The buzz of the World Cup win is still strong for the United States, while many Canadians (and adopted Canadians) are still left pondering where things went wrong. The team was seemingly at the top of their game, winning the Four Nations Cup in China, finishing second in Cyprus and winning games against Sweden and drawing with the United States in the months leading up to the Cup. While it was a pipe dream that Canada would reach the final match in their home country, one has to question if a 3rd or 4th place finish was that much of a stretch.
Erin McLeod had the tournament of her life and proved why she is one of the best in the world, posting a 76.9% save rate, earning the Live Your Goals Player of the Match in the June 21st game against Switzerland, and allowing three goals the entire tournament. Many may not think that's impressive, and it didn't win her a nomination for the Golden Glove, but when a look is given to Canada's defensive backline (and sometimes lack thereof), she was often the only thing keeping the team alive.
19-year old Kadeisha Buchanan, who was awarded the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup Best Young Player Award, and Allysha Chapman, who blew back into the National Team scene five years after her first senior level cap, were Canada's only consistent defenders. Both were playing while injured. Notable (and quite capable) defenders Carmelina Moscato, Rhian Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault barely saw playing time. While Nault and Wilkinson were nursing known injuries, seemingly healthy Emily Zurrer and Robyn Gayle saw exactly zero minutes. Meanwhile, Lauren Sesselmann had just come back from an ACL injury and played a total of 338 minutes.
Which leads us to the question, why was a defender who was coming back from major surgery and had only played a total of 92 minutes for the National Team in 2015 prior to the Cup (46 against France in March and 46 against England in May) and 45 minutes for Houston in April, expected to play four games? And at pre-injury form at that? Sesselmann was shaky all tournament, yet Coach Herdman continued to start her. To place the blame solely on her for the England fiasco and Jodie Taylor goal like so many were quick to do? No, the decision to continue to start her and then not sub her out is on Herdman, not her.
Not to pick at the defenders, games cannot be won if a team cannot score.
In four games, Canada scored four goals; a penalty kick from Sinclair, a goal by Ashley Lawrence against the Netherlands, a goal against Switzerland by Josee Belanger, and a goal against England from Sinclair. While Canada is historically a low-scoring team, there was no ‘spark of life' coming out of these goals. There was a choppy, sometimes nonexistent connection between the forwards and the rest of the players.
Lawrence was an injection of youth into the team, alongside Buchanan and Jessie Fleming, while Josée Belanger made an immediate impact once she was in her natural position of forward after the return of Wilkinson to the lineup. Even Fleming had the potential to create something in the 80 minutes she played over two games. Many wondered why she did not play more, but expect to see more of her in Rio. This was her first major tournament at the Senior level; it's very possible she was named to the roster to acclimate her to the pressures and media prior to the Olympics, as well as to get her a little playing time.
The England game saw flashes of the old Melissa Tancredi - Christine Sinclair spark, but Tancredi failed to send several headers into the net. Throughout the entire tournament, there were missed shots, miss connections and missed chances that left a lot of fans wondering why she was even called up. Anyone able to see her on the pitch could tell she was frustrated. But, for a player who took two years off and only rejoined the team consistently in 2014- less than a year before the World Cup? Tancredi gave Canada a physical presence that others simply cannot. She has proven in Chicago that she can still score, thus it will be interesting to see if another year with the National Team will allow her to find the chemistry she once had with Sinclair.
Throughout the tournament, Sophie Schmidt gave Canada hope. Jessie Fleming gave Canada hope. When Diana Matheson stepped onto the pitch in Canada's last game, Canada had hope. Yet, no goals could be scored, and it was obvious the chemistry on the pitch did not rival that of the 2012 Olympic Bronze Team at all. Which is what many seemed to be expecting.
The players have been adamant they wanted to do more than win; they wanted to inspire a nation and its youth. As someone who was at the opening match against China, who saw a stadium come alive when Christine Sinclair sent the game-winning penalty kick past the goalkeeper and sealed the win, just to head to Vancouver weeks later to see the 2-1 loss to England, I can say they succeeded in doing just that. But as someone who also wanted to see them on a podium? No, Canada ending their run with a 3rd or 4th place finish wasn't simply a pipe dream.
They had just beaten England in May. The game, sans defensive flub, would have stayed at 1-1, leading the teams to extra time and potentially penalty kicks.England was using their back-up keeper. Canada still had McLeod in goal.
It could have happened. Canada could have made it to the third-place game.