A fitting end to an excellent year for Big Red
Could the year really have ended any other way for this team?
Down to 10 women, down a goal and facing a Brazilian team, a Brazilian crowd and a Brazilian referee, our ladies held things together long enough for their captain, Christine Sinclair, to pull out one of the nicest goals she's ever scored and propel Big Red to its latest piece of hardware.
A heads up, Canadian soccer fans: If you haven't done so yet, it's time to jump on the CanWNT bandwagon.
The rather remarkable final tally for our women's national team in 2010:
* 13 wins, three draws and two losses.
* 11 clean sheets, including a string of eight in a row.
* 38 goals for, 13 against.
* Three championship trophies: the Gold Cup, the Cyprus Cup and today's Torneio Internacional Cidade de Sao Paulo.
It's tough to remember, now, that the team struggled at the end of 2009 as it tried to adjust to head coach Carolina Morace. Suffice to say, as our ladies head into next year's Women's World Cup with a full head of steam, any worries about Morace's tactics and techniques have definitively been put to rest.
Morace has not only brought out the best in team stalwarts like Sinclair and Diana Matheson, she's also worked hard to build the team's depth, giving opportunities to newer players like Jonelle Filigno, Kaylyn Kyle and -- as we saw during the Sao Paulo tournament -- Stephanie Labbe.
Sunday's result was massive not just because it keeps the team's momentum rolling heading toward Germany 2011, but it also provided the team with some real adversity for the first time in a few months. The Brazilians showed some fancy footwork (to the delight of the crowd, and the commentators) and stretched Canada's back four with their speed. But the team stayed organized enough to keep Marta and the girls off the score sheet in the first half, and then showed the needed resilience to grab the late equalizer.
Josee Belanger got at least three quality chances at goal in the opening 45, and managed to bury one just before the interval, converting a cross from a resurgent Melissa Tancredi. Belanger is another player who's burst onto the scene in 2010 -- given her performances, she's already become an indispensable part of the squad's attack. For what it's worth I think it's great, in terms of the team's national profile, to have a Quebecois player making such important contributions.
But another Quebecois member of the team made some unfortunate negative contributions on Sunday. Marie-Eve Nault was victimized twice by dubious decisions from the hometown ref. She earned her first yellow card early in the second half, after supposedly wasting time while taking a throw-in. Then she picked up her second yellow, and was sent off, for having the audacity to let the ball inadvertently strike her arm while she was in the area.
Marta converted the ensuing penalty, and looked to put things right in the footie universe, giving Brazil the 2-1 lead. But along came Marta's erstwhile WPS teammate, Captain Sinclair, to recalibrate that little universe.
Sinclair has 112 goals to her name as a member of the Canadian team, but few were as pretty -- and as clutch -- as her strike on Sunday. You can take a look for yourself in the highlight vid at the end of this post.
On Part 4 of our year-in-review podcast series, our guest (Ingrid Green) predicted that Canada would win the 2015 Women's World Cup. I reacted with surprise since, no matter what gender or age division you're talking about, saying that Canada will win a World Cup in soccer is a pretty bold statement.
But after Sunday's performance in Brazil, and putting the year in perspective, my shock at hearing that claim has almost completely dissipated. In fact, if Ingrid or anyone else were to start making the argument that Canada could win the 2011 Women's World Cup... I'm pretty sure I'd hear them out.
If this all sounds like I'm cheerleading... it's because I am. Because someone needs to do it.
It's bad enough that non-soccer fans continue perpetuating the outdated, idiotic cliche that Canada sucks at soccer and no one cares. But all too often, even actual Canadian supporters fall into the trap of being self-loathing or apologetic about rooting for our teams.
The women's national team's performance in 2010 can hopefully lay to rest all of those tired, bull$hit arguments... this team is, as Sinclair says, "really good." And as for whether people care? On an NFL Sunday, where sports fans' attentions are surely pretty divided, the CanWNT hashtag on Twitter was trending second in the country (trailing only NFL star Michael Vick). For you Twitterphobes, that's a good thing.
So it's time to step out of the shadows, folks. There's nothing wrong with you if you openly support the Canadian women's national team.
Hell, given the way they've been playing, there might be something wrong with you if you don't.