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Canada’s blunders gift win to Japan at BC Place

Emily Zurrer

Emily Zurrer

“Yeah, if you don’t beat these tier-one teams going into the tournament, you go into it with the ‘what if?’ factor. And we don’t want that. We want to go in there confident, that we can beat these teams, that we can compete with the best teams in the world. We need to do that in the build-up over the next eight months. So, Japan is a big test for us, and we’re not going out there to tie. We are going out there to win the game(s).”

The quote comes from a one-on-one interview I did with Canadian midfielder Desiree Scott late last week, before Canada played its two-games series of friendlies with Japan in Edmonton and Vancouver. (The full interview will appear in the winter issue of Plastic Pitch.)

After a 3-0 loss to the World Cup champs in Edmonton on Saturday, the Canadians really needed some kind of result Tuesday in Vancouver. Canada has played the so-called “tier-one” teams through the year, and it hadn’t yet claimed a win against the likes of Germany, the Americans or Japan. More losses and that “what if?” factor Scott spoke about just grows and grows — and you’d begin to wonder if coach John Herdman’s plan to play the world’s top dogs in the lead-up to the Women’s World Cup was going to do more psychological damage than good.

On Saturday in Edmonton, the Canadians could only claim the sort-of moral victory of playing Japan pretty even for 40 minutes in a 3-0 loss.

On Tuesday at BC Place, the Japanese ran out a decidedly B squad, making nine changes to the starting lineup. Canada did very well to be tied 1-1, but, at about the 65-minute mark, the Japanese began bringing on the big guns, including midfield superstar Aya Miyama.

And the Japanese ended up with a 3-2 win, thanks to two terrible defensive mistakes by the Canadian centre backs. Right after Sophie Schmidt had brought Canada level at 2-2 in time added on, Emily Zurrer allowed her pocket to be picked by Japanese fullback Aya Saweshima, who then went in on keeper Stephanie Labbe and picked the corner for the winning goal.
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It’s oh so quiet: Japan trounces Canada in front of disappointing crowd

A photo of the, ahem, announced crowd of 9,654.

A photo of the, ahem, announced crowd of 9,654.

I hate writing soccer-attendance stories. They remind me of the times I used to have to lobby and lobby editors to give a soccer story a little more space, or any space at all.

So, just the writing this column is making me owly and growly.

On Saturday, the Women’s World Cup champions from Japan came to Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium to play the Canadian women’s national team. The friendly was announced months ago — and, outside of the rivalry with the Americans, is probably about as “tier one” a matchup as the Canadian Soccer Association could arrange.

The Japanese and Canadian players came out to see a heck of a lot of yellow and green empty seats. In a city that is hosting more Women’s World Cup games in 2015 than any other, a visit from the reigning champions of the world was greeted with indifference. A stadium that holds a little less than 60,000 welcomed an announced crowd of 9,654 who watched the Japanese march to a convincing 3-0 win. But, to the naked eye, it looked like the actual number of bums in seats was much lower than the announced attendance. Half of the stadium was closed to fans. Only 10 sections had fans in them, and they were maybe two-thirds full. Each of those sections has 45 rows, with 16 seats per row. That’s 10 X 45 X 16 = 7,200. And those sections were two-thirds full — so maybe, at best, 5,000 fans in the stadium.

Goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who hails from the area, saw the glass as being half full.

“I heard (before the game) that we had 8,000 sold,” she said. “So at first I was like, ‘huh,’ but, you know, looking at the stadium today, it looked pretty full on the west side. Of course, we always want more but a part of it is us putting on a good game. There were lots of exciting parts to this match. So, hopefully, they were happy and they will come back for the World Cup.”
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Canada vs. Japan: Hard to dislike the World Cup champs

Erin McLeod PHOTO BOB FRID/CANADA SOCCER

Erin McLeod PHOTO BOB FRID/CANADA SOCCER

Sure, when it comes to rivalries in women’s soccer, the Americans are at the top of the Canadian totem pole. They are the ones we, as Canadians, love to hate.

So, as the Canadians women’s national team gets set to face the World Cup champions from Japan twice in the coming week, you can’t expect there to be a war of words. Really, the series of friendlies sorta feels like we’re inviting a well-respected friend and the kids over for a playdate.

Canadian keeper Erin McLeod was at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Fieldhouse to help conduct a clinic for local minor soccer players and, after, she spoke of the challenge of playing the Japanese.

“They are so tactically disciplined, I think it will be a wonderful match for us,” said McLeod. “They are wonderful opponent, they are so well organized, we can’t afford any slip-ups for the entire 90.

“I think Japan reminds me of Germany. Germany is always so very organized and so is Japan. You saw in the World Cup, it was incredible what they did. It was after the tsunami and they really brought a nation together, so the spirit and the heart that team has, we won’t overlook it.”
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Wild night at the U-20 WWC: Canada survives, Germany and China in 10-goal thriller

Player of the match (CHINA) Beiyan Zhu, right

Player of the match (CHINA) Beiyan Zhu, right

It really is something to try and pay attention to two matches at the same time — one in front of you at the stadium, and the other on the screen.

They are both so enthralling, so wonderfully bizarre, that you feel absolutely torn in two.

That was the situation for me on Friday night. And it was a refreshing reminder of why I love this game so damn much. As I watched Germany and China contest one of the most incredible matches in the history of the U-20 Women’s World Cup at Commonwealth Stadium, I had the Canada-Finland feed up on my laptop, seeing if our national side could recover from its opening game loss.

As I got back upstairs from the coaches’ press conference in Edmonton after a stunning 5-5 draw, I was able to get to my laptop just in time to see Nichelle Prince tuck in a goalmouth rebound to give Canada a 3-2 lead over Finland. After some wonderful work down the right wing from sub Janine Beckie, who had scored earlier in the half to begin the Canuck rally from two goals down, the ball fell so wonderfully to Prince.

After an awful beginning to the game, which saw Finnish striker Juliette Kemppi punish a mistakes from Canadian keeper Kailen Sheridan and then pounce on a giveaway from Canadian defender Sura Yekka, the home side was able to rally. And the Canadians held on to that 3-2 score.

The Germans and Chinese had just wrapped their 10-goal marathon in a torrential rainstorm, as news spread that Canada had just scored to make it 2-1. No, wait, 2-2. Two of the subs brought on by coach Andrew Olivieri, Beckie and Valerie Sanderson, had scored within two minutes of each other.
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Invincible! Edmonton’s Lam finishes remarkable undefeated season with Kitchee SC

Matt Lam (20) celebrates with his Kitchee teammates.

Matt Lam (20) celebrates with his Kitchee teammates.

(The first issue of Plastic Pitch included a feature on Edmonton native Matt Lam’s push for a perfect season in the Hong Kong league with his side, Kitchee SC. We follow it up as the Hong Kong season comes to a close.)

Matt Lam can add the term “invincible” to his soccer résumé.

The former FC Edmonton midfielder and his Kitchee SC teammates enjoyed a 4-1 victory over Yokohoma FC Hong Kong over the weekend. With the win, Kitchee finished the Hong Kong league without a loss.

“It has been a fantastic season,” said Lam in a message from Hong Kong. “Obviously, having clinched the league a few weeks ago took away from the dramatics a bit, but we were very determined to finish undefeated. Being a part of winning a league title is a great honour in its own, but to also be one of only three teams in Hong Kong to have finished without losing a match is something I take a lot of pride in.”
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Former Eddie Matt Lam waiting on his Hong Kong paperwork

Matt Lam, left, in action against Manchester United's Robin Van Persie.

Matt Lam, left, in action against Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie.

There’s a good chance that Matt Lam will join the ranks of Canadian prospects who have answered the call of other nations.

The former Ajax youth player, former national U-20 midfielder and ex-FC Edmonton midfielder is waiting on his paperwork that would make him eligible to join the Hong Kong national team.

Lam joined Hong Kong side Kitchee SC last winter, after being released by the Eddies. He’s become a regular starter at the club, scoring a goal this season. He also scored in AFC Cup qualifying in the previous campaign. He also put in a very decent shift in an off-season friendly against Manchester United (CLICK HERE). And he’s looking good for a league championship this season, as Kitchee is still undefeated in the league, and has a seven-point cushion atop the standings.

But Lam has been frustrated by the process of getting his paperwork to make him a domestic in the Hong Kong FA.
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Whitecaps to honour Lee on final matchday of the MLS season

Young-Pyo Lee_thumbVancouver Whitecaps supporters will get the chance to bid farewell to Korean fullback in Sunday’s MLS regular-season finale at BC Place.

Lee announced his impending retirement on Tuesday.

Lee was the Whitecaps’ player of the year of 2012. He has a goal and 10 assists in 64 MLS games since he joined the Whitecaps before the 2012 season.

The team will honour the right back before its match against the Colorado Rapids, the same team that eliminated the Whitecaps’ from the playoff race last weekend.
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Canadian Matt Lam plays over an hour for Kitchee against Manchester United

Matt Lam

Matt Lam

In 2012, Matt Lam played against the likes of the Carolina RailHawks and Puerto Rico Islanders. On Monday night, the former FC Edmonton midfielder got to play for more than an hour against Manchester United.

Lam came on in the 30th minute of Kitchee SC’s friendly in Hong Kong against the Premiership champions. Lam moved to Kitchee this past winter, under the regime of previous manager Josep Gombau. He now has to use Kitchee’s preseason to impress new coach Alex Gomez, who moved to Hong Kong from Barcelona’s youth system.

You cannot have any better experience then playing one if the best clubs in the world,” Lam wrote in an e-mail to The 11 after the match. “It was a day that I will never forget. You can truly see the class of these players when you are up close and personal.”

When Lam came into the game, United was already leading 3-0, on goals from Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling and Fabio. The score finished a respectable 5-2. And, Lam set up what should have been Kitchee’s third marker. Late in the second half, he showed outstanding control to corral an awkwardly bouncing ball at the offensive end of the pitch. He kept the ball from going out of play, then squared a perfect cross for teammate Deshai Xu to head home. When it was easier to score than it was to miss, Xu missed.
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Kitchee wins Hong Kong FA Cup; but Canadian Matt Lam out with injury

Matt Lam

Matt Lam

Canadian midfielder Matt Lam was able to savour a trophy win on Saturday, but an injury kept him off the field.

The former FC Edmonton midfielder had to remain on the sidelines as his Kitchee SC side beat Sun Pegasus 1-0 in the Hong Kong FA Cup final. Substitute Pablo Counago got the winning goal.

For Kitchee, the FA Cup salvages a season which saw it lose the league title to arch rival South China AA.

But Lam, who had been a regular starter since he signed with Kitchee earlier this year, couldn’t take part in the final. Lam told The 11 he was “disappointed” to be a game-time scratch, as Kitchee coach Josep Gombau held out as long as he could to see if his midfielder’s “tweaked” ankle would be good enough for game action. Unfortunately, the decision didn’t go Lam’s way and he had to play the role of cheerleader.
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Canadian Matt Lam off to Hong Kong FA Cup final

Matt Lam

Matt Lam

Matt Lam is off the Hong Kong FA Cup final.

Lam’s Kitchee SC squad beat rival South China AA 2-0 Sunday in the second leg of their FA Cup semifinal. The Kitchee win came three weeks after the teams drew 1-1 in the first leg. Lam played an hour in Sunday’s win, which was decided by two late goals from substitute Yago Gonzalez Lopez.

The Sunday match marked the third time since April 7 that the two top rivals in Hong Kong soccer have met.
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