as well as club obligations, could this team burn itself out? They have played more games than any other team heading into this competition.

However much they have improved and however much they have prepared, it will be tough for them to win their group. The draw did them no favors, placing them with Germany, France, and Nigeria. They open against Germany, but it will be their last two group matches that will likely determine their future. Circle June 30 on your calendars, as that will be the day that Canada and France face each other in a showdown that could decide who the second team out of Group A will be.

Note: Some information for this article was obtained from www.fifa.com and www.canadasoccer.com.