A Big Red sea change is upon us

“Why not?”

That’s captain Christine Sinclair’s response, when I ask her why Canadians should get out to BMO Field tomorrow night, to support the women’s national team in their friendly against China.

“We’re ranked (among the top teams) in the world. We’re a good team. We were just in the Beijing Olympics, lost in the quarter-finals to the eventual gold medalists, in overtime. We’re a talented team.

Talented, yes — as evidenced by their triumph in the Cyprus Cup earlier this year — but equally critical is that they are, indeed, a team. Much of that can be attributed to the infusion of head coach Carolina Morace, who took over the reins of the team early last year. Bringing in Morace was lauded as a coup for the Canadian Soccer Association, given her experience and her tactical acumen. But perhaps the biggest shift — unexpected, to some — has been in her ability to create a loose, relaxed atmosphere within the team.

“Oh gosh, yeah,” Sinclair enthuses, when asked if the Italian gaffer has lightened the locker-room mood. “It’s nothing compared to what we had before. With Carolina, practice time is practice time, you don’t mess around. But there’s 22 hours in the day when we’re not practicing and we have to enjoy ourselves. … She’s very loose, she’s hilarious, the entire staff is very light. It’s a great group to be around and people — unlike before, I think — look forward to camp now.”

Sinclair isn’t alone in appreciating the atmosphere created by Morace. Fellow long-time Canadian national — and erstwhile WPS Championship game opponent — Karina LeBlanc says the energy Morace brings is “contagious”.

“Every day we come to the field and we love what we’re doing, and we know we’re going to learn,” said LeBlanc.

“She brings in a whole different philosophy that we weren’t so aware of in Canada, and she’s trying to change things. When she’s yelling at you, you can see her passion and how she coaches. You never take it personally, because you know it’s for you to be a better player. As a player, to play under a coach like that, it inspires you, it makes you want to be better every single day, and it takes your determination and want to a whole different level. That’s why I think we’re going to do a lot better than we’ve done in the past.”

It sure would be a good time for the Canadian squad to be in the ascendancy, as they head into qualifiers for next year’s Women’s World Cup in Germany. After a fourth-place finish in the 2003 tournament, Big Red fizzled out in the group stages in 2007. Many felt that the direct, route-one approach favoured by former head coach Even Pellerud was partly to blame for the team’s troubles, as the women’s game continued to evolve on a global scale.

“(Morace has) brought in a style of play that I want to play, that I love to play, that I feel comfortable playing and that I feel suits my game best,” Sinclair says of the new coach’s possession-oriented style. “With Even, like we said, it was more just long-ball, I was up top, flicking things on or making a 30-yard run trying to get on the end of a long ball.”

Now, things haven’t been all roses under Morace. In her first game as Canada boss, the girls were smoked 4-0 by the USA (the last time the team played in Canada, last year at BMO Field). Then there was a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of #1-ranked Germany earlier this month. But Morace herself is quick to note that the Germans are, indeed, one of the strongest sides in the world, and the game against the Americans was her first in charge of Canada.

LeBlanc, for her part, refers to the Germany game as a “huge learning experience.”

“If we went out and played a team and beat them 5-0, I think we’d be walking off and thinking we don’t have that far to go,” she said. “But in getting that kind of defeat, you think, ‘we have a lot to look at, a lot to learn’.”

As for China? Everyone around the Canada side agrees they are tactically sound team that should pose a good challenge. The overwhelming sentiment is that while a result would be nice, the more important function of the game is to get the team prepared for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers (even the Chinese coach said, through a translator, that he hoped the experience provided by tomorrow’s friendly would help propel the Canadian team to greater heights).

But almost as important for LeBlanc and Sinclair is the opportunity to play on home soil and provide some inspiration to a new generation of young players.

“Every single game, we go out and we try to sign autographs and interact with them because we remember being those kids,” said LeBlanc. “Even if it’s just eye contact for two seconds, it changes that kid, she’ll be like ‘hey, I can do that one day.’ It’s all about Canada soccer.”

Skipper Sinclair agrees that it’s important to make that connection with fans, and wishes the team would get the opportunity more often. She made a sly remark during today’s press conference about her team maybe making it out to Vancouver for a game (she’s from Burnaby), and sang the same tune when I asked her for a followup.

“If you play one home game a year, no one knows who you are, there’s not that bond with the fans that we had six years ago,” she said.

“There’s no reason that our team can’t play across Canada, whether it’s Vancouver, Edmonton, here in Toronto… people would come watch us. It’s just a matter of getting the game.”

Well, Toronto, you’ve got the game tomorrow night. The team is there. The tickets are there. The renewed dedication and passion are there. Will you be there?

If not… why not?

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3 Responses to “A Big Red sea change is upon us”

  1. Kevin Smith Says:

    Toronto sports fans see their teams lose at everything, so they should definitely watch the CWNT, since they actually have a chance to win things! I think I’d go, if I was there, or they were here. I made it out to a Carleton U women’s game earlier this month, and went home before the mens game (admittedly I was cold and hadn’t eaten for 6 hours), so I would definitely watch women’s games…

    Damn you Ottawa! Why do you have to not have a field for anyone to play on 😦

  2. I’d love to be at the game tomorrow, but this is yet another Voyageurs story about a fan who’d go but isn’t living the right city. The Voyageurs need to make a better effort at giving the CWNT all the effort that we put towards the CMNT, they deserve the support just as much (if not more).

    I really hope that if the Moncton event happens, they could have both a Men’s Nats and Women’s Nats game in the same weekend (wow… what a hang over that’d produce!). Have the Women’s game on Saturday and the Men’s game on Sunday, or do it so that the pitch could recover and not be an issue for the second game. Imagine a coordinated effort by all the supporters groups plus the Vs to put something huge together (along with attendance) for both the Women’s AND the Men’s. That’d be something to tell the grandkids.

  3. […] team because supporting the women is worth it in and of itself. CSG’s Squizz found, in his interview with Canadian captain – and Women’s World Player of the Year finalist – Christine Sinclair, that the women are […]

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