It was just over a year ago that women’s soccer was in an unprecedented spotlight in this country when Canada hosted the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
With fans and media waiting on the daily activities of Canada’s best women’s soccer players, the sport really hit the mainstream in this country in a massive way. While attention is back on the team on the verge of the Olympics, it certainly won’t match the pressure cooker of a year ago.
“The 2015 Women’s World Cup we equated to climbing Everest in terms of having to deal with what teams don’t normally deal with,” head coach John Herdman said over the phone earlier this week. “That’s the beauty that our players were able to come out of that and still be alive. I don’t think anyone will ever understand the pressure of expectation and how that can galvanize a team in a way that makes it difficult to win matches.”
The Olympics, however, present a different sort of challenge. While much of the media spotlight will be on the events in Rio with the soccer team out in the comparatively remote outposts of Sao Paolo and Brasilia, the tournament itself is stiffer challenge than a World Cup.
The field of 12 teams compared to 24 at last summer’s World Cup means Canada will have to hit the ground running with tougher games earlier on the schedule.
The benefit soccer has over other sports is that, as was the case in 2012, the team will be able to focus on their task outside of the athletes’ village and the potentially overwhelming sights and sounds of the Olympic city.
“Coming into an Olympics that’s similar to 2012, we just had no idea what was happening at home,” said Herdman. “You’re in a bubble, you’re completely out of everything else that’s going on: the fanfare in the village, the fanfare of the Olympics. You don’t know anything until you get to the medal round and I think that was unique in London, and we’ll certainly draw on that to draw out the creative edge that’s hard to bring under the other type of pressure.”
Academies starting to deliver for Canadian MLS teams
The midweek MLS action had positive outcomes for the Canadian teams for various reasons. The Vancouver Whitecaps FC were 2-0 winners over Real Salt Lake while Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact tied Columbus and Portland, respectively.
The good story out of Toronto came as TFC played in Columbus and with all three designated players out and a long injury list, it was a chance for a number of their younger players to impress and it has to be considered a good night for the TFC Academy.
While the first half wasn’t the most exciting affair, the second half saw the Toronto finish the game with Jordan Hamilton, Jay Chapman, Molham Babouli and Jonathan Osorio on the field. While having them on the field was a small positive in and of itself, what was particularly encouraging was seeing Chapman provide the pass for Hamilton’s third goal of the season. The Canadian players also forced the game late as Toronto pushed for three points on the road.
Montreal picked up a road point in Portland and had Canadians Patrice Bernier, Kyle Bekker and Wandrille Lefevre all play 90 minutes.
Lefevre is a homegrown player and while Bekker’s not a product of the academy, he’s put in probably his best season in a career where he struggled to find consistency in the first few seasons in MLS. Bekker has 14 appearances, including 10 starts with one goal for a Montreal team in fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Vancouver bolstered its backline by signing veteran Canadians David Edgar and Marcel de Jong to help a team that’s conceded a Western Conference-worst 33 goals this season.
De Jong came off the bench as Vancouver picked up a rare clean sheet in a 2-0 win over RSL on Wednesday. While signing the two Canadian internationals adds to the Canadian quotient on Vancouver, their residency program hasn’t had as much of a breakthrough as other Canadian MLS teams.
Their USL team is playing well with plenty of Canadian talent but they still don’t have much in the way homegrown talent with the first club on a regular basis.
For now, though, they’re a team in a playoff position and they’ve just bolstered a defence that needed with Canadian players with plenty of experience to go along with good attitudes who will do well in Vancouver.