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Resilience In The Face Of Ridiculous: Three Takeaways From The CanWNT’s W Gold Cup Semi-Final

By on March 7, 2024 0 1007 Views

It was a match that should have never gone ahead.

On a late Wednesday night, the Canadian Women’s National Team faced off against their greatest rivals in what was supposed to be a battle for the ages – had it not been for some torrential rain and torrid pitch conditions. While Les Rouges did well to come-back from behind twice to make it 2-2 and bring it to penalties, they failed thrice in the spot-kicks to hand the US their ticket to the final against Brazil.

#1: Pitch Conditions Take Centre-Stage

One look at the various puddles strewing and growing along the entirety of the pitch should have been more than enough evidence for Mexican referee Katia García to call off the match before kick-off. Yet, the match progressed on the night and this highly anticipated grudge match between two of Concacaf’s biggest heavyweights turn into something near-farcical.

The US’ opening goal was a prime example of why the match should have never been played: Vanessa Gilles tries to do the smart and usually safe move of passing back to her ‘keeper Kailen Sheridan when under pressure, but her pass stops dead half-way to Sheridan after getting caught in a puddle. Jaedyn Shaw was then able to pounce on the halted ball and chip it past an oncoming Sheridan to give the US the lead. It was a preposterous goal, and one that should have never occurred.

“I think it’s obvious that the game was unplayable,” noted Canada Head Coach Bev Priestman to media after the match. “I feel most concerned about the players, we put in a lot of work in a game plan and within minute one it’s thrown out the window and you play the game that’s in front of you.”

“I feel for the players because we’ve spent a lot of time on the pitch, off the pitch, preparing a game plan to beat the US. The pitch changed the game.”

Kailen Sheridan did not mince words after the match as well, letting her sentiments on the pitch conditions be heard to the world.

“It honestly feels pretty crappy,” expressed Sheridan to OneSoccer after the penalty shoot-out loss. “We think we came out here really prepared and obviously there were some things really out of our control.”

“There were some decisions that we couldn’t make that other people had to make and didn’t… but it’s not up to us. We have to go with what they say. And unfortunately, it was out of our hands and out of our control and we have to do what we’re told.”

Credit to Canada, however: while the entire social media sphere was throwing verbal rocks to Concacaf about the conditions, the team pulled up their socks and kept fighting.

#2: Heroic Comeback Just Falls Short

After struggling with the feel of the match in the first half, Bev Priestman seemingly gave some instruction to her team for how to deal with the weather for the second half. They went more route one, played for set-pieces and kept it ‘old-school’. Despite all that, their equalizing goal was a vintage Canada goal: Adriana Leon held up the ball near the US box and laid it off for an onrushing Ashley Lawrence on the right, whose lifted cross was met beautifully by Jordyn Huitema to nod into the back of the net. It showcased that even in rain-soaked conditions, the team was able to create magic. It was enough to bring it to extra-time.

“We really took our game to the US – or the adaptive game plan to the US – and I’m just super proud of the players,” remarked Bev Priestman in the post-match press conference. “I couldn’t ask any more from them and it’s a step forward for sure.”

It was in extra-time where tired legs began to show, however. A defensive mistake at the back between the two centre-backs allowed Sophia Smith the space to go clean through on goal and give the US the lead once more in. Canada would once again not give up, fighting all the way until the 120th minute before getting given a penalty. US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher’s double punch on a jumping Vanessa Gilles was enough of a foul to warrant a VAR check, and after some delay, Leon was able to put the ball on the spot and put it away to give us a shoot-out. Unfortunately for Canada, that was all the gas the team had in their locker, as three poor penalties from Leon, Huitema, and captain Jessie Fleming meant that the US would meet Brazil in the final, while Canada were left to pack their bags.

“To be fair, the saves that were made were very good,” admitted Bev Priestman to media about the shootout loss. “We’ve actually practiced a lot of penalty kicks but on the night there’s nerves, there’s a full stadium, and do people change this spot based on what the keeper does? These are all the things [we have to consider].”

“It’s penalties. We were on the good side of them before, we were on the bad side of them today.”

Canada’s journey might have ended at the inaugural Women’s Gold Cup, and the pitch conditions might be what steal the headlines, but there is no question that Canada’s fight in the face of mental, physical and meteorlogical adversity should be hailed as a perfect platform to grow ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

#3: Headache for Priestman Ahead of Olympics

There were plenty of performances across the tournament to celebrate for Canada. Many of the fringe players, like Simi Awujo, Jade Rose, Evelyne Viens, and Olivia Smith shone in these four matches, demonstrating Canada’s wealth of talent in their ranks.

“I’ve been super, super proud of the group,” Priestman said after the match. “We’ve lost some critical veteran players who’ve moved on and I’ve seen this group thrive and grow some immense leadership on the pitch tonight in some testing moments that a younger team could have crumbled. Simi [Awujo], Jade [Rose], Olivia [Smith], these are young players in this team who came in and had a major impact in the game. “

However, these stellar performances by the youngsters may well prove to be a blessing and a curse for Priestman, as she has to narrow down a team of 30-odd solid players to a final squad of 18 for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Not to mention that there are a more than a few veterans who were unable to play in this tournament and will still be fighting for their place to defend their 2020 Gold Medal, too.

“It’s been a really good tournament,” acknowledged Priestman about her squad’s performance in the W Gold Cup. “There’s five players in Nichelle [Prince], Jayde Riviere, Sydney Collins, Janine [Beckie], Desiree Scott [that missed out]. I don’t know how I’m gonna get this team to 18, but I’ve learned a lot more about the team, the makeup of the team, the mindset of the team.”

All eyes will now turn to the SheBelieves Cup in April in what will likely be the players’ last opportunity to impress Priestman ahead of the near-impossible task of selecting her final eighteen-woman roster for the Olympics. Canada will face Brazil in April 6 before facing one of the US or Japan in either the third-place match or final just a few days later.

Header Image Photo Credit: Audrey Magny

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