Some burning questions that the CanWNT/CanXNT will look to answer in their friendlies vs Mexico this weekend
The CanWNT/CanXNT is getting set to play Mexico in a pair of friendlies this weekend. Ahead of then, here are some burning questions that they'll look to try and answer this camp.
It’ll be a nice way to cap off a memorable 2021.
For the CanWNT/CanXNT, this won’t be the way they wished to close off a big 2021 for them, but it’ll more than do, as they get set to take on Mexico in a pair of friendlies down in Mexico this weekend.
Originally, they were hoping to play these games at home, as part of their ongoing Olympic gold medal celebration tour, but once they realized that they’d be unable to secure an opponent for those games, that called for an alternative, which ended up being this trip to Mexico, instead.
And that’s good news for Canada. While they would’ve loved to play at home, something that they’ve only done twice since May of 2019 (both coming in the first leg of the celebration tour last month), they just need to be playing right now, period, making these games important.
Fresh off of winning gold at the Olympics this summer, they’ve finally taken the big step forward towards being a top team that many had hoped they’d make years before, but now the next step is to go and replicate similar success at a World Cup, the journey towards which begins now.
With the 2023 World Cup already less than 2 years away now, that means that from this point on, everything that Canada does will be done with 2023 on their mind, and rightfully so.
Seeing that CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers are going to played in less than 10 months, that’s the first big step of their journey, as they have to first make the big dance before dreaming about dancing, but before qualifiers start, they’ve got to enter those prepared, too, and that’s where friendlies like this come into play.
Because of that, it makes games like these ones so interesting to monitor. Now, each kick of the ball will have implications on Canada’s journey, from who is on the roster, to their overall morale, and everything in between.
Currently riding the high of that gold medal, and not to mention a team-high 12-game unbeaten run, everything is in a good spot now, without a doubt, but as the saying goes, complacency is the biggest enemy of champions, so while Canada will look to enjoy these moments, they also know that they’ve got a target on their backs now, too.
So now, it’ll be fun to keep an eye on their progress this camp. Favourites to beat Mexico, anything but 2 wins will be seen as a surprise, even though this Mexican team has quickly proven to be a side that isn’t easy to play against, making it important that Canada is on their game here.
With all of that in mind, though, here’s a look at 3 burning questions that we’ll look to find out more about this camp, one that Canada will look to end a strong 2021 off on a high note with.
Does Canada have the depth to overcome absences, tough schedule?
And to begin, it’s worth noting how difficult of a camp this could prove to be for Canada.
To start, there’s obviously the travel, because while some players won’t be travelling far to get to Mexico, such as Julia Grosso, who plays in nearby Texas, some had to travel quite far from Europe to get to this camp, already adding to their strain that many have endured from a long year for both club and country.
Plus, with these games being played in Mexico City, a place known for its ruthless heat and altitude, that will be an added shock for most players, especially for those who currently play in a colder climate.
And then lastly, when you consider the fact that A) there’s not a lot of turnaround time between the games, which are played on Saturday, November 27th, and Tuesday, November 30th, limiting recovery for players, and B), the Canadian roster is quite depleted right now, it only adds to the challenges.
The good news for Canada in all of that, though?
They’re already used to that kind of adversity. Just take their run at the Olympics this summer, as an example.
There, they had to play 6 games in a span of just over 2 weeks, many of them in the scorching Tokyo heat, where they only had access to 22 players on their squad. And that’s without mentioning the travel that it took to get to Tokyo, either.
So even though this will be tough for Canada, especially considering that they’re going to be missing 7 regulars from their Olympic team in Janine Beckie, Ashley Lawrence, Shelina Zadorsky, Stephanie Labbe, Adriana Leon, Gabrielle Carle and Jayde Riviere, they’ve already been through something like this before.
What that just means is that for each of the 25 players that are in this camp, be it the 15 players still remaining from the Olympic team, or the 10 new faces called in to join them, is that it’s going to be business as usual for Canada this camp, and they’ve got to be ready for that.
Plus, with this also being the start of Canada’s World Cup journey, this is actually a blessing in disguise for head coach, Bev Priestman, who will get the chance to assess some new players, something that she did say that she wanted to this camp last week, as she looks to create competition before qualifiers kick off next summer.
Because of all that, while this camp will provide all sorts of challenges, it’s those sorts of obstacles that create top teams, so Canada will look to embrace them, instead of dreading them.
“It’s opened the door for more new players,” Priestman said earlier this week. “(There’s) a feeling that we’re moving towards things, the doors wide open for some new players to come in, so in that sense, it’s exciting.”
“Obviously, we’ve now got a really depleted roster from that original roster, and it’ll be a great test for us, back-to-back games, altitude, we’re already feeling that today on the pitch, trying to get air on the lungs, so (with all that), then the roster changes, and then I’m going to be adding some tactical changes to this camp, it’s going to be exciting, exciting to see new faces, to experience new challenges.”
Can Mexico threaten Canada?
But while Canada is looking to keep a positive mindset heading into these games, only adding to their challenges is the fact that they’re going to be up against a pretty solid Mexican team here, too.
Historically, Canada has had Mexico’s number over the years, currently undefeated in their last 14 games against the country, dating back to 2004, but that isn’t reflective of how things have changed in the last few years, though.
Since these two teams last faced off, which was in a 2-0 Canadian win at the 2020 Olympic qualifiers in Texas, Mexico has grown significantly since then.
Thanks to continued investment in the top league in their country, in which a majority of their squad currently plays, to the emergence of more top Mexican prospects in big leagues abroad, Mexico has been a big grower in the international game these last 1.5 years.
Their FIFA rankings might not reflect that, as they’ve actually dropped to 28th from 26th since then, but that’s been by no fault of their own, as that’s more of a byproduct of not having any competitive matches to play since that tournament, which makes it harder to climb the rankings (especially as many around them have had a chance to play competitively).
And that’s unfortunate for Mexico, who have actually had a lot of good results in 2021.
For example, you can’t help but be intrigued by the fact that Mexico beat Argentina 6-1 and Colombia 2-0 in the last 2 windows, especially since Canada only beat Argentina 1-0 earlier this year in their lead-up to the Olympics.
Otherwise, they also beat Costa Rica 3-1 earlier this year, which might not seem like much, at least not until you realize that Canada only beat them 1-0 back at Olympic qualifiers in 2020 (albeit, under a different head coach).
Elsewhere, Mexico also went on a tough 4-game losing streak in the summer, to be fair, but even those results seem impressive, because they came against top teams in the US (4-0, 4-0), Japan (5-1) and Spain (3-0), who are the 1st, 11th and 13th teams in the world right now, respectively.
So all of this to say, Canada will have to be careful this window.
Yes, if they play their game, they should win both games, even without some of their regulars. No doubt.
If they slip up, though, Mexico could punish them, especially considering that they’ve already got the home-field advantage, without mentioning the altitude advantage, which can eat visiting teams up at times.
The good news is that Canada realizes that, though, and are giving their opponents full respect heading into this game, because they recognize that this Mexican team is on the up-and-up, both in terms of the talent that they’ve continued to churn out, as well as in how they play, making them a good test for them to kick off this World Cup journey.
“Monica (Vergara), the coach, has got a really aggressive Mexican team, they’re a hard team, a little bit like Sweden in a sense of, if you’re not careful in how you play out there, they’re very good at regaining the ball and breaking on you,” Priestman said.
“So I think that’s their x-factor, the aggressive nature that she’s got them playing, and that’s what I expect. They’re not an easy team, they’re not just going to park the bus and sit back, so it will be an aggressive game, which is exciting.”
Who will fill in at right back?
Lastly, one thing to keep an eye on this camp for Canada is their battle at right back, which very well might be the most wide-open battle on the roster in this window (honourable mention to goalkeeper and striker, though).
With no Lawrence, Riviere and Beckie this camp, that leaves Canada without any of their usual options at the position, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they handle that.
When healthy, Lawrence is the easy #1, but seeing that Riviere has had some big games in her place in the past, and that Beckie was tried there the last camp, it looks like Canada is already looking for other options at the position.
One might ask - why? And it’s a good question, as Lawrence is among the best on the planet at her position, if not the best, and is just 26-years-old. You have to assume that if she’s healthy, she starts, right?
And the answer is yes, but that also doesn’t mean that she always has to start at right back, as Canada has experimented with playing her in midfield in the past, and probably hasn’t given up on the idea yet.
As they try and look to score more goals, something that has been one of their main focuses for a while now, it makes sense to move someone like Lawrence into midfield, giving them a bit more offence there, while also freeing up the position for another attacking player, such as a Beckie.
So with no Lawrence, Beckie or Riviere (who is also quite attacking herself), that could leave the door for someone new to throw their hat into that conversation this camp.
For example, new call-up, Suri Yekka has chops as an attacking full back. As does Marie Levasseur. Heck, Deanne Rose has played full back professionally, too, and she’s a very good attacking player. Could they all be in the mix? Probably.
If not, there could also be an outside-of-the-box suggestion to be made, too. Surely someone like Nichelle Prince could do well? How about a Nikayla Small or a Victoria Pickett? Jessie Fleming or Julia Grosso?
But no matter who it is, though, it’ll be interesting to see what happens, because as Priestman noted when asked about the position, it’s a wide-open battle in her eyes, which means that we could see some interesting faces get a chance there over the next 2 games.
“It’s great actually, because we brought a whole host of players who can play the full back positions,” Priestman said of the battle. “It’s a position that in the modern game, you definitely need, I think often they can be a position that wins you games, (for example), look at Ashley (Lawrence)’s impact (for us) in the Olympics.”
“I think in these 2 games, you’ll see some new faces and caps, I think I have to be brave and look at the bigger picture, the back-to-back, altitude, the depleted roster, it’s up for grabs, basically, and we’ll see some new faces there.”
Canada celebrates a goal vs New Zealand in Ottawa last month (Canada Soccer) (Audrey Magny)
So seeing that, all of this only adds to the intrigue of this camp for Canada. From the challenges that these games will present, both on and off the pitch, to the competition for places, there is a lot to keep an eye on for Canada in this window.
And that’s exciting. As they kick off their World Cup journey, these are the games that you’ll look back fondly on, for many reasons.
For Canada, they’ll look to use it both as a chance to keep up their winning ways from this year, as well as learn more about their team, while for the fans, they’ll use these games as the last chance to see this team in action in 2021, one that has been one to remember for many reasons.
Now, though, the attention shifts to next year and beyond, and these games are just the start of that, only adding to their importance, as Canada looks to carry over some of the magic they found this year into even bigger and better things.
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