MATCH ANALYSIS: More questions than answers for Priestman as CanWNT ends April window with 2-1 defeat to France

Final Score: France 2-1 Canada
Goalscorers: Geyoro 51′, Le Garrec 64′; Huitema 71′
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Match Recap

The Canadian women’s national team played their final match before head coach Bev Priestman has to select her roster for this summer’s World Cup, falling 2-1 to France at Stade Marie-Marvingt in Le Mans on Tuesday.

Christine Sinclair had the first promising chance of the match a few minutes in, with the Canada captain testing French goalkeeper Constance Picaud from the edge of the six-yard box. The shot wasn’t placed particularly well, however, and the PSG netminder was able to get down to make a comfortable save. Sinclair couldn’t take advantage of being given space in a dangerous position, with what would be the best chance of the opening half.

After that, there was an extended period of pressure from France, in which Canada was finding it difficult to get the ball out of their own side of the pitch at times. France were doing well to get up the two flanks, and pressing very high, but were missing the end product. Their best chance of the first half came off the boot of Eugénie Le Sommer, who fired a shot at Kailen Sheridan with her first touch following a low cross, but the Canadian goalkeeper was equal to it.

Jordyn Huitema also had an opportunity later in the half, getting behind the French backline to collect a pass over the top, but rushed her shot, firing it right at Picaud when she perhaps could have taken a touch to get into a better position.

The first goal of the match came just after halftime, after Grace Geyoro headed the ball past Sheridan from close range. Delphine Cascarino, who was lively throughout the match, opened up some space for herself near the goal line and chipped the ball onto the head of Geyoro, who made no mistake.

France weren’t done there, and doubled their lead in the 64th minute by taking advantage of a very poor giveaway from Sheridan. She danced around a French attacker with a nifty — and necessary — move, but rushed her pass seconds later, giving the ball right to Léa Le Garrec.

Le Garrec intercepted it at the edge of the penalty area and took a touch before lobbing the ball over Sheridan and into the empty Canada net. It was a gift from the Canadian goalkeeper, without taking anything away from what was a nicely-struck lob by Le Garrec to take advantage.

Jordyn Huitema pulled one back for Canada seven minutes later, her turn to take advantage of a goalkeeping mistake. Picaud, who had been sharp up to that point, dived to try and catch a loose ball in the penalty area, but let go of it when she hit the turf. Huitema was in the right place at the right time and pounced on the ball before easily passing it into the back of the net.

Canada kept pushing for a second goal, but it was ultimately too little, too late. France thought they made it 3-1 after charging up the pitch and putting the ball into the back of the net in the closing stages as Canada threw bodies forward in search of a goal, but it was called back for an offside.

Le Garrec’s lob would prove to be the winner on a challenging night for the Canadians.

Three Observations

Canada struggle at times against France’s relentless pressing

From minute one to minute ninety, France’s players showed a commitment to putting their opponents under pressure with a high press that forced the Canadians into making several mistakes throughout the match.

There was a stretch of 15-20 minutes in the first half in particular where Canada really struggled to get the ball out of their own half, or when they did it was a long clearance up the pitch in order to relieve the pressure momentarily before France counter-attacked again. It was a formula that the hosts employed again and again, attempting to push Canada deeper into their own half and force errors.

The most glaring example came in the 64th minute, when a sloppy giveaway from Kailen Sheridan led to the winning goal from Léa Le Garrec. Sheridan, under pressure from a charging attacker, did well to turn on a dime and momentarily get the ball away from danger — but then immediately rushed to get rid of the ball.

She passed it to nobody in particular, with the ball ending up at the feet of Le Garrec, who took a touch before finding the back of the net with a lob from the edge of the penalty area to double France’s advantage. Having elite players running at you is enough to strike fear into anyone, but with the added pressure of wanting to play well ahead of the World Cup, and away from home, seemed to get the best of Canada on several occasions.

Priestman was asked after the match about the play, and was quick to mention that the blame isn’t solely on Sheridan. She also said that after a number of mistakes throughout the match, a lethal one was always a possibility.

“It wasn’t just Kailen, it happened throughout the night,” Priestman said to reporters. “The warning signs were there that we’re trying to thread the ball through the eye of a needle. At times their line was so high, and we’ve just got to read the game. When they’re in such a high press, we’re not too good… we’ve got Sinc (Christine Sinclair), we’ve got Jordyn (Huitema)… we’ve got height in there where you [can] skip their press and you’re on their backline.

“I don’t want to take that for Kailen, because Kailen has kept us in a lot of games in the last 12 months. One mistake, and I’m sure she’ll learn from it. We just needed to put our foot through it and clear the ball, the warning signs were there in terms of them jumping.

“Again, you learn and you move on.”

Kailen Sheridan throws the ball during a match at the 2022 Concacaf W Championship (Photo: Canada Soccer)

Roles altered slightly as Canada look to use midfielders more effectively

Throughout Bev Priestman’s tenure, she has often opted to use a 4-2-3-1 formation, with one central attacking midfielder, and a pair of holding midfielders behind the number ten to do a lot of the defensive and transitional work. In this match, however, that wasn’t always the case, with Priestman opting for two more attack-minded players — Julia Grosso and Jessie Fleming — playing in front of one deep-lying midfielder, Sophie Schmidt.

The idea was to have both Fleming and Grosso more involved in the attack, forming partnerships with the wingers — Adriana Leon and Jordyn Huitema — as well as with the striker Christine Sinclair. Fleming in particular is most effective when she can quarterback the Canadian attack from that number ten position — a role which more recently has belonged to Sinclair as she transitions to life as a midfielder after so many year’s as Canada’s locked in starter at striker. There were times when those new partnerships worked well, like when Grosso was part of a play that sent Leon in behind the backline, before she put the ball on a platter for Sinclair to get a shot on target.

With the two formations fairly similar to one another, and easy to swap between — only needing to drop one of the higher midfielders deeper — at certain moments it went back to the 4-2-3-1 out of necessity. For example, with France pressing so high up the pitch, Grosso and/or Fleming would drop back at times to play alongside Schmidt more, so they would be closer to the action and could help win the ball back quickly.

Priestman seemed happy with the midfield overall, as they played reasonably well against France’s world-class squad. There is, of course, a lot of room for improvement, especially when it comes to not only winning and protecting the ball, but getting forward with it and creating some opportunities to score — something that Canada has lacked of late.

“Tonight we changed things up a little bit. We went into more of a 4-3-3 press with a holding mid in many ways, particularly the first half,” said Priestman afterwards. “I think we are evolving. It will take some more depth and players coming back in to keep pushing and evolving further.”

Priestman leaves camp with more questions than answers, but tier one test was crucial

This camp was Bev Priestman’s final chance to work with her players up close before she works with her staff to narrow down the roster to a final 23 for the World Cup, which begins exactly 100 days from Tuesday.

There have been several questions lingering around this team for a while, but none of them seemed to be answered during this April international window — questions like: Who is going to score Canada’s goals? Who fills in to replace the injured Janine Beckie? What positions are Christine Sinclair and Ashley Lawrence most effective in? Is Adriana Leon in good enough form to start for Canada in Australia and New Zealand? What is Canada’s best centre-back pairing?

There are more as well, and none of them have concrete answers yet. The two that are the most pressing at the moment are where Canada’s goals will come from, and who will start in the team’s backline Down Under.

Jordyn Huitema pounced on a mistake from the French goalkeeper to score Canada’s lone goal, but was stuck out on the wing for a lot of this game instead of at striker, where she has most often played for Canada. It seemed like Christine Sinclair’s days of being Canada’s starting number nine were behind us as well, but she got the start up top despite mostly playing as an attacking midfielder in recent months with the national team.

Adriana Leon showed how tenacious she can be and how she can use her energy and physicality to her advantage — but many feel like that might be more effective off the bench against tired defenders, especially when she sits on the bench week in and week out at the club level, not getting regular game minutes.

In defence, Ashley Lawrence has played at both fullback positions recently, but Jayde Riviere came off the bench today for her first minutes in months after a lengthy injury layoff and impressed. Could she be the starter at right back, pushing Lawrence to left back and Allysha Chapman to the bench? Has using Lawrence in midfield been ruled out? There are also uncertainties at centre-back, with Kadeisha Buchanan leaving this camp early to recover from an injury suffered recently, and Shelina Zadorsky sidelined with health problems. Vanessa Gilles and Jade Rose had some great moments on Tuesday, but at least one of Gilles or Zadorsky would start alongside Buchanan in an ideal scenario.

More questions, but still no answers.

Getting this group of players up against a “tier one opponent” like France, to borrow a phrase that Priestman and men’s national team boss John Herdman like to use, was a crucial test. While questions are yet to be answered — and Priestman saying after the match that she might bring a big squad into the final pre-World Cup preparation camp in June, before narrowing it down to 23 — being challenged by a fellow World Cup contender was a necessary lesson.

“Could we have won? Were we our worst enemy at times? That’s been the story of it a little bit,” Priestman said. “That doesn’t take away the quality and the group of players I’ve got in front of me. I’ve got every belief that with a good preparation camp, and numbers back in camp, that we can really push.”

With that being said, Priestman also made it clear that as long as the team grows from the result, the camp and friendly against one of the best teams in the world were positive. It’s challenges like this, she believes, that will put them in the best position to succeed in the long run.

“Look who we’ve played this year, we’ve played top ten opposition — The States, Brazil, Japan,” she started. “If we didn’t play that level of opposition, we wouldn’t learn these lessons. We’ve stretched ourselves, and we’ve been stretched with the absences that we’ve had, but I’m just so glad that we’re learning these lessons now.

“We go into what I would say is the ‘group of death’ at the World Cup, we have a tough group ahead of us. We chose to play top ten teams to test ourselves, to learn. I was very strong with the players afterwards, we have to learn.”

There is a lot of hard work still left to do for not only Canada’s players over the next 100 days, but for Priestman too as she tries to find answers to the questions above, and find a 23-player squad that blends it all together. Player of the Match

Delphine Cascarino, France

The French winger was causing all kinds of trouble for Canada’s defence in this match, using her pace and composure on the ball to create chances for herself and her teammates.