2012 can be looked back upon as a marquee year for the Canadian Women’s National Team. What began with tempered expectations of the team’s potential success as a result of their ill fated 2011 Women’s World Cup exploded into media and fan frenzy as the nation was captured by their valiant Olympic semi-final battle with the United States. A bronze medal later, the team’s earned new found supporters, praises and accolades, and have made a steady stream of public appearances.
Let’s revisit some of the biggest moments of the past year.
#10: A bevy of post-Olympic appearances
Players have been busy since the summer making appearances at various events. Whether it’s for being interviewed or honoured, or signing autographs, or promoting products or the sport, we can agree that it’s nice seeing them getting more attention.
For instance, Karina LeBlanc has been making regular appearances on CityTV Vancouver’s Breakfast Television doing Bachelor Canada recaps. LeBlanc, Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt recently chatted with BT with a quick mention of a documentary that the team is filming. Sinclair currently has a television commercial for Tide Sport playing nationwide and is being featured in Nike promotional materials. Players have also been making appearances at Canadian Olympic Committee events, charity events and soccer clinics across the country.
And, thanks to social media, a number of boundlessly entertaining memes and multi-media came to fruition throughout 2012. On Twitter, there were popular hashtags like #NorwegianRef and #SinclairDay (not to forget Chuck Norris “facts” from the 2011 WWC); Diana Matheson finally opened a Twitter account (@dmatheson8) and graced the world with her banter and sense of humour. Via YouTube, more evidence of Sophie Moments (i.e. moments when Schmidt trips or does something silly) came to light. The bronze medal game itself produced a number of powerful images of hugs, pure bliss and medal glory.
#9: British Columbia loses two W-League teams
If there was a Canadian club team that you’d dub as having one of the biggest impacts on the CanWNT, it might just be the Vancouver Whitecaps of the USL W-League. However, on December 7, the Whitecaps announced that they wouldn’t field a team for the 2013 season, citing the formation of the new professional league in the US as a major factor behind the decision. It appears that the Whitecaps had interest in joining the new league, “but president Bob Lenarduzzi said the timing wasn’t right”.
Since their inaugural season in 2001, then known as the Vancouver Breakers, the Whitecaps women went to win two league titles (2004 and 2006) while fielding high caliber players and developing Canadian talent, including 14 of the 21 players on the 2012 Olympic squad.
To compound the loss, the Victoria Highlanders announced on December 20 that they too would be pulling out of the 2013 W-League season, although remaining in the lower tier Pacific Coast Soccer League. Founded in 2010, the Highlanders featured a number of local talent, such as Stephanie Parker, Lindsay Hoetzel, Shannon Elder, Nathalie Scharf among others from the University of Victoria Vikes.
With the demise of the western Canadian teams (and roster spots for young players), the remaining W-League clubs in the country are concentrated in Ontario and Quebec, including the Hamilton FC Rage, Laval Coments, London Gryphons, Ottawa Fury, Quebec City Amiral and Toronto Lady Lynx.
#8: A warm welcome home
On a personal note, I recall in 2009 when the crowd at a CanWNT autograph session at a Winners store in Toronto was sparse enough to be contained to a part of the store without disturbing shoppers; there was enough time for fans to get more than one round of autographs, and there were more soccer balls left over than given away so store employees even got in on the swag-collecting, autograph hunting action. Fast forward to the team’s autograph session September 7 at BMO Field before the men’s World Cup Qualifier, the line up snaked the width of the stadium.
#7: John Herdman made promises and delivered
The team was in shambles following the infamous 2011 WWC disaster. Former New Zealand women’s team coach John Herdman took reigns on Canada a month and a half later and went on to help them win gold at the 2011 Pan American Games then an Olympic bronze medal.
Unfortunately, Herdman wasn’t a finalist for the FIFA Women’s Coach of the Year, being bested by France’s Bruno Bini, Japan’s Norio Sasaki and now former US coach Pia Sundhage.
Armed with the soft skills to relate to players in ways that Carolina Morace likely failed, Herdman’s positive outlook in approaching situations, in addition to the sports science and sports psychology that he’s introduced have been attributed to the team’s success.
In planning for 2013 and beyond, Herdman’s looking to integrate more youth players into his system and tweaking a possession oriented game to the team’s strengths without losing their trademark physicality. Inspired by the likes of Spain and Barcelona on the men’s side and France and Japan on the women’s side known for controlling the ball with apt skills, Herdman’s been utilizing Prozone data to show the team detailed analysis of their games compared to the top teams in the world. The Newcastle native acknowledges that initial match results may suffer as the team adapts to style and personnel changes, but he’s confident that it’s all well worth it to stay competitve in modern football.
For Canada’s final training camp (December 12-20) of 2012, Herdman invited a number of youth players. The 27-player roster included five from this year’s U-20 team (Sabrina D’Angelo, Adriana Leon, Christabel Oduro, Jenna Richardson and Shelina Zadorsky) as well as four U-17 players (Kadeisha Buchanan, Summer Clarke, Ashley Lawrence and Nichelle Prince). Additionally, six with previous senior call ups and/or caps were included (Tiffany Cameron, Alyssa Lagonia, Brooke McCalla, Bryanna McCarthy, Alyscha Mottershead and Jodi-Ann Robinson).
#6: American women’s pro league 3.0
On December 15, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) revealed official names and logos. With play starting in March/April 2013, a 22 match season and $200,000 salary cap per team, US Soccer is subsidizing the salaries of 24 USWNT players, while Canada and Mexico are funding 16 from their respective national teams. The eight team league features the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns FC, Sky Blue FC, Washington Spirit, Western New York Flash and Seattle Reign. National team players submitted their top choices for cities they’d prefer to play in; allocations were expected to take place before the new year. The NSCAA Convention in Indianapolis will then host the NWSL college draft on Friday, January 18, 2013 with four rounds and 32 players being selected.
What’s known thus far about Canadians players, Melissa Tancredi confirmed that she will not be part of the opening NWSL season as she’s completing chiropractic college. Christine Sinclair, who was rumoured to being courted by French powerhouse Paris Saint Germain, is playing in the new league.
#5: More 2015 Women’s World Cup Canada announcements
Exciting details of the next WWC were trickling in throughout the year. In May, Edmonton, AB (Commonwealth Stadium); Moncton, NB (Stade Moncton 2010); Montreal, QC (Saputo Stadium); Ottawa, ON (Frank Clair Stadium); Vancouver, BC (BC Place) and Winnipeg, MB (Investors Group Field) were unveiled as the host cities and venues.
The Canadian Soccer Association then announced members of the National Organizing Committee (Victor Montagliani (chair), Steven Reed, Janine Helland, Doug Redmond, Walter Sieber and Peter Montopoli) along with senior management appointments of “Peter Montopoli as Chief Executive Officer; Sandra Gage as Chief Marketing and Communications Officer; Joe Guest as Chief Competitions Officer; Don Hardman as Chief Stadia Officer; and Sean Heffernan as Chief Financial Officer”.
A week later, the official emblem of the tournament was revealed in Vancouver.
Players like Carmelina Moscato and Rhian Wilkinson admitted previous plans on retiring. But with their Olympic bronze medal win, reinvigorated passion for the game via Herdman and the WWC being hosted at home, such plans are being delayed for their continued involvement with the national team.
#4: Canada qualifies for the London Olympics in Vancouver
There’s no better way to start a year than by qualifying for a major tournament while playing in front of home fans. January 2012 saw Canada face off against Haiti (6-0 win), Cuba (2-0 win) and Costa Rica (5-1 win) in the group round of CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying before defeating Mexico 3-1 to secure a spot in the coveted tournament.
Record-setting crowds filled BC Place for Canada’s group games (7,627 vs. Haiti, 12,416 vs. Cuba and 8,105 vs. Costa Rica) and exploded to 22,954 to watch the semi-final against Mexico and 25, 427 for the Canada-USA showdown (despite a 4-0 loss). Helping to set the stage for the 2015 WWC, Vancouver proved itself to be worthy hosts of the knock-out rounds and even the championship final.
#3: A highlight year for Christine Sinclair (and people outside of the women’s soccer niche knew about it)
Sinclair has always been regarded as one of the best women’s soccer players in the world. Whether at the college, international or club level, Sinclair’s established a number of scoring records, including 143 goals for Canada, currently placing her as the third all-time leading scorer next to Americans Mia Hamm (158) and Abby Wambach (152). And, with “23 goals and 6 assists in 22 matches, Sinclair was directly involved in 65.9% of Canada’s international goals in 2012 (29 out of 44)”.
At times, such recognition didn’t extend past the relatively small women’s soccer world (heck, Rhian Wilkinson once talked about some Canadian youth players not knowing who Sinclair was!), but Sinclair’s star status rose with her Olympic semi-final performance against the United States. She scored not one, but three goals past arguably the best women’s goalkeeper, Hope Solo. Sinclair led this year’s women’s Olympic scoring with 6 goals.
Almost immediately, growing support for Sinclair and the CanWNT poured out from fans and media. There were calls for Sinclair to be Canada’s flag bearer for the Olympic closing ceremonies, which she went on to do with a beaming smile. (It’s the second time she’s been bestowed with the honour as she previously carried the Canadian flag at the 2011 Pan American Games).
Injustice related to the controversial semi-final were raised once again when she was suspended and fined in October by the the FIFA Disciplinary Committee for “displaying unsporting behaviour” in post-game comments allegedly made to referee Christiana Pedersen. The Canadian Soccer Association footed the bill).
FIFA was the target of ire once again when Sinclair
was left off the short-list wasn’t a finalist for the FIFA Ballon d’Or for Women’s World Player of the Year, which will be awarded Monday, January 7 in Zurich. (The winner isn’t selected by FIFA, but voted on by the journalists, national team captains and coaches, many of whom likely made their selection through name recognition as opposed to the year’s performance. Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and Marta made the top three. Wambach scored 27 goals this year while Morgan netted 28 goals and 21 assists, establishing her as only the second player in US history next to Mia Hamm to reach over 20 goals/20 assists in a calendar year. On the other hand, Marta, the five-time winner of the award, had a quieter year, scoring two goals at the Olympics before crashing out in the quarter-finals of the tournament when Japan prevailed 2-0 over Brazil.)
With year-end countdowns and awards being announced in the autumn of 2012, Sinclair’s received plenty of accolades, including the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as The Canadian Press Female Athlete of 2012 (which has been handed out annually since 1933), the first soccer player in its 76-year history to win the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s Athlete of the Year and 10-time Canada Soccer Association female player of the year.
#2: Canada vs. USA Olympic Semi-Final
Although also easily pegged as the #1 worst moment of 2012, the highs and lows endured over 124 minutes against the US captured the nation, catapulting the team to new-found glory and respect. It’s not so much about the fact that Canada lost; the fact that the match battered your emotions and sent them from one extreme to another is what hurts the most.
The 4-3 match had it all: Herdman accusing the US of “highly illegal” tactics a day before, big time players stepping up, a back-and-forth scoreline, an abundance of goals and even more controversial calls by head referee Christiana Pedersen of Norway. Debate over the legitimacy of the rarely called six second rule whistled against Erin McLeod, among other controversies, will likely never end; some will continue to believe that FIFA conspired to have the US win at all costs via Pedersen, while others will believe that certain Canadian or American players blew it for Canada, or that “head stomping” did or didn’t happen.
Contested at Old Trafford and broadcasted on a early Monday evening eastern time, the semi-final was the second “most-watched Olympic event ever on TSN, only behind the Vancouver 2010 Hockey Gold Medal Game”. A total of 10.7 million Canadians tuned in at some point during the match (game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins drew a total of 8.76 million), “or nearly one third of the Canadian population”. While averaging 3.4 million viewers, as many as 7.1 million watched extra-time.
Perhaps an overused narrative, but young soccer players were (hopefully) inspired to become high class athletes themselves. For adults, the workplace would be set a-chatter by the match. (And you could probably talk about the team without feeling like you’re the only one who watched it. Isn’t this familiar of former days: Who? Moscato? Stop talking about wine and get back to work!)
#1: Canada wins the bronze medal
France, a team that established itself on the world stage only recently at the 2011 WWC, was expected to be a tough battle for Canada and, indeed, they were. They were very team that ended Canada’s World Cup dreams when they downed Big Red 4-0, then nabbed the Cyprus Cup in a tournament that Canada’s previously won three times (2008, 2010 and 2011) in five years.
Physically and emotionally drained from the semi-finals, Canada took on France at the Olympic bronze medal game looking the part: they were out-possessed and out-shot 25 to 4. Yet, somehow, Canada managed to defend against the pressure and win in the dying minutes of the match. Diana Matheson, a stalwart of the midfield who typically (and unfairly) received little glory in the past, finally had the deserved spotlight on her with her medal winning goal in the 92nd minute.
The eventual victory required a total team performance since the opening Olympic match. For instance, injuries plagued the defence. Emily Zurrer pulled her hamstring pre-tournament; in the first match against Japan, centre back Candace Chapman sustained a calf injury and her replacement, natural right back Robyn Gayle, went down with a hamstring issue against South Africa; alternates Melanie Booth and Marie-Eve Nault were eventually brought in in relief while left back Lauren Sesselmann shifted to the middle. A make-shift backline of sorts, but it worked.
Furthermore, defensive midfielder Desiree Scott unleashed her potential since moving in from the wings. Melissa Tancredi stepped up with four goals, including two to even the score against Sweden after falling two goals down early on, helping to seal Canada’s quarter-final fate against Great Britain instead of leaving the result up to the performances of New Zealand or Korea DPR who were also after the two third place spots.
Bouncing back from 2011’s last place WWC finish and losses in all three matches illustrates the weight of 2012’s success, the depths from which the team scaled in order to reach the Olympic podium.
In winning Canada’s first Olympic team medal since 1936, the CanWNT was voted The Canadian Press Team of the Year, a distinction awarded since 1966, in addition to other accolades. Players, and other Olympians, were honoured with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee for “[making] a significant contribution to a particular province, territory, region or community within Canada, or an achievement abroad that brings credit to Canada”.
Highlights of Canada’s bronze medal win over France http://youtu.be/DDRAnsa2Ufo
Returning to action in 2013
The CanWNT will be regrouping in January for the Four Nations Cup in China. On the 12th, Canada will face the host nation, then South Korea on the 14th and Norway on the 16th. Canada most recently competed in that tournament in 2011, finishing in second place behind the US. The match against Norway will be of particular interest as former CanWNT coach Even Pellerud recently signed on to lead the one-time European powerhouse upon the conclusion of his stint with Trinidad and Tobago. Pellerud previously coached Norway from 1989 to 1996 and will be now prepping Norway for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2013 through to the 2016 Olympics Games.
Canada is also taking part in the Cyprus Cup March 4-14 against Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Happy New Year, everyone!
Originally published on RedNationOnline.ca.