MONTREAL – Canada’s women’s soccer team continued its Celebration Tour with its second victory in as many games, beating New Zealand 1-0 on Tuesday night at Stade Saputo in Montreal.
Adriana Leon scored for Canada, who also defeated the Football Ferns by a score of 5-1 in Saturday’s match in Ottawa. The Canadians, ranked sixth in the world, are now unbeaten in their last 12 games.
“It wasn’t a great performance, I don’t think,” said head coach Bev Priestman. “I partly expected it with the amount of changes. You miss a bit of chemistry and flow with some partnerships. We had good spells, but we didn’t have sustained spells.
“But overall, to get the win, to remain undefeated – I’m really happy.”
Canada’s gold medallists from the Tokyo Olympics were once against honoured pre-game, as the 20 Olympians were introduced individually to the cheers of the 11,323 fans in Montreal, with Ashley Lawrence and Julia Grosso being the only absentees.
For Priestman, the Celebration Tour isn’t just about recognizing the players for their golden achievement, but also building towards the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“How do we keep that going? We know being undefeated goes and wins you gold medals, championships, but at the same time, we’re not going to come up against all tier-one teams. So it was important for us to play a tier-two team like New Zealand to put our stamp on it,” she said.
Tuesday was the first game the national team has played in Montreal since June 15, 2015, when they tied the Netherlands 1-1 in the group stage of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup at Stade Olympique.
“I felt the warmth from the fans. I thought the fans were phenomenal tonight,” said Priestman. “You really felt them, really vocal – it was fantastic. It helped us through a game that wasn’t the most fluid, at times the most exciting.”
“It was so great to play at home. I think the crowd showed up and was so loud for us,” said forward Évelyne Viens.
Winning the “Old Fashioned” Way
After an offensive explosion of five goals in Saturday’s game against New Zealand, Canada returned to its trademark one-goal win, which dominated the team’s gold-medal run in Tokyo. Leon broke the deadlock in the 16th minute, and despite numerous chances, Canada was unable to put another in the New Zealand net.
“We’ve been a very difficult team to beat. But I think we now also have to go put the ball in the back of the net,” said Priestman. “We want to be a team that can get numbers higher, not be one that sits back, and bring that aggression.”
New Zealand, ranked 23rd in the world, also appeared to be better organized defensively, limiting Canada to a handful of dangerous chances despite the Olympic champions once again holding the edge in possession.
“I think all credit to New Zealand. They came out way more organized and a much more difficult team to beat, so it gave us a better challenge,” said Priestman.
The Football Ferns also had their chances to equalize, including a long distance shot from Ria Percival that forced goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé to make a save. Canada has kept a clean sheet in eight of its 15 matches this year.
Weather may have also been a factor, as it was a cool and blustery night in Montreal, with a downpour of rain before kickoff.
As for Canada’s lone goal scorer, Leon is largely known as a “super sub,” with Tuesday marking her 34th start in 78 appearances, but she has also been making a case to crack Canada’s starting 11. She now has three goals in the two Celebration Tour games, and in terms of her dribbling prowess, there are few forwards on the team that can match her.
Leon, 29, now has 23 international goals, third-most among active players, and one back of tying Andrea Neil for seventh-most in team history.
Priestman said before the Celebration Tour began that she would use these games to try players in different positions. So far, that’s included Janine Beckie at right back.
If Beckie, usually a forward, looks comfortable in the role, it’s because she has experience in the position with her club, Manchester City. Beckie spent time as an outside back in her second season, and is also currently playing on the backline as City deals with several injuries.
Beckie had a hand in all five goals in Saturday’s game, and she picked up right where she left off on Tuesday, taking a pass near the top of New Zealand’s box before firing in a shot. Goalkeeper Anna Leat couldn’t hold onto the ball, allowing Leon to bury the rebound.
Beckie then shifted into the midfield after Jayde Riviere subbed into the game near the start of the second half.
“I think where you get the best out of Janine is when she’s higher and she’s in the attacking third. She seems to make things happen for us,” Priestman said. “Her versatility is an X-factor... I think when you have that at your disposal, as well as what Janine brings – she can run, and run, and run – and I think when you’re in a major tournament, she’s a real asset to have. And then just her commitment to be better everyday – I think she bring that to the group.”
All 20 Olympians who were available to Priestman saw playing time at some point in the two Celebration Tour matches. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who did not see the pitch in Tokyo, subbed into the game just after the start of the second half and maintained Canada’s clean sheet.
McLeod was also the driving force being the letter of demands that the players sent to Canada Soccer on Friday, asking for the federation’s commitment to fight and investigate abuse in sports.
Priestman made four changes from the starting 11 in Saturday’s game. Leon, Shelina Zadorsky, Sophie Schmidt, and Quebecer Gabrielle Carle drew in as starters.
Carle was one of three Quebec-born players on the pitch, along with Viens and Vanessa Gilles, and the Montreal crowd showed its appreciation for the francophone players in the pregame introductions.
“I’ve never played in Montreal or any part of Quebec with the Canadian jersey on. So that’s an experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” said Carle.
Gilles, who has enjoyed a breakout year for Canada and became a starter during the Olympics, looked to net her first international goal. She connected on a header in the 78th minute, but couldn’t find the target.
At this point there are no more confirmed games for the Celebration Tour, but Priestman did hint that a game in Vancouver could be announced shortly.