After coming out flat against the USA in the shadow of a bitter labor dispute with Canada Soccer, the Canadian women hope to find their match in Nashville where they next face Brazil in the SheBelieves Cup.
The clock is ticking. Time and matches are running out and the World Cup is approaching in July.
Canada was overwhelmed early Thursday night in a 2-0 loss to the top-ranked Americans at Exploria Stadium, with goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan forced into a save just seconds after a kick-off that followed a show of unity from both teams in the center circle.
Trailing 1-0 on a seventh-minute goal by Mallory Swanson, the sixth-ranked Canadians regained their composure midway through the first half, only to give Swanson a second goal in the 34th minute after a defensive gaffe.
SEE | Canada falls to USA at SheBelieves Cup:
Off-field distractions take their toll.
“This is not fixed overnight, so we have to push through,” Canada coach Bev Priestman said. “We have to use this tournament for what’s in front of us. We can’t roll over and this group won’t roll over either. I think we have to turn it around now and be healthy and ready to go again for Game 2 because it’s probably five games before a World Cup right now and that’s the difficult position we’re in.”
The World Cup opens on July 20 in Australia and New Zealand with just two international FIFA World Cup windows beforehand – in April and July, just before the tournament kicks off.
The division off the pitch can only detract from the product on the pitch.
Organizing and orchestrating protests, from purple t-shirts to a show of solidarity with the opposition before kick-off, takes time and energy that would normally be spent on the game itself.
“We’re going to continue to play, obviously … but I think what we saw tonight is that we also have to focus a little bit on the football as well,” captain Christine Sinclair said after Thursday’s loss.
SEE | Canadian women’s soccer teams compete amid ongoing labor dispute:
A frustrated priest watched from the sidelines, knowing the pressure her team was in.
“In a lot of ways you think your players are superhuman and they’re not,” she said.
Priestman, who wore purple tape on her wrist to symbolize gender equality as her players did, is caught in the middle – between the employer and the players.
“It’s a difficult position, but what I will say is that I absolutely believe in equality. I believe that everyone should be given the same opportunities as any other person,” she said.
She called the foreplay between the Canada and USA players, first in a circle and then closing ranks to form a heart in the center circle “a powerful moment.”
Sunday’s game against No. 9 Brazil at Geodis Park is a meeting with familiar foes. Canada and Brazil split a two-game series in November, with both games ending 2-1, in Santos and Sao Paulo.
Canada dispatched Brazil 4-3 in penalty kicks in the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics after the match ended in a 0-0 draw.
SEE | Labor conflict spills into SheBelieves Cup:
The Canadian women hold a slight 11-10-7 advantage over Brazil in the all-time series. Brazil beat No. 11 Japan 1-0 in the earlier match on Thursday at Exploria Stadium.
Priestman looks for positives amid the emotional turmoil.
“These moments make you. Adversity makes you,” she said.
“We have to push through and hope this group can achieve their potential,” she added. “Because I think this group on the day can go and beat anybody.”
Great for the next generation
The Canadian women’s Olympic champion says they are fighting for the next generation of players. Whether it comes at the expense of the present remains to be seen.
And whatever the labor outcome, scars are likely to remain. Priestman and men’s coach John Herdman have both been linked with jobs elsewhere, and while they say they are committed to their current job, where there’s smoke, there’s often fire.
Canada Soccer, citing confidentiality requirements, remains largely mum. Rightly or wrongly, they are the villain of the play.
Barring a behind-the-scenes breakthrough, with parliamentary hearings looming and Canada Soccer forced to speak, there could be more darkness before dawn.