EDINBURG, TEXAS – The Canadian women’s team has been comfortably on cruise control thus far at the Concacaf Olympic qualifiers.
And although it’s probably the last thing that coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller wants to admit, his Canadian side is expected to have an easy time of it again on Tuesday evening when they play Mexico at H-E-B Park in their group-stage finale.
Canada, eighth in the current FIFA world rankings, hasn’t been tested in any serious way at this Concacaf competition. The Reds romped to an 11-0 win over Saint Kitts and Nevis (No. 127 in the world, and making its tournament debut). They followed that up with a 9-0 dismantling of No. 51 Jamaica. Canada has won all eight of its meetings vs. the Reggae Girlz by a combined score of 57-1.
Heiner-Møller admitted he was surprised by the score line against Jamaica, especially since the Canadians only defeated the Caribbean nation 2-0 in 2018 at the World Cup qualifiers.
“Saint Kitts is one thing. They’re just starting to build a team and they have done a great job with some young kids. I have a lot of respect for the way they approach things, but (the 11-0 win) was definitely a mess where we were way better than they were because we’re at different stages,” Heiner-Møller told reporters after Monday’s practice.
“Jamaica is a tough team. They were at (last year’s) World Cup. They were tough to beat last time. This time around it took us a while, but we kept our foot on the gas and their commitment wasn’t there anymore and we could pick them apart. …To win 9-0, I didn’t see that coming.”
Mexico, No. 26, will be Canada’s sternest test to date, but even still, the Canadians should be able to brush aside the Mexicans if history is any indication. Canada sports an all-time record of 21-2-1 against Mexico, with its lone loss coming in 2004. Since that setback, Canada is unbeaten in 13 games vs. Mexico (with 11 wins), having outscored its Concacaf rivals 26-7 in that run.
One thing Mexico will have to its advantage on Tuesday is the “home crowd.” Edinburg is a 15-20 minute drive from the Mexican border, and the city has a large Latino community.
“I expect a tough opposition,” Heiner-Møller said of Mexico. “They’ve (played) tough competition coming into this (tournament), against some of the tier-one teams, like Brazil and those kinds of teams. They’re trying themselves against good opposition, so they’ll be ready for us, and we’ll definitely be ready for them.”
Mexico did face Brazil, ranked No. 9 in the world at the moment, on two occasions in December. But the Mexicans lost to the Brazilians 6-0 and 4-0.
Heiner-Møller warned that Mexico is a quick and skillful side on the ball. Midfielder Stephany Mayor is dangerous when she is facing goal, and defender Kenti Robles and winger Kiana Palacios offer speed on the flanks.
Across both wins here in Texas, eight different players have scored for Canada, including Jordyn Huitema, who leads the tournament with six goals, and Adriana Leon, who is tied for second with four. Janine Beckie (three), and Ashley Lawrence and Christine Sinclair (braces) have also found the back of the net multiple times
Canada and Mexico are tied for first in Group B with six points each (both have already qualified for the tournament semis), although, the Canadians have a better goal difference (plus-20 vs. plus-seven, which is the first tiebreaker). As a result, Canada just needs a draw on Tuesday to win Group B.
RELATED READING: Jordyn Huitema roars back to life for CanWNT after lengthy scoring slump
Group A consists of two-time reigning World Cup champions United States (ranked No. 1 in the world), Costa Rica (37), Panama (53) and Haiti (68). The U.S. beat Costa Rica 6-0 on Monday night to finish first in Group A. Both the U.S. and Costa Rica have booked their spots in the semifinals.
Only the two tournament finalists qualify for this summer’s Tokyo Games, and winning Group B is vitally important for Canada because it likely means an easier path towards earning an Olympic berth. Canada will want to avoid a final-four showdown with its southern neighbours – the Reds have lost to the U.S. in the finals at the last three Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournaments.
Overall, the last time the Canadian women beat their American counterparts was in 2001. Canada’s all-time record against the U.S. is 3-49-7, so a do-or-die semifinal vs. Costa Rica poses a far easier challenge for the Canadian side.
Heiner-Møller confirmed that he has a member of his staff at Monday night’s game between the U.S. and Costa Rica in Houston to scout both teams. The Canadian coach reiterated his pre-tournament goal for the group stage, to finish first in Group B with three clean sheet victories.
“That’ll give us a lot of confidence, attacking wise but also on the defensive side, going into the semifinals,” Heiner-Møller offered.
RELATED READING: Memories of Christine Sinclair: In the words of her teammates and coaches
Coming off a two-goal effort in the game vs. Saint Kitts, Lawrence put in another strong outing in Canada’s second game, but was subbed out in the 71st minute after being on the receiving end of some crunching tackles by the Jamaicans
Lawrence trained with the Canadian team on Monday, and could feature versus Mexico. Heiner-Møller confirmed that every member of his roster is fit and available for selection on Tuesday.
“Everybody is ready, so we have 20 players to choose between, so that’s a good luxury for a coach to have,” Heiner-Møller stated.
Having Lawrence in the line-up would be a big boost for Canada. A 24-year-old native of Toronto, Lawrence has seven goals in 85 appearances for the national team, and was named Canadian player of the year for 2019. She plays her club soccer with Paris Saint-Germain in France’s top division.
Sinclair sat out the match against Jamaica, watching from the bench as an unused substitute, as Heiner-Møller rotated his squad and gave key starters the day off. She is expected to feature against Mexico.
Canada’s captain has scored against 40 teams during her international career. Her 16 goals vs. Mexico is the most she’s registered against any nation.
NOTES: The semifinals and finals of this tournament are scheduled for Feb. 7 to 9 in Carson, California… The Canadian women have qualified for the last three Olympics, winning bronze medals in 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio…. Canada did not qualify for the 2004 Games in Athens, as it was upset by Mexico in the Concacaf semifinals. The Canadian women also did not qualify for the 1996 or 2000 Olympics when the U.S. was the lone Concacaf representative.