The long walk in the wilderness is almost over. After close to a year, a Canadian national team is going to play again.
The women will take to the field as participants in the SheBelieves Cub (SBC) for the fist time. In case you are unaware of what that the awkwardly named and space resistant tournament is, the SBC was started in 2016 by the USSF to act as a US-based equivalent of the annual February tournaments that have long been a stable of the women’s international game.
The other two tournaments being the Algarve and Cyprus events, which Canada has long been going to.
Basically, the US created the SBC so they could take advantage of the massive popularity of the USWNT and sell lots of tickets, strips and World Cup Champions t-shirts to screaming tweens. They typically only invite the cool kids to take part – teams that appeal to the largest cross section of fans in the US. That means your Japans and your Brazils.
Canada has been good enough to go in the past, but they don’t move tickets in the same way, so they were relegated to the less profitable events. It didn’t seem like a big deal (Algarve is a lot nicer of a February get-away than Charlotte, after all), but SBC was offering a a high level of competition. So, it’s good that they are now part of the show.
Of course the reason they are in is that COVID-19 has made it difficult for the usual suspects to travel to the US – in fact, Japan had to withdraw at the last minute. No matter, it’s still an opportunity for Canada to test itself against a couple of Tokyo’s medal contenders in the US and Brazil. Argentina has replaced Japan and should provide Canada with at least one easy touch in the tournament.
The SBC, combined with a friendly with England in April, which will also (sort of. It’s Team GB there) be in the Olympics will act as Canada’s prep for the Summer Games.
(And, yes, I do think that the Games will take place. Probably without fans, but they will figure it out. The Olympics are too big to be cancelled. They just are.)
Canada is, of course, looking to win its third straight medal, but things are a tad bit different now than they were in 2012 or 2016. Those two cycles were very much dominated by a generation that is now either gone or at the very end. Eleven women from that 2012 team have now retired, in fact. It’s a new generation.
A new generation that is still lead by a legend in Christine Sinclair, of course.
It will be very interesting to see what this team looks like, a mystery made even more intriguing by the fact they haven’t been able to play for so long. I will have a more in-depth preview of the Canadian team released on Tuesday, along with a look at the other three teams.
More details on that soon, but in the meantime let’s have a high-level look at the question of whether Canada can get on the podium again.
The answer to that is…maybe.
Not to be vague, but maybe is about as good as a prediction as you can reasonably have right now. You need to see them play a bit first to have a better understanding, but in general the idea of Canada repeating the Bronze Medal performance isn’t crazy. Like the other two medals they’d need to play to the very best of their abilities and probably get a little luck. But, they could. Absolutely.
One of the key things to understand about the Olympics is that the field is much weaker than a World Cup.
Much, much weaker. That’s because the European entrants are restricted to three teams. And, in this particular case, those three teams are Sweden, the Netherlands and Team GB. All are good, but none are unbeatable.
The US, Australia and the Dutch are your likely medal favourites, but a lot will depend on how the groups play out. Canada avoids the US in its group, which is helpful. So long as they also avoid them in the quarterfinals, that is. The Olympic tournament is all about that quarterfinal round. Win that game and you play for a medal.
When it comes to Canada’s medal chances, I’m like Mulder: I Want to Believe.
I just need to see them play first.
And, I will. Thursday at 7pm ET vs the USA.
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