For better or for worse, many things happened over the course of 2011 for the Canadian Women’s National Team. Let’s take a look at what transpired:
Kara Lang’s Retirement
A promising career came to an end when Kara Lang announced her retirement from club and international soccer [watch here] on January 5. The then 24 year-old had suffered two ACL tears in her right knee, first in 2006 and again in 2009. Lang weighed her options for managing the pain in her knee in order to continue playing, but the ultimate decision was the best choice for her long-term health as knee replacement surgery, a lifetime of arthritis and continual use of anti-inflammatory drugs were potential aspects of her future.
Arguably one of the most well known figures of the CanWNT, Lang initially gained recognition as a 15 year-old on Canada’s U-19 Women’s World Cup team that finished in second place in 2002 and as the youngest player to suit up for the senior national team. She went on to represent Canada at the 2003 Women’s World Cup where they achieved their best ever result finishing fourth overall, as well as at the 2007 WWC and the WNT’s first Olympic appearance in Beijing 2008. With her apt for scoring goals from distance, the midfielder/striker rounded out her career with 34 goals in 92 caps.
Lang continues to have an active post-soccer career. She’s appeared as an analyst on Rogers Sportsnet for the 2011 WWC and hosts Rogers TV’s Your World This Week. Lang is also a yoga instructor at Shunyata Yoga, while being the Technical Director of Street Soccer Canada and coaching Toronto’s Street Soccer women’s team.
All White Kit caught up with Lang in August as she helped to raise money for Athletes for Africa’s Rock the Pitch Charity Soccer Tournament.
Yongchuan Cup Four Nations Tournament
The 2011 season began in China January 21-25. Late heroics by a tandem of veteran strikers made Canada’s opening match against the host country one of the most exciting of the year. After trailing by 2 goals through the first 45 minutes, Melissa Tancredi cut the score in half in the 56′ before assisting Sinclair’s equalizer in the 80′. The duo combined again in the 94′ for the game winner by Sinclair.
In the following game, the CanWNT’s 11 game unbeaten streak (9 wins, 2 draws) came to an end with a 2-1 loss to the USWNT. Lauren Cheney opened the scoring in the 54′ while Tancredi answered back just two minutes later. Lindsay Tarpley’s goal in the 71′ would prove to be the difference maker [watch here].
The tournament concluded against Sweden where Sinclair proved that she’s gotten leaner and faster within the past couple of years. Latching on to a clearing header by Emily Zurrer, Sinclair outran three Swedish defenders to slot in her third goal of the tournament [watch here]. With Canada and the US tied in wins, the latter was awarded first place for holding the head-to-head advantage, while Sinclair claimed the MVP award.
Carolina Morace vs. the CSA: Round 1
Well, on the bright side, at least this bit of news appeared on the front page of The Globe & Mail’s sports section, right?
On February 4, Carolina Morace announced her intentions to resign as head coach of the CanWNT upon the conclusion of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, citing differences in her vision for the program from that of the Canadian Soccer Association’s. One such disagreement stemmed from Morace’s desire for greater budgetary control.
In a separate matter from that of Morace, players had several grievances with the CSA related to compensation, for which they sought pro bono legal counsel. The per diem allowances were described as “minimal”, while tournament payments were said to be negotiated on an ad-hoc basis. Players hoped to establish a more predictable payment structure with the CSA that also included appearance fees, which the men’s team reportedly received while the women’s team did not.
The CanWNT threatened to boycott international competition in order to voice their support for Morace, who introduced a more technical approach to the program and guided the team to a number of first place finishes (more on this later). Players hoped that the CSA would retain Morace as head coach.
2011 Cyprus Cup
The boycott was eventually lifted on February 25 just days before the tournament began on March 2.
In the group stage, Canada claimed 1-0 wins over Scotland and Italy with goals by Zurrer and Jonelle Filigno respectively. England was then undone 2-0 by Sinclair and Brittany Timko. By topping Group A, Canada went on to the championship final to defeat the Netherlands 2-1 thanks to Filigno and Zurrer to claim the Cyprus Cup title, their third in four years.
Take that, Zimbabwe!
After submitting their Women’s World Cup 2015 Bid Book on February 11, the anti-climactic announcement came on March 3 when the FIFA Executive Committee officially named Canada as the host of the seventh WWC tournament. Their lone competitor, Zimbabwe, withdrew its bid a day earlier. The tournament will expand from 16 to 24 teams and from 32 matches to 52, reportedly running from mid-June to mid-July. Canada will also stage the 2014 U-20 WWC. Canada previously bid for the 2011 WWC, but hosting rights went to Germany.
Initial host cities and venues included in the bid submission included Edmonton, Alberta’s Commonwealth Stadium; Moncton Stadium in New Brunswick; Saputo Stadium, home of MLS’ Montreal Impact in Quebec; Frank Clair Stadium of Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, Ontario; Vancouver, British Columbia’s BC Place Stadium, home to the Vancouver Whitecaps and the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifiers; and Investors Group Field on the campus of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
While Toronto will not host 2015 WWC matches due to the tournament’s overlap with the Pan American Games, Toronto and other cities can potentially stage the 2014 U-20 WWC, although no such plans have been confirmed.
Several venues will or have gone through extensive renovations and upgrades, whether related to the WWC or other pre-existing plans, with the estimated total country wide being $1 billion. For instance, BC Place Stadium is expected to undergo approximately $563 million in renovations (!). Cities like Ottawa have been marred with uncertainly as lawsuits related to Lansdowne Park’s redevelopment have stalled plans in the past.
World Number 6
With the latest FIFA World Ranking released March 18, Canada headed into the Women’s World Cup as the 6th ranked team in the world, their highest in team history.
2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup
When the lots were drawn, Group A was deemed as the Group of Death. While no one was expected to beat Germany, second place in the group was a toss up between Canada and France. By the end of the tournament, France would prove to be a new force in international women’s soccer.
Despite the 2-1 loss to Germany in the opening game, there was a sense of optimism as the result was an improvement upon Germany and Canada’s last friendly against one another, which as a 5-0 whooping in September 2010.
[Watch here] Canada almost took the lead 6 minutes into the match when Filigno forced a turnover, but Sinclair uncharacteristically skied the shot from close range. Weak defensive marking led to Germany’s first goal in the 10′ when Babett Peter was allowed space to cross the ball to Kerstin Garefrekes, who towered over the back of Marie-Eve Nault and headed it past an indecisive Erin McLeod. Upon the brink of half-time, Célia Okoyino da Mbabi outran the defence with a well timed run and slotted the ball into the net.
In the 48′, Sinclair was elbowed in the face by Peter while chasing a loose ball. Sinclair subsequently refused medical treatment and continued the game with a broken nose, dedication which warmed the hearts of many fans.
Canada’s highlight of the tournament came in the 82′. Simone Laudehr was handed a yellow card for fouling Sinclair, who then placed a beauty of a free kick into the top left corner of the net. The goal broke Germany’s 622-minute shutout streak that began in the 2003 WWC.
While the early moments against France seemed to be evenly matched, things began to unravel for the Canadians shortly thereafter. [Watch here] Sandrine Soubeyrand tackled the ball away from Sophie Schmidt. Her deflected shot was then headed into the net by an unmarked Gaetane Thiney in the 24′.
The onslaught came in the second half. With the Canadian defence unable to clear the danger, Thiney rocketed a shot off the post and in to make it 2-0 (60′). A Soubeyrand corner kick was head in by a loosely marked Camille Abily (66′), while Elodie Thomis speeded past the defence in the 83′ and scored off a Louisa Necib assist to cap things off 4-0.
Although fitted with a protective mask, Sinclair suffered a second injury against France. After taking a ball in the face, she reportedly ended up with a bloody nose and bruised eye. With all substitutes having been made before her 80′ injury, Sinclair stayed in the game.
In the final group game, it was a frustrating affair for both Canada and Nigeria as both sides had a number of scoring opportunities but were unable to capitalize. [Watch here] In the first 20 minutes, shots by Perpetua Nkwocha and Ebere Orji were saved by Karina LeBlanc, while Rita Chikwelu sent her attempt wide. Chapman’s free kick from the centre circle was met by Tancredi, but the ball bounced wide of the right post by mere inches. The post was Canada’s best friend as both Orji and Perpetua Nkwocha were later denied. A tricky corner kick engineered by Diana Matheson, Zurrer and Sinclair allowed for an open shot, but Precious Dede was there to smother the ball.
By the 70′, the stadium lights failed, causing a 10 minute delay. It was very meta and representative of Canada’s tournament doom and gloom. Shortly after the match resumed, two Nigerian attempts on goal were blocked before the deflection fell to Nkwocha, who slipped the ball past LeBlanc. While both Canada and Nigeria were already eliminated from the competition, Nigeria feverishly celebrated the goal for their 1-0 win.
Canada exited the WWC at the bottom of Group A with zero points and placed last in the 16-team tournament, registering three official shots on goal with one free kick goal scored.
Upon the conclusion of the WWC match against France, rumours began circulating that Morace was ready to step down, but she later told media that she would continue to coach the CanWNT. The Globe & Mail’s Stephen Brunt described the relationship between Morace and the CSA at the time as “very tense”.
Fast forward two weeks later, Morace and her staff resigned on July 20 during the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 debriefing and analysis meeting with the CSA and other stakeholders.
With the conclusion of Morace’s tenure as head coach, Canada had won first place trophies at the Cyprus Cup (twice), the Torneio Internacional Cidade de São Paulo (Four Nations Tournament in Brazil) and the 2010 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The team recorded 25 wins, 5 draws and 11 losses since January 2009, including the program’s longest unbeaten streak with 9 wins and 2 draws that lasted from September 2010 to January 2011.
John Herdman, the former head coach and technical director of the New Zealand Women’s National Team, was announced as Morace’s successor in early September. The 36 year-old took over the Football Ferns in 2006 and made the program internationally competitive.
Herdman has stated on several occasions that he hopes to build upon the possession oriented game instilled by Morace, while incorporating the approach with Canada’s roots as a physically aggressive team. Herdman aims to have the CanWNT and youth players prepared to play the “modern game”, as he refers to the current state of women’s soccer. In his latest media call, Herdman said, “The [women’s] game has changed immensely over the last five years… Is [Canada’s] production line solid enough to produce players that are going to survive the cutting edge of evolution of the game? There are some countries in the world now that are producing a new standard of players with Japan being the obvious.”
Herdman’s first test as Canada’s coach came merely weeks after he was hired. 22 players were called up for two international friendlies against WWC runner ups USA. On September 17 at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, Canada and the USA drew 1-1. Early in the match, Heather O’Reilly’s initial shot was saved by McLeod, but the rebound by Abby Wambach deflected off of Zurrer’s arm. The Americans were awarded a penalty kick, which Wambach buried to take the lead. Nearing half-time, Kelly Parker turned Lauren Cheney and threaded a pass to Tancredi, who found the back of the net at the far post.
The second friendly resulted in a 3-0 win by the USA. Tancredi and Matheson had scoring opportunities, but were unable to finish. The goal scoring began in the 63′ when Kelley O’Hara forced a Canadian turnover and Wambach unleashed a booming shot from the top of the box. Wambach later completed the brace when she headed in O’Hara’s cross. The USWNT would add a third goal in stoppage time as the ball bounced around following a corner kick and Alex Morgan was there to tap in the ball.
Pan American Gold
The CanWNT reconvened in October to prepare for the XVI Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The team opened the tournament on October 18 against Costa Rica with a 3-1 victory. Shirley Cruz netted the loan Costa Rican goal off a debatable penalty kick in the 27′ when Lauren Sesselmann was whistled for a foul on Raquel Rodríguez Cedeño. Christina Julien answered back about a minute later when she volleyed in Parker’s shot. Canada took the lead when Sinclair showed great technique to settle the ball while in stride and slip it past the sliding ‘keeper. Amélia Pietrangelo then netted her first international goal from a tight angle in the 82’ off a through ball by Parker.
The second game against Argentina witnessed both sides having plenty of scoring opportunities despite Canada controlling 61% of possession. Within the opening 10 minutes of play, the result of an Argentinian corner kick was cleared off the line by Parker. Julien scored the decisive goal for a 1-0 victory at the beginning of the second half after Sinclair squared the ball and Julien beat the ‘keeper.
Group B action was capped off by a 0-0 draw between Canada and Brazil. Being even on wins and goal differentials, lots were drawn following regulation time. Brazil was named the winner of the group while Canada finished in second to set up semi-final matchups against Mexico and Colombia respectively.
Canada squeaked by Colombia in the semi-finals. Colombia’s shooting was off target for much of the night, sending their opportunities just wide of the net. In the second-half, Sinclair dribbled up the left side before centering the ball. Julien’s dummy to Kaylyn Kyle set up her shot from the top of the box to make it 1-0 in the 48′. A Canadian foul late in the game allowed Colombia a free kick about 30 yards from the net. Catalina Usme’s initial strike was blocked by Parker, but Usme’s well taken follow up beat the scrambling wall and LeBlanc to tie the game 1-1 in the 82’. On the brink of 90 minutes, second-half substitute Robyn Gayle took the most opportune time to score her first international goal. Sesselmann’s free kick from distance eluded a couple Canadian players before falling to Gayle; she chested down the ball and volleyed in the game winner.
[Watch here] The Pan Am championship final against Brazil was decided in the most dramatic fashion possible: penalty kicks. Brazilian youngster Debora scored in the 4′, a lead which Brazil wouldn’t relinquish until the dying minutes of the game. Canada’s corner kick in the 88′, taken by Matheson, was headed in by Sinclair for the equalizer.
Following 30 minutes of scoreless overtime, penalty kicks ensued. The first two rounds of PK takers were successful. Melanie Booth also made her shot count, while Brazil’s third kicker, Grazielle, placed her attempt up the middle for an easy stop by LeBlanc. As Canada led 4-3 heading into the fifth set of PKs, Chapman’s strike rattled the post, but Brazil’s fifth kicker, Debora, was blocked. As a result, Canada took home their first Pan Am gold medal in women’s soccer and won their first tournament under the leadership of Herdman.
2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifiers
Canada convened for brief camps in late November and early December. On December 20, the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying roster was announced. Herdman ends the year with an unofficial record of 5 wins, 3 draws and 1 loss.
The team will regroup January 3 in Fullerton, California and play an exhibition game against the LA Vikings January 9 at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Stadium. The CanWNT will then settle in Vancouver January 14 for the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifiers, January 19-29 where the top two teams in the tournament advance to the 2012 London Olympic Games.
*Omitted a few friendlies from the first half of the year because some fixture archives were unavailable.
Happy New Year!