Compared to their run to a bronze medal in England four years ago, Canada’s Olympic-bound footballers face a different kind of test this summer in Brazil. The Rio Games’ soccer venues are scattered across the country and much more difficult to reach than was the case for London 2012, so media attention may not be as high as before, leaving Canada to prepare in relative comfort compared to the rest of the Olympic athletes.
So goes the theory, anyway, in the wake of Monday’s unveiling of an 18-player Olympic roster that contained no surprises whatsoever. Canada’s group games in Sao Paolo and Brasilia will be away from the noise and excitement of the athletes’ village and in good stead to focus on the difficult task at hand of getting a result against Australia in their Aug. 3 opener in Sao Paulo.
Canada should be expected to win easily over Zimbabwe in their second game and any points in Brasilia against Germany in their third would be a bonus -- so a win, or at least a close game against Australia will be a must for Canada’s qualification hopes.
The veteran core is battle-tested but Olympic debutantes like Deanne Rose, Jessie Fleming and Nichelle Prince will succeed if they don’t get overawed by the Olympic atmosphere — which is why playing away from Rio to start should benefit Canada.
“The football bubble is different. Once you’re outside the village, it feels like a FIFA tournament,” said head coach John Herdman in a conference call after the announcement. “What changes around the Olympics, which we have been preparing them for, is the shorter turnarounds on different days. That seems to be the biggest challenge.”
The roster includes the mixture of veterans and young talent Herdman has included through Olympic qualifying in February, the Algarve Cup victory in March and a handful of friendly games.
That means for a player like 17-year-old Rose, a first taste of a major international competition under the largest of sporting spotlights.
“There’s a motto that, to try and win an Olympics, you’ve had to have been at one,” said Herdman. “We’re trying to make sure that’s not the case on this particular team. The main part of this is the experience our veteran group brings and their openness to share good and bad experiences.”
Unlike four years ago when Canada was a bit of a surprise medallist after Herdman had just taken over the program, there will be a target on its back this time around. If the youngsters settle quickly, Canada will be a tough match for anyone.
The veterans will have to lead on and off the field and Herdman’s staff is one that really works as one. They’ll all have to be at their very best if Canada has any hope of matching the memorable run of four years ago.
Voyageurs Cup continues a pattern
It may still pale in importance to the playoffs on the calendars of Canadian MLS teams, but the Amway Canadian Championship has developed a reputation for being an event of high drama.
Since the Canadian Championship was changed to a bracket format with a two leg-final in 2011, the final has been even or with a one-goal difference heading into the second leg every year. That’s no different this year with Toronto FC up 1-0 on Vancouver after the first leg and the Whitecaps hosting Wednesday at BC Place.
“We didn’t concede the away goal, which is always important,” said Toronto head coach Greg Vanney. “We go there and we defend like we’ve been defending and make sure play like we played in the second half.”
As is often the case with the competition, a forum has been provided for Canadian players and Molham Babouli continues to show a lot of good elements to his game that looks to be really coming along in his debut MLS season. Babouli provided the pass to Sebastian Giovinco’s deflected goal in the first half Tuesday night and has been a good provider in his time with the first team.
All that’s missing is a goal.
“I’d like to get him off the zero and get him on the board,” said Vanney. “I think all guys who are used to scoring goals, you use goals as a measure for your performance. For Mo, I’d like for him to get his first goal because I think it will be a confidence boost for him and he’ll continue to grow.”