Sports  The road to redemption is a whole lot longer

With the Canadian women’s national soccer team rounding out the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Olympic Qualifying tournament, the word redemption is being thrown around a lot. The tournament – hosted by Vancouver – marked the first time the Canadians have played at home since their disastrous showing at the World Cup in Germany last summer. The team that some (admittedly very optimistic) supporters were predicting would win the World Cup finished last out of the 16 teams in Germany. The Olympic Qualifiers in Vancouver gained an impressive amount of mainstream media attention, with the key storyline centred around the idea of “redemption” for the women’s team after their poor performance in Germany. Unfortunately for the players, it will take a lot more than qualifying for the Olympics to redeem the team.

With the 2015 Women’s World Cup to be played in Canada, some supporters of the team are starting to get a little nervous. Anything close to a performance like the women had in Germany would be a low point in the program’s history. Canadian supporters saw their nightmares play out before their eyes in 2007, when Canada last hosted a major international event. The Men’s U-20 World Cup was seen as a stepping stone for the Canadian U-20 team that had done reasonably well at the previous two tournaments. When the tournament was at home, the team that had been so hyped up by the Canadian media staged an epic collapse, losing all three games without scoring a single goal. The effects on the U-20 program were devastating – they haven’t qualified for a World Cup since.

The U-20 World Cup in 2007 left a legacy of failure with the Canadian U-20 team. If the women do not fare better in 2015 than they did in 2011, they may be left with a similar legacy. That is why it is absolutely essential that the women’s team does rebound from Germany, and, as has been said before, “redeem themselves”.

While the 2015 World Cup may offer the team a chance at said redemption, the current Olympic Qualifiers and subsequent Olympics are not offering that opportunity. One of the biggest problems this national team has had is that it has been settling for too little. The players, fans, and the last two coaches – Evan Pellarud and Carolina Morace – have celebrated minor achievements as “enough.”

For example, when the women’s team qualified for the quarter-finals, supporters considered them a success even though pre-tournament predictions had Canada as a potential semi-finalist. When Morace took over as head coach in 2009, poor results were glazed over because people believed the team was “playing well” or “playing the right way.” Under the new head coach, John Herdman, this complacency must be seen as unacceptable.

Earlier this month, American forward Abby Wambach told Sportsnet that she thought Canadian Christine Sinclair was “the best all-around player in the world.” If Canada truly does boast the best player in the world, anything but competing with the best teams has to be seen as a failure.

That is why the Olympic Qualifiers are not about redemption; they are about rebuilding a team. The team needs to have a winning mentality because they suffered the worst result of their professional careers only seven months ago.
Luckily for supporters of the team, Herdman seems to be leading the players in a new direction. According to the players in camp, he has been far more open with them than either of the two previous managers and the results have been positive. Central midfielder Kaylyn Kyle spoke with Sportsnet about the changes that have been occurring under Herdman, saying, “John is very direct with you; he tells it like it is. He told me, ‘Look, if you don’t improve this, I can’t see you playing in our midfield.’ It scared the shit out of me. So I watched game tapes and he went over game clips for me. It’s been awesome. I really think I’ll grow under him”.

This type of change is the exact thing Canada needs in order to reach that next level on the international stage. Herdman is a coach who isn’t willing to take minor victories as simply “enough” and is demanding more out of his players than either of the previous two coaches were able – or willing – to do.
It is important to know that what happened in Germany is not thrown aside after the Olympic Qualifiers in Vancouver are over. It doesn’t matter that the media are calling this tournament a shot at redemption. What is important is that the players are aware that the only real redemption can come from a good performance at home in the 2015 World Cup, and that they have a long way to go before that.