By Manuel Veth –
They carried the hopes and dreams of an entire football nation, but in the end Canada’s women’s national team fell in the face of the intense pressure to fulfil their nation’s aspiration that Canada win its first World Cup on home soil. England, it was hoped, would be just a stepping-stone to a potential semi-final clash with Japan.
But, in the end it was the British girls who celebrated while many of Canada’s girls struggled to hold back their tears once they realised that they had just squandered away a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Canada to win the World Cup. Canada never recovered after England scored 2 quick goals in the first 15 minuteof play. In some ways the game almost seemed lost after Lauren Sesselmann’s brutal giveaway that left Jodie Taylor with the ball for an easy goal scored from the edge of the box 11 minutes into the game.
Two minutes later England scored a second goal after a free kick at which Canada’s poor defence positioning was laid bare. The game seemed all but over, and while there was hope that Canada could perhaps achieve a miracle after Christine Sinclair made it 2-1 just before half-time, Canada’s women never seemed dangerous enough to capture an equalizer, let alone turn the match around.
Canada’s Football Marred By Repeated Failure
Perhaps the only positive outcome of the game was the attendance at BC Place, which at 54,027, which is now the latest record for attendance to a game of any national team in any sport in Canada. With this in mind, it is safe to say that Canada was able to capture the hearts and minds of Canadians despite the fact that the team never produced convincing results throughout the tournament.
While the tournament continues with the semi-finals on June 30 when Germany faces the USA in the first semi-final in Montreal, followed one day later with England against current World Cup holder Japan, the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) can now begin the long process of analysis regarding what went wrong for Canada in this tournament.
Despite the loss, football is on healthy footing in Canada: Grass roots football has expanded to such a degree that football has, since 1998, been ranked as the number one sport for children aged five to 14. According to MacLean’s Magazine 32% of boys and girls who participated in sports played football that year. By 2010 that number had grown to 42%, and the percentage continues to rise.
The men did win the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup, but Canada has been a perpetual failure in World Cup qualifiers, and has not qualified for the world’s biggest stage since 1986. The women won a bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games, and could perhaps have been even more successful had it not been for the controversial calls against them in the semi-final against the United States.
Yet Canada’s football history continues to be marred by repeated failure. The Canadian Soccer Association will now have to face its demons and introduce major reforms in order that Canada’s World Cup legacy turn into success on the field for both the men’s and women’s programs.
Fundamental Changes Are Necessary to Canada’s Game
The first step should be the introduction of national leagues for both men and women. In the men’s game this league should serve as a foundation for youth development for the three Canadian teams that participate in Major League Soccer.
Currently there are no Canadian teams in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Instead the CSA has the right to allocate to the NWSL, 16 players who will then be distributed among the clubs participating in the league. The players’ salaries are also subsidized by the CSA. Canada’s national team programs for men and women are, as a result, highly dependent on national leagues that are technically under the jurisdiction of the United States Soccer Federation. An independent national league that reaches beyond the three Canadian MLS markets would therefore be vital to the formation of a broader youth development program.
While a national league has to be a major future consideration, the CSA has to look into whether or not it has made good use of its existing resources. This season, for example, the CSA only used 13 out of the 16 slots available in the NWSL, most prominently omitting Sophie Schmidt. Jeff Kassouf of the Equalizer, told rednationonline.ca that “[Canadian] midfielder Sophie Schmidt decided not to play this season in order to focus on the World Cup.”
One must question whether such a move is the best way to prepare for an international tournament such as the World Cup. Germany’s coach Joachim Löw for example has often stressed the importance of regular football playing time in order to make the cut for the German national team. The World Cup winning coach cites regular playing time at the club level as the foundation for good performance at the international level.
Now with Canada out of the World Cup, the CSA has to question whether current head coach John Herdman’s policy of allowing some of their players to participate at the tournament without having having taken part in regular football this season was the right choice. Furthermore, Herdman’s tactical approaches to games should also become under scrutiny, as Canada’s game often seemed uninspired, and without tactical depth. In addition, the team also seemed to over-rely on Christine Sinclair, who despite her immense talent, could not single handedly make up for Canada’s lack of attacking depth.
The next few years will therefore determine whether the CSA makes the necessary changes in order that Canadian soccer succeed internationally. This would be a positive legacy of Canada having hosted the Women’s World Cup.
Manuel Veth is a PhD candidate at the University of London King’s College, London. Originally from Munich, his thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.