The Canadian Women's National Team will welcome the reigning Women's World Cup Champions and 2012 London Olympics silver-medalists Japan to Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, October 25 in Edmonton.
It's an on-going evaluation for Canada's technical staff that will surely lead up closely to the World Cup's June kickoff in Edmonton next summer and into next week's second fixture between the two countries that concludes in Vancouver at BC Place on October 28. Canadian Women's National Team head coach John Herdman is confident that the team you see on Saturday will be close to the final squad for next year's Women's World Cup.
"You're always in an evaluation process. On and off the pitch they have to maintain that standard," said Herdman. "I think what the players are seeing is that the magnifying glass is put over them and they know those high performance behaviors have to be there day in and day out to put this team on the podium."
"For us it's about that little gut analysis we continue to do," said Herdman. "You've got to see where the gaps are and what we have to do to plug them."
Filling the gaps, quite literally, will be crucial to Canada's performance against Japan. Canada will look to strengthen the bond and partnership of their defense on the back line, as Japan will look to slip balls behind defenders after playing low to draw defenders out of position. With a wide spectrum of young and senior players, Canada will need to narrow the gap between the two groups of players to create a more cohesive connection that will translate well to on the field.
"They play direct and their key strategy is to get behind your team quickly with forward movement and penetration," said Herdman. "So there's a lot of work being done in our defensive structure to cope with their main threat of balls behind the line and the movement that goes in there."
Japan's technical nature is apparent in their movements as a team and also individually, as it's hard to find weaknesses among a Japanese team who's in the top four for a reason.
"They certainly in 2011 took the women's game to a new level in the technical capacities," said Herdman. "They're everyone's second-favorite team because of their style, so I think when you play against Japan you'll know the ball will be moved quickly."
The Japanese beat the Canadians in 2012 in London by a score of 2-1 before losing to the United States in the gold medal match, which would've completed a famous double of both of the two largest women's soccer tournaments in the world after winning the 2011 Women's World Cup a year before.
It's these top tier countries that Canada has set its sights on after a bronze medal performance at the London 2012 Olympics. Bolstered by the chance to play at home, it's a trial run in many aspects for the Canadian women.
"A goal of ours after the Olympics was that we wanted consistent performances in the top three in the world, and in order to do that you have to beat teams like these," said Erin McLeod, goalkeeper for the Houston Dash and Canadian Women's National Team. "The games that we're playing are some of the highest quality we've played in years."
Edmonton is set to host Canada's first two group stage matches, along with a semi-final and the third place match for the 2015 Women's World Cup. It will be the most used venue for the entire tournament. While the players will be under observation by the coaching staff, the fans will also serve as a gauge for what to expect when the big tournament rolls into town next June.
"We want to get the crowd excited for the World Cup in 2015, so for us it's about having a good performance and winning," said McLeod. "We've been really fortunate in bringing these high caliber teams into the country, and we have to start expecting to win when we step onto the field against some of these opponents."