Tag Archives: Karina LeBlanc

Olympics: Semifinal Preview – U.S.-Canada: One Small Switch, One Giant Leap for Canada

Perhaps one of my best coaching moves ever was a complete fluke, really. The summer months are technically a time for a break, but youth soccer takes few breaks these days, so of course a summer league was hastily organized. The games were glorified pickup, with a ref in the middle.

The parent organizers usually coach the teams so I went to watch one of my players to see how she was doing. Of course, parents always know what’s best in soccer coaching, so this dad thought his daughter (not the same player) was the best attacking midfielder and stuck her there accordingly, which was a little frustrating because I was hoping to see my player in her natural midfield position, the one she would play for my team.

The parent stuck my player at striker. Striker? Whatever. But then – keeping in mind my team had only managed 26 goals in 18 games the season before – a funny thing happened. She scored. Then she scored again. She finished with four goals the first game, a hat trick in another I watched.

Huh.

Six months later, she had the school single-season scoring record and the team erased just about every mark in the books on the way to its first league championship ever.

I’m sure John Herdman’s thought processes behind his tactical decisions are a little more complicated for Canada these days, but you never know. The Canadians were a team that I quite frankly thought was decent, but going to come up a little bit short at these Olympics after a somewhat disastrous 2011 World Cup. I went to Gillette Stadium to see Canada take on Brazil in March, and although Canada got a 2-1 win on two Christine Sinclair goals, my assessment on the Canadians was the same as I had since the World Cup (the Brazil stuff is a little telling, too), and probably all the way back to the 2007 World Cup, to be honest (although you may remember that the Canadians took the U.S. to extra time in the 2008 Olympics):

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Olympics – What We Learned: Day 1 – Japan 2:1 Canada

This game played out pretty much as you’d expect, although it looked like Canada – despite having little of the ball – was gaining in confidence before they relaxed for a moment and got burned by a wonderful Japanese opener in the 33rd minute (Nahomi Kawasumi). A second snafu just before halftime allowed Aya Miyama to score a header of all things, and all appeared lost. But Canada played much better in the second half, and that may give them some confidence going forward, even if they lost Candace Chapman to injury (with Emily Zurrer out), leaving their backline a little low on numbers. Unfortunately, Sweden doesn’t look like any less of a test.

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Brazil-Canada Recap: Random Thoughts About A Random Game

Sorry I’m a little late with this, real life gets in the way sometimes. I didn’t do it intentionally to look disorganized as Brazil always seems to be in these situations. Normally it’s mostly off the field, as was the talk of the press box during the game Saturday in Foxboro, but this Brazil side looked particularly disheveled on the field as well, which is slightly disheartening. Even though they are a rival of the United States , no one likes to see tremendous talent go to waste, and it always seems like Brazil has a ludicrous amount of talent.

Rather than give you a boring game report that would tell you that Christine Sinclair scored twice and now has 133 international goals for her career and Canada won 2-1, I figured I’d just tell you what I found interesting:

  • Unfortunately, I was there to cover the New England-Portland MLS game which followed, so I didn’t have too much time after the game to talk to everyone involved. But it wasn’t the most organized operation in the world, at least for us people that don’t cover the teams on a regular basis. The media was ushered into a mixed zone, which isn’t all that unusual, but either we missed or didn’t see either head coach, which stinks. Karina LeBlanc, about as media friendly as they come, gave us some time. Christine Sinclair, also generally nice (and also used to talking to the media), came by. I awkwardly yelled out to Desiree Scott, more on that in a bit, but that was about it.

Some of this is understandable. There was no home team, and the game was somewhat hastily thrown together to help both teams. But, from a media perspective, it was just strange.

  • I still really have trouble with the Marta hate I see from time to time. First, she was clearly the best player either team had, and it wasn’t even close. From high up, her field vision, her positioning, her technical ability served to really change the game after Canada had dominated the first half. In a somewhat relaxed friendly atmosphere, it was a joy to watch.

Marta came down the tunnel after the game, laughing with LeBlanc, then saw the media waiting, and immediately had an uncomfortable look on her face. She took LeBlanc aside, chatted with her for another minute, then turned around to face the media, which – of course – was all there to see her.

Foreign countries are often different with their media, and in addition to answering questions, Marta was asked to pose for numerous pictures and sign autographs. She did so willingly and with a smile on her face, albeit somewhat reluctantly, long after every other player, Canadian or Brazilian, was long gone.

Marta is clearly the best player in the world, but she can’t find a regular team because everywhere she goes, the team seems to fold. Her national federation seems virtually invisible sometimes when it comes to their women’s team. And – as I alluded to – she’s just not someone who seeks out the spotlight, she just wants to play soccer.

So, excuse me for feeling a little sorry for her.

  • On the field, Brazil was dreadful tactically, as a back four of Maurine, Erika, Daiane, and Raffaele Sousa looked like they had never played together before. And maybe they haven’t. You may remember Brazil under Kleiton Lima played a sweeper, but Jorge Barcellos went flat, which takes time to develop. Of course, it takes practice to develop, too, and we’re not completely sure how much of that he’s going to get, although you’d think the upcoming trip to Japan will be huge for them. They were without Rosana, Cristiane, and Elaine for various reasons, so their depth was exposed a bit, too.

Canada really should have had three or four goals in the first 30 minutes. There was a scary moment at the end of the first half where goalkeeper Andreia, who played well, was involved in a nasty collision. She was eventually stretchered from the field, although they personnel didn’t seem entirely sure where to take her. She was eventually taken to the hospital, but for what we were told for precautionary reasons.

  • So, bottom line, as you might imagine, it’s hard to get a read on Brazil out of this game. They only had 17 players dressed and looked completely disorganized. But they will (I hope) have some time to clean things up by the summer with some more games, and with Marta on the field, I’m not counting them out of anything.
  • On the other side, John Herdman played a 4-4-2. It seems to me you can relate the present situation with the Canadian women with the problem the U.S. men have. Canada was able to get tremendous results using young players in the 2003 World Cup (and a couple of other tournaments in that era) under Evan Pellerud, but we know now that Pellerud probably wasn’t exactly developing creative players that would push Canada forward technically, was he? Obviously, like in the case of Kara Lang, injuries derailed promising careers, but – other than Sinclair – almost all of those players are gone, all but forgotten as we get ready for the 2012 Olympics.

Canada will be a tough out, but you wonder how good Sinclair and Canada would be with a couple of creative players around her (as France, Germany, and a few others seem to have), players that should have been developing in the last decade.

While people are upset (rightfully so) that the U.S. men won’t be going to the Olympics, Jurgen Klinsmann has made it clear that this is a long-term process, which the failure this week clearly showed. Patience is needed.

  • Anyway, Herdman seems to have a plethora of defensive midfielders, although he had Kaylyn Kyle on the bench for this game, and pushed Sophie Schmidt into a more advanced position, which she handled pretty well, better than I would have thought, including a beautiful assist on what turned out to be the winning goal.

I was very impressed with Desiree Scott, whom I thought was the player of the match in this game, a true defensive mid in every sense of the word, she controlled the midfield when Canada was at their best. She played a key role in Canada qualifying for the Olympics, kind of coming out of nowhere, as in we saw her in a wide position in last year’s World Cup.

“The new coach coming in has helped,” Scott said. “I’ve gone from a sub to a starter, he’s brought something out in me that I’ve never seen before.”

  • I still, though, think when push comes to shove, that Canada may be a creative player or two short when you’re talking about taking down a France or (a full-strength) Brazil, host Great Britain, or the United States right now. But they’re not that far off.
  • LeBlanc (as well as Scott and Sinclair) talked about beating a Tier 1 team (which I guess Brazil is) as significant, and also talked about Herdman emphasizing attacking play, which we kind of saw, but I didn’t exactly see the ball pinging around the field. Baby steps, I guess.

LeBlanc did have the quote of the day when she reminded me that Canada played at Gillette Stadium (then brand new) in the 2003 World Cup.

“We’ve played here before in 2003,” she said. “I lived in Boston for three years, played for the Breakers. Tom Brady? Love him. It’s an honor to be on a field like this. What a great place to get my 100th cap.”

  • Brazil’s goal scorer, Gabriela Demoner was called Demosier on the roster given out, and I think a couple of other names by the end of the day. Luckily, Jeff Kassouf was on the case, and knew who she was and sorted out the problem. Brazil evidently took on Demoner’s former college team, Franklin Pierce, in a friendly on Thursday. While a thrill for those kids and Franklin Pierce is a very good Division II team, it will be a little step up when they get to Japan.
  • One final story (and feel free to ask questions or point out my mistakes, this is a pretty interactive site): It was definitely a partisan Brazil crowd, as there are plenty of Brazilians in the Northeast. In 2008 I went to a friendly (on the back of an MLS game) between Brazil and Venezuela, and the place was just about sold out, people arriving hours before, craziness. Somehow Venezuela actually won the game 2-0, by the way.

But I think back to that game, and to the brilliance that Marta shows every time she steps on the field, and the difference between the couple of thousand people at Saturday’s game and the chaos of that 2008 night.

I just hope in time Marta gets the credit she deserves.

 

The CanWNT Year in Review

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.

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The CanWNT Announces Olympic Qualifying Roster

With approximately one month until the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifiers kicks off in Vancouver, B.C., the Canadian Women’s National Team announced their 20-player roster earlier this week.

Head coach John Herdman retains a core group of players who have anchored the team for the past several years, including 16 players who suited up for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup and 14 who brought home Pan American gold in October. The veteran experience matters, but it’s also “about picking the players that would be performing the best at that time” given the must-win situation having to place in the top two of the tournament in order to qualify for next year’s London Olympics.

Herdman admitted that Qualifiers isn’t “one of those events where you can start testing and developing players,” but 21 year-old Chelsea Buckland was impressive enough during November’s training camp to earn a roster spot for her first Senior National Team competition. “She moves well, the timing of her movement is good and she reads the game well,” Herdman said of the redshirt junior from Oregon State University.

Rutgers University’s Amélia Pietrangelo, 18, and University of Iowa’s Alyscha Mottershead, 20, were both on the cusp of making the final roster. Herdman described Pietrangelo’s situation as “pretty unlucky not to have been named to the squad,” and added that Mottershead “is another who’s shown some aptitude at this level.”

Perhaps the most surprising omission from the roster is centre back Emily Zurrer. Despite her youth, the 24 year-old University of Illinois graduate recently earned her 50th cap in November’s friendly against Sweden. Herdman said the cut was “a tough decision… She’s been a key player in the Canadian setup for the last few years. Mentally and emotionally, for her and for the team, it’s been a tough call.”

Injuries have stalled the hopes of competing at Olympic Qualifying for two players. Left back Marie-Eve Nault trained with the team in December after returning from surgery in the fall, but didn’t make the final roster. Jonelle Filigno strained her right Achilles’ tendon in September when Rutgers University hosted Villanova. The striker underwent surgery earlier this month.

Herdman maintains that Olympic roster spots, should Canada qualify, remain open to any such players who are currently on the outside looking in. He described the Olympic Qualifying roster as a “short-term decision” and expects everyone to compete in the coming months.

The CanWNT (and fans, for that matter) can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Diana Matheson is back in the fold. The ever industrious midfielder had surgery in November for an “ongoing problem” that had worsened over the course of 2011. Herdman admitted that Matheson’s recovery time will be “tight”, but he hopes that the medical team will have her fit and ready for the start of the tournament.

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CONCACAF WWCQ Final: Canada vs. Mexico

Some unforeseen circumstances this past weekend have held me up, but here, I send my belated congratulations to Canada and Mexico for earning automatic berths to next year’s Women’s World Cup in Germany. The two nations will face off at tonight’s CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying finals at 9pm ET for bragging rights as the confederation champions.

Of all the CONCACAF WWCQ tournaments that the US has participated in, this will mark the first time that a country other than the US will take home the trophy. Up until now, the only other nation to win the title was Canada in 1998 by defeating Mexico 1-0. The US didn’t participate that year since they automatically qualified for the WWC as hosts.

Recalling the path to the finals, last week’s semi-final showdowns began with game #1. Early on in the match, Canada had a difficult time finding the back of the net against Costa Rica despite a number of opportunities in the box. Diana Matheson, Josée Bélanger, Kaylyn Kyle and Christine Sinclair all sent their shots sailing over the crossbar. Costa Rica maintained possession quite well during the first half, but were unable to translate that into goals. The Canadians got a bit of a scare in the 19′ when a Costa Rican corner kick flashed across the face of goal. Kyle closely marked Costa Rica’s #9, successfully impeding her run to the far post for a tap in. Nearing the end of the first half, Costa Rica’s strike from 30 yards out went just wide of the net, but would have beaten LeBlanc had it been on frame.

Canadian nerves were finally settled in the 62′ when Sinclair ran to the end line and cut the ball back to an open player. Jonelle Filigno’s initial shot was saved but Bélanger was there to burry the rebound. 10 minutes later, a foul on Scott led to a free kick that fell to Filigno to slot into the net. A corner kick in the 72′ allowed Sinclair to score for a 3-0 lead and the win was capped off by a Costa Rican own-goal during the dying minutes of the game off a cross by Rhian Wilkinson.

Many fans tuned into semi-final #2 expecting to see Mexico take the long road to the WWC. Instead, they pulled off what ESPN and other news sources have been calling, “one of the biggest upsets in the history of women’s soccer.” See Jenna’s posts for insightful coverage of the match.

Maribel Dominguez snuck in behind the American backline to toe poke in the opening goal just 3′ into the game. The US eventually levelled the score in the 25′ when a poor punch by the Mexican ‘keeper, Erika Vanegas, fell to the feet of Carli Lloyd. But less than a minute later, the Mexicans notched the game winning goal when a cross from the right side was headed home by Veronica Perez.

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It Started with, “Crap, not Seitz again!?” and Ended with a 3-0 Canadian Victory

(Henry Romero, Reuters)

Billed as the most important Group A match since the draw was revealed, Canada and Mexico duelled for the rights to face either Costa Rica or the US in the semi-final round. After giving all 20 players on Canada’s roster minutes through the first 2 matches, Carolina Morace looks to have lined up her first choice team against Mexico. Karina LeBlanc returned in goal, while Marie-Eve Nault, Candace Chapman, Sophie Schmidt and Rhian Wilkinson held fort in the defence, along with Diana Matheson, Kaylyn Kyle (Chelsea Stewart, 79′) and Carmelina Moscato in the midfield, and Josée Bélanger (Desiree Scott, 68′), Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi (Jonelle Filigno, 54′) as the strikers.

-Playing in torrential downpour made the ball a nightmare to control and with the boisterous Mexican fans as the home team’s 12th man, the conditions seemed to favour El Tri more so than Canada in the early part of the first half. The slick ball wasn’t a hindrance for Mexico’s possession game as the team effectively linked up passes, leaving Canada watching and waiting to make interceptions, but that didn’t prevent Canada from forcing turnovers and pressing for plenty of throw ins and corner kicks. Canada had some trouble early on adjusting the weight of their passes in the rain and reverted to some old long ball tactics before they finally settled into a better rhythm later in the game.

-The vulnerability of the 16 year-old Mexican ‘keeper, Cecilia Santiago, was foreshadowed in the 6′ when a mix up between herself and a defender almost allowed Canada an open net look. In the 19’, she was slow to come off her line to intercept a cross by Wilkinson. To Canada’s benefit, a combination of such goalkeeping errors and somewhat questionable calls by referee Kari Seitz would play roles in their first 2 goals. Although Santiago was unable to get her gloves on Wilkinson’s cross as the ball harmlessly bounced wide, the play was deemed a corner kick by Seitz. Santiago punched away an in swinger by Matheson, but the ball fell right into the path of Chapman, who coolly chipped the shot into the net (and through it, for that matter). In first half stoppage time, it appeared that a Mexican player initially made a clean sliding tackle in the midfield. Perhaps a call against her second ensuing attempted tackle, Seitz whistled for a Canadian free kick. The long ranged effort slipped through Santiago’s hands and in the midst of a scramble, a Mexican defender lunged to clear the ball, but right to the feet of Bélanger to slot it into the net. Canada led 2-0 heading into the second half.

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Tancredi Leads Canada 1-0 Over Trinidad and Tobago

Canada kicked off their CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifiers last night by defeating Trinidad and Tobago 1-0. The Canadians dominated in possession but were unable to put away more goals, which were partly related to not being able to develop rhythm against a very physical T&T side and some questionable calls by the referees. Play was sloppy, but “a win is a win” seems to be the theme of the night.

-The starting line up was very similar to the one that won 3-1 against China on September 30, with the exception of Carmelina Moscota being replaced by Sophie Schmidt. Karina LeBlanc was in net, with Marie-Eve Nault, Emily Zurrer, Candace Chapman and Rhian Wilkinson in defence, Diana Matheson, Sophie Schmidt and Kaylyn Kyle in midfield, and Melissa Tancredi, Christine Sinclair and Josée Bélanger up top.

-The number of goals is definitely a hot topic of discussion for this game. Most people were probably expecting a blow out. In past CONCACAF WWCQ meetings between Canada and T&T, high-scoring games had been the norm, including 6-0 (1991), 4-0 (1993), and 5-0 (1994) victories by Canada.

-Tancredi scored a hat-trick, but the first 2 goals were disallowed on questionable calls by the far side assistant referee. In the 36′, Tancredi held her run while anticipating a cross from Kyle. The ball bounced off a T&T defender and to Tancredi, who slotted the shot past the goalkeeper’s outstretched legs. Prior to Kyle’s cross, the AR appears to be a couple steps behind the defensive line, which would have made it difficult for her to make a proper call. Then in the 42′, Bélanger sent in a through ball past 3 T&T players to Sinclair, who was behind the last defender. Sinclair’s cross to Tancredi was roofed into the net but that goal, too, was also called back.

-The all-important goal finally came in the 63′. Following a poorly taken T&T corner kick, Canada made a quick succession of passes starting from a clearance by Nault to second half substitute Jonelle Filigno, who tapped the ball over to Matheson. She then passed it up field to Sinclair, who booted the ball over to Wilkinson making a run from her defensive position. She then looped the ball over to Tancredi, who muscled her way past the defender, settled the ball with her abs stomach, and sent a right footed shot into the back of the net, all while in stride and falling over. It was this type of quick decision making that was lacking in the early part of the game, but more on this later in the post.

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Post-Match: Canada vs. China

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

On September 30 at BMO Field, Canada’s 3-1 victory over China was a promising display of what Carolina Morace’s team is capable of executing. The long ball game and rigid player roles of Even Pellerud and Canada’s past were replaced by a free flowing squad who held possession with quick passes and attacked aggressively.

Lining up in a 4-3-3, Canada didn’t hesitate to test China’s backline right from the get-go. Just 6 seconds into the game, forward Josée Bélanger got into the final third to set up Kaylyn Kyle, but Kyle’s chip bounced harmlessly into the box.

In the 2nd minute of play, Bélanger hustled down the right wing again and won a corner kick after the ball deflected off a Chinese defender. Diana Matheson served a high arching ball into the box that Christine Sinclair headed on target, but was cleared out of bounds by #2 Liu Huana on the near post.

Canada’s second ensuing corner kick turned into China’s advantage instead. After pinging around in the air, a heavy touch by Marie-Even Nault allowed China to play a 20 yard through ball to an unmarked #8 Xu Yuan for a breakaway opportunity. The Canadians were caught playing a high defensive line and could only retreat as they watched Karina LeBlanc tip the shot over the bar.

China’s first corner kick of the match in the 4th minute was played short, and Bélanger was there to intercept. It was difficult for China to gain any sort of rhythm with Canada constantly stepping in to challenge their passes. Kyle was a bully in the midfield and had a great sequence early on in the game with about 4 or 5 interceptions in the span of a minute, all on different parts of the pitch.

The Canadian defence had their fair share of interceptions as well. At one point, Candace Chapman stepped high in the midfield to cut off a through ball, and Carmelina Moscato‘s pass sparked an attack with Matheson and Melissa Tancredi playing one touch passes to one another to advance the ball while making good use of space. This was one of Canada’s many attacks throughout the night that displayed the possession-oriented and quick passing style that Morace has been trying to implement since taking over the team in early 2009.

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