RIO DE JANEIRO - The only thing missing, perhaps, was a grassy knoll.
Two games into their Olympic soccer tournament, and this little bit of skullduggery about an hour into the latest of those, Saturday’s 3-1 stroll past a brave but overmatched Zimbabwe, told you everything: This Canadian women’s team is more calculating than it looks.
Or at least, certainly smarter than it looked when Kadeisha Buchanan took a yellow card for encroaching on her Zimbabwean opposite on a free kick just inside the Canadian half.
On the surface, it was a dumb and pointless foul. It was Buchanan’s second caution in two games, thus putting her in civvies for Tuesday’s group finale with Germany.
Then you shook your head and went big picture, and it made perfect sense. Buchanan takes real fouls, for red-line tackles. Stepping up and standing in front of a beaten opponent? Not her style. The match was effectively over to boot, Canada up three goals at the time and their opponents’ lines functioning more like traffic cones for their probing runs. They were pretty much assured of an unblemished 2-0 record, thanks to a dominating first half that included a couple of goals by Janine Beckie and a Christine Sinclair penalty earned when Diana Matheson was fouled in the area.
They were cruising. This was the kill shot, Buchanan both beneficiary and recipient.
Now she sits down against the Germans - and returns in the quarterfinal with a clean disciplinary slate, able to play as her usual robust self. Shelina Zadorsky, herself sitting out against Zimbabwe for a red card early in that stirring 2-0 opener against Australia, will return. Rebecca Quinn, who deputized for Zadorsky so ably against the Matildas and basically had to just stand her ground Saturday, will partner Zadorsky. No CB controversy, no fuss.
Meantime, head coach John Herdman has through two games used every player on his 18-woman roster, and is free to do whatever he wants with the whiteboard next out - and with a team that’s quickly shaping an identity here that finally is moving the narrative off the “Remember 2012” line that’s prevailed these past four years - no small factor when there’s just two days’ rest between matches for this competition.
But the final piece of this conspiracy theory is the biggest one: the draw itself. Winner of the group in all likelihood faces world No. 3 France, a classy, technical side of some renown who fell to the US 1-0 Saturday. Second place gets a knockout against either considerably weaker Brazil, Sweden or China. And right now, Canada, on six points and guaranteed a place among the final eight, is two clear at the top after Germany's 2-2 comeback draw with those Matildas.
Soccer’s full of such tactical moments, and you can tie yourself in knots wondering how it'll all play out. In the end, it’s all about the result, and in this upcoming match, it’s a bit of a Hobson’s Choice for the winner: play France, or finish group second and face a weaker opponent.
For now, the QED result for Canada may be this: With Buchanan’s foul, they may well have done the impossible - found a clear, traffic-free road in Rio, leading all the way to the Maracana, and a semifinal doubleheader a week from Tuesday. That's a couple of jumps ahead, but it's the goal.
And maybe I’m just paranoid, but I could have swore there was a guy in the sideline background Saturday in Sao Paulo, opening an umbrella under a bright blue Brazilian sky. The guy looked a lot like a certain Geordie micro-manager we all know, pushing (so far) all the right buttons.
Nah. Couldn’t be him.
Dumb foul, Kadeisha. Dumb like a fox.