Match Analysis: CanWNT 2-0 Costa Rica — Concacaf W Championship

Final Score: Canada 2-0 Costa Rica
Goalscorers: Fleming 5′, Schmidt 69′
Concacaf W Championship Group Stage

Match in a minute or less

Canada secured their place atop Group B at the Concacaf W Championship on Monday evening, making it a perfect three wins from three with a 2-0 victory over Costa Rica.

Jessie Fleming got Canada off to a great start, making it 1-0 just five minutes into the match. She made a smart run to cut through the Costa Rican backline, and Nichelle Prince slipped a pass to her. Fleming ran onto it and with her first touch fired the ball into the back of the net for the early lead.

As has been the case for the entirety of this tournament, missed opportunities were the story, as the Canadians failed to turn some big chances into goals. Fabiola Villalobos blocked what appeared to be an easy tap-in for Nichelle Prince in the first half, and several players sent shots high and wide throughout the contest.

Canada would add a second goal in the second half, however, as substitute Sophie Schmidt doubled their advantage with 20 minutes left to play in the match. After receiving a pass from Adriana Leon towards the edge of the penalty area, Schmidt squeezed past a defender before curling a shot, which struck the far post before crossing the line.

With the goal, she became the third player in Canadian Women’s National Team history to score in three different decades (2000s, 2010s, 2020s), joining Diana Matheson and Christine Sinclair, who did it in the same three decades.

Canada will play the runner up from Group A in one semifinal on Thursday, while Costa Rica will take on the winners of Group A that same day.

Three Observations

Canada top Group B without conceding a goal, but still struggling to finish chances

If you had told this Canadian side before the Concacaf W Championship began that they’d come out of the group stage with wins in all three matches and zero goals conceded, they’d be over the moon, but after another trio of matches where promising scoring chances weren’t turned into goals, there’s still a bit of frustration lingering.

Players missing that final moment of quality has been an issue for Canada for a while now – their world-class defending does a lot of the heavy lifting against stronger opponents. Missing opportunities to add to their lead haven’t been too costly at this tournament, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be going forward.

The issue isn’t that Canada weren’t getting themselves into the right areas, they had 15 shots and 6 of them on target on Monday, but the final clinical shot to end one of these plays was missing.

“The pleasing thing in this Costa Rica game is that the chances were there,” said head coach Bev Priestman after the match. “We were in the right places, we created the chances. That, in this heat against that team who don’t concede, is enough for me as a coach to say stick to the process.

“I can put all the attention on the ruthlessness and the finishing, but the players know that. The chances were there, and we could have had more, but overall [I’m] really happy and that will come with rhythm and flow.”

A chance for Janine Beckie in the first half is a notable example of it, as the Canadian winger had a chance to take a shot from the edge of the six yard box, but wasn’t able to hit the target, sending it over the bar. Nichelle Prince also had a shot from a similar position blocked by a Costa Rican defender.

In the second half the chances slowed down a little bit, but Canada’s second half substitutes were still able to get into promising areas. Adriana Leon was a spark off the bench, and Jordyn Huitema had a shot stopped by Daniela Solera before Cloe Lacasse was unable to get in front of the rebound and it would be cleared away from danger.

They did score twice in this match, an early strike from Jessie Fleming to take the lead five minutes in, and Sophie Schmidt’s 69th minute goal to double the lead. In this match, as well as in the last one against Panama, Canada should have probably scored five or six goals — and against Trinidad and Tobago, a double-digit tally wasn’t out of the question.

The sweltering conditions in Monterrey didn’t do them any favours either, according to Priestman, who was pleased with her team’s willingness to still run and press, despite the temperature, which reached the high-30s and low-40s.

“I don’t think we can underestimate the heat, and what that does,” she said. “With that comes some sloppy passes and tired legs, but I thought it was a really professional performance. That’s three wins, nine goals, nine points. Overall as a coach you can’t complain at that.

“Clean sheets win you tournaments, but there’s nine goals there and they’ve come from different places.”

A win is a win, and like Priestman said, nine points from nine is a positive thing. They go into the semifinal with some momentum now, looking to secure a spot in the final. The winner of the final automatically qualifies for the 2024 Olympics.

Given their perfect record and sizable goal difference, the United States will almost certainly win Group A, so Canada will play the runner up from Group A, either Jamaica or Haiti. Group A will be decided later in the night on Monday.

Sinclair dropped deeper into playmaker role, her and Fleming given a bit more freedom

Since Bev Priestman has taken charge of the Canadian Women’s National Team, she’s shown a willingness to experiment with, and regularly adapt, Christine Sinclair’s position on the pitch.

Sinclair became the best goalscorer in the history of international soccer by playing up top and being a lethal striker, but in this match was deployed as more of a false nine. By dropping deeper, Sinclair was able to let the much quicker duo of Janine Beckie and Nichelle Prince do a lot of the running for her, and was more of an attacking outlet from midfield.

It certainly isn’t a new role for Sinclair — she’s shown signs of being very good when asked to play this style before for Canada — and it can bring the best out of some other players around her as well.

Nichelle Prince thrives on being able to stretch her legs a bit and beat defenders with her pace, and with Sinclair playing deeper, defenders often followed the Canadian captain. That opened up space for Prince — and Janine Beckie on the right side — to chase down passes from Sinclair and others, and play in crosses for those making runs into the box.

There were also moments during the match where Sinclair would swap places with Jessie Fleming, who started the match at the attacking midfield role she has made her own. At times Sinclair would drop very deep and Fleming would move to the top of Canada’s formation, trying to play off the Costa Rican backline and make runs in behind them.

The best example of this was on Fleming’s goal, just five minutes into the match. After a pass up the pitch from Kailen Sheridan, Sinclair took a few steps toward her own half of the pitch, before flicking the ball forward to release a rushing Prince. Fleming spotted the quick move up the field, sprinting into the top line of the attack, receiving the ball along the ground from Prince, before firing the ball into the net for what would be the winning goal.

With Sinclair playing deeper, Beckie and Prince were also able to cut inside more, and had a few chances each to extend Canada’s lead, including the aforementioned first half opportunities from close range that they weren’t able to take advantage of.

Sinclair and Prince would both be taken off at halftime, likely to get them some rest ahead of Thursday’s semifinal, but they both did enough to get themselves into the lineup for that match.

After facing a trio of defensive teams, Canada anticipate a shift in style going forward

As they expected coming into this tournament, Canada came across three teams in this opening stage that played a reactionary, defensive style of football.

Teams sat back, deep in their own half, forcing Canada to break them down if they wanted to score. Canada have the quality to do so, as seen by high shot counts and possession numbers throughout, but as mentioned don’t always turn playing on the front foot into the number of goals they probably deserve. Playing against a low block of as many as six or seven players can be incredibly frustrating — against Panama in particular, scoring one goal was underwhelming — but when teams are playing to not lose as opposed to playing to win, it can be a difficult task.

Costa Rica were the strongest of the three opponents that Canada faced, and entered in good form having won nine of eleven matches before this one, and drawing another. They didn’t get worn out as the match progressed the same way Trinidad and Tobago did in Canada’s tournament-opener, so a late surge of goals never came, and they forced Canada to stay sharp from minute one to ninety.

It’s another good test for the Canadians in patience, and their three opponents got progressively better as the tournament went on, but if they’re going to win this competition and secure that automatic qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, they’re going to need to go through the superpower that is the United States.

The Americans will not sit back and defend. Boasting some of the best players in the world, they will try to come out on the front foot and do what Canada has done to other teams — control the ball and pile on the pressure until they finally break the opposing defenders down and score.

They can be relentless at times, and have won back-to-back World Cups as a result, but Canada won their last meeting — their famous victory in the semifinal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The Canadian defence held strong in that match, as it would have to do again, and the smallest of margins can be the difference between winning and losing.

Of course, Canada might not play the United States until the final, as both they and the Americans still need to get through a semifinal first (assuming the United States hold onto their lead in Group A and end up on the other side of the bracket), but those two teams remain the favourites to meet at the Estadio BBVA in Guadalupe on July 18.

While Bev Priestman didn’t mention the United States by name, she hinted in her postgame press conference on Monday that they will be ready for a change in tempo and quality should they meet their neighbours with a spot in the Olympics on the line.

“The final might be a team that we’re used to in terms of style, and I think we can adapt to that pretty easily,” she said. “That’s probably been our whole career and pathway for a lot of these players, has been against that style of opponent.

“In many ways I was pleased that Costa Rica did that tonight, because it allowed us to say ‘you know what? Teams can change all they like’, and it’s credit to where we’ve been because they’ve shown us respect, but I think we needed to know tonight that we could convincingly break down a back five.

“Players walking off the pitch would have wanted some moments back where it could have been more than two, but at the same time I thought we created a lot and we dominated, so that’s the main thing.” Player of the Match

Jessie Fleming, Canada

Fleming gave Canada a much-needed early lead, and was a bright spot in Canada’s midfield throughout the match.

What’s next?

Both teams are heading to the semifinals, to be played on Thursday, where they will take on opponents from Group A. As the winner of Group B, Canada will play the second-place team from Group A, while Costa Rica will play the winner of Group A — likely the United States. The final Group A matches will be played later on Monday night.

Watch all matches live on OneSoccerReplays of Canada’s Concacaf W Championship matches will also be available on CBC.