Wileman: Canadian women have massive success in Vancouver

Luke Wileman

1/30/2012 1:18:19 PM

For Canada's Women's National Team it's a job well done. For now anyway. The CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying tournament held in Vancouver over the last 10 days was a massive success as the Canadians secured a berth at the London Olympics in front of record breaking crowds in Vancouver.

Led by the magnificent Christine Sinclair, at times it looked too easy for the Canucks as they cruised past Haiti, Cuba and Costa Rica to finish top of their group with three wins from three matches and 15 goals scored.

Then, when it mattered most, in the country's first real test they dealt superbly with the pressure, expectation and a tidal wave of patriotism in Vancouver by beating Mexico 3-1 in the semi-final to book their ticket to the UK this summer.

Job number one has been completed, but head coach John Herdman is under no illusions about the size of the task that awaits them in London if they are to compete with the world's best. The Canadians were well beaten by the United States in the final of the tournament on Sunday, losing 4-0. They struggled to cope defensively with the pace and quality of the U.S. attack, and when Sinclair was unable to break the shackles placed on her by the opposition they couldn't find another way to break through.

In a world where sports coaches frequently make excuses for poor performance in a bid to spin a situation in their own favour, it was refreshing to hear Herdman talk openly after the game and admit he didn't get things right in terms of team selection and tactics. By pushing Sinclair up front she was unable to influence the match in the same effective manner she had done earlier in the tournament from an attacking midfield role. The team's cohesion also seemed to take a knock with the absence of Melissa Tancredi who started on the bench.

It was a disappointing end to what was an extremely positive week. Although Sunday's result shows there is still a large gap in quality between Canada and the United States, it shouldn't erase the hope and confidence built up during a feel-good tournament. The players clearly enjoy playing for Herdman and for each other. They may not have the depth of talent that a team like the U.S. possesses, but they have a few difference makers capable of matching up with players across the planet.

So despite Sunday's defeat, there are plenty of reasons to be positive about the country's chances in London. The women's team has made big strides over the last six months since Herdman's appointment as the team's head coach following the disappointment of last summer's World Cup. Hopefully the next six months will be just as productive heading into the London games.

Is BC the Place?

Off the pitch, the Canadian Soccer Association deserves big credit for hosting the tournament with great success, and the soccer fans of Vancouver were outstanding, supporting in big numbers. The attendance of over 25,000 for Sunday's match was fantastic to see, and there's no doubt the revamped BC Place is certainly a stunning venue to watch soccer.

Now the question is whether or not the Canadian Men's National Team will play any World Cup Qualifying matches in Vancouver?

The CSA will answer that on Thursday when they announce the 2012 schedule for both the men's and women's teams, but all the evidence points to the fact that British Columbia's soccer loving public won't be seeing De Ro and Co. any time soon.

Speaking with the media on Sunday, while admitting the level of support at the tournament "exceeded expectations," the CSA's General Secretary Peter Montopoli tempered expectations by talking about reasons why BC Place won't work for the World Cup Qualifiers taking place later this year.

The players want to play on grass instead of turf. They want to be in the Eastern time-zone to make travel easier for those based in Europe, and they want to build upon the 'home-sweet-home' feeling they established during the first stage of qualification last year.

Although I would love to see a packed BC Place supporting the men's team, it's hard to disagree with Montopoli's explanation. In an ideal world, the national team games would be spread out across the country to give everyone the opportunity to see matches live, but the priority has to be getting to the World Cup. For Canada to be successful, the players must be given the best possible conditions to succeed - and that starts with making them happy.