Home Global Game Europe Morace will finally lose Teflon image in wake of Canada’s embarrassing loss

Morace will finally lose Teflon image in wake of Canada’s embarrassing loss

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Carolina Morace’s skin has been made of Teflon. The Canadian national women’s coach has got what amounts to a free pass from soccer fans and the media in this country.

In the wake of Canada’s humiliating 4-0 defeat to France Thursday at the Women’s World Cup, the questions that haven’t been asked of Morace need to come to the surface.

This wasn’t just a humbling defeat; it marks a major talking point for women’s soccer in this country. Canada’s final group-stage game against the Nigerians is basically a friendly, with both teams going home after the fact. Did winning a few pre-World Cup tournaments give us the false sense that we were far better than they actually were? Is this program really not as far along as it should be?

And Thursday was a massive failure. After holding its own against the No. 1 ranked Germans, Canada was overrun by a dominant French side in a game it has known for months that it needed to win to get out of the toughest qualifying group at the World Cup.

Morace got what she wanted. It was her decision to have Canada’s national team hold its training camp in an Italian enclave, far away from any domestic media who might have been interested in covering the program.

The friendlies were played behind closed doors.

The team prepared, went through the Xs and Os, but did so without pressure — other than the competition for spots. Let’s face it, playing Switzerland and Hungary when there’s nothing on the line doesn’t mentally prepare you for a do-or-die game against France, one of the rising powers in women’s soccer. The result was the most lopsided loss a Canadian men or women’s team has suffered since the men were swamped in Buenos Aires by Argentina in a pre-World Cup tuneup for the South American power.

A large number of the French team played in the UEFA women’s Champions League; and it was clear that the big gap between the teams was in the area of mental toughness. France embraced the challenge, Canada wilted from it.

Would the Canadian women have been better-prepared had they trained for the World Cup at home? If they had to deal with cameras at their training sessions? If they had to deal with the spotlight?

Hell yes.

The Americans don’t have any qualms about preparing for the World Cup at home.

There’s no denying that the Canadian team’s play has improved immensely under Morace’s watch. She exorcised the long-ball attack, bringing in a passing system that involved all of the players on the pitch.

But, this loss to France was a sign of a team that’s not mentally tough. When the pressure was on, the Canadians shrunk. A coach has to be a motivator and psychologist as well as a tactician.

Media avoidance strategy
Morace doesn’t face the media in the same way that men’s coach Stephen Hart does. He does regular conference calls and takes the heat. Morace needs to come to grips with the fact that being a national soccer coach in Canada isn’t just about running practices and setting starting lineups. She needs to be accountable, available and an ambassador for the game.

It was clear from the opening kickoff who was going to win. Canada only had one scoring chance of note in the first half, with Diana Matheson taking an inadvertent touch on the ball that spoiled her own shooting opportunity.

Meanwhile, the French laid siege to Canadian keeper Erin McLeod. Shots were tipped over the bar. Headers went just off target. The French dominated the wings, and kept pounding the ball into the Canadian penalty area.

France got the first goal in the 24th minute. A deflected crossing attempt looped into the air. For Gaetane Thiney to head over a helpless McLeod. Thiney was played onside by Rhian Wilkinson, who was late to move up from the left back position.

It was just one of many Canadian mental errors in this game. Star Christine Sinclair played with a mask, having a go despite the broken nose she suffered in the opener against Germany. But even that could not shake the team from its collective lethargy. In the end, Sinclair’s goal will end up being a vainglorious highlight from yet another failed campaign.

In the second half, the French were granted the scoreline they deserved. Canadian defender Emily Zurrer made a lazy pass into a dead space just outside the penalty area. Thiney pounced on it and unleashed a rocket of a shot that gave McLeod no chance.

Camille Abily was left unmarked, allowing her an easy chance to head home a corner kick. And Elodie Thomis added a late marker. Can’t call it an insurance goal because, from early on, we all knew that this was going to France’s day.

Canada won a lot of preseason tournaments in places like Brazil and Cyprus. The team stepped out of the limelight for months. Then, when the spotlight was placed on the team, it clearly was suffering from stagefright. It played out of character. Passing was replaced by hit-and-hope balls aimed for Sinclair. The fact that Canada was able to play Germany close and be dominated by France is a classic case of a letdown after a big match; and that’s another sign of fragility.

We are four years away from hosting the next Women’s World Cup. We need each and every moment to prepare, because the program is clearly not close to being ready yet.

And, next time Morace wants to hide away in Italy, it might be time the Canadian Soccer Association suggests to her that she make it a one-way ticket. Morace has done enough to prove that she deserves to stay. But she needs to drag her team into pressure situations, not away from them.

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3 Comments

  1. nevyn

    July 20, 2011 at 3:28 am

    To refer to a lack of mental strength as the reason behind why the Canadian womens team failed is to analyse the situation in the most superficial of manners.

    Mental strength is incorrectly referred to as a reason for, rather than a symptom of failure.

    The concept of mental strength describes an individual and a teams ability to handle high pressure situations. From a football point of view this outlines an individuals confidence in their own ability to deal with situations that occur in a game AND confidence in the players around them to deal with situations that occur in a game.

    It was clear to me as an outsider (an Australian) watching Canada play at the World Cup that they’d overhauled the way they played from previously. The long ball was out and posession was in (much like my own national team that has been overhauling all development for the past five years on a national scale). For this Morace should be commended… partially.

    The key to playing posession if for players to be composed under pressure. This must be trained from a young age for players to know and feel their way out of pressure situations without losing the ball.

    One thing that is very difficult is to take a team that has formerly known only how to play the ball long and direct and turn them into a team that holds the ball. A lifetime of habits can’t be undone in the space of a year. That’s not to say that teams can’t change their style but if you took two teams, one that had played posession all their lives and another that had done it for one year, then it’s obvious who would be better at it.

    It was clear from all three games that Canada struggled to execute this new style at the top level.

    Germany pressured and outplayed Canada for 30 minutes but due to Germany themselves relying on size speed and strength (much like the US), Canada were able to get back into the game.

    France were clearly a superior team in terms of their passing and movement as their famed Clairefontaine academy now has a womens section and the results of it speaks wonders.

    This game also threw up another deficiency of the Canadian team. The lack of team pressing which is essential for good posession. When two teams play direct long ball football, the defenders need only be good in a 1v1 situation, against a team that plays posession, defenders need to be good at pressing the other team together. Canada was poor at this and for this Morace can be criticised.

    At the end of the day, the biggest question is whether the ideals of posession football are making their ways down the development tree. Are young players being taught how to play posession and are they playing meaningful games so that they can execute the skills required to play posession. Which in turn leads to a confidence in the ability to play it under pressure.

    I can point to my own countries national team who joined the Asian Confederation 5 years ago and at the same time overhauled it’s national development structure. Most teams in the Asian confederation play posession, small passes with movement off the ball. Australia changed from direct football to posession and beat the new World Cup Chamions Japan to the Asian Cup title last year. A lot of the older players who can’t play posession have made way for younger players who can. It was evidenced at this world cup that whilst still a work in progress, we are showing, like France and Japan, the value of teaching posession based football from a young age and not just when players reach the senior team.

    For Canada, it just means that a lot of development has to be done with the next generation over the next four years to make sure they’re ready for 2015.

    Reply

  2. Rodney

    July 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Steve

    You are dead on about the Team Canada not coming out to the “big game”. However, I have to disagree about the reason being that the coach didn’t have the pressure of having to answer to media scrutiny. The bottom line is the team in general has improved since Morace has taken control.

    What I got out of the French/Canada game was that under pressure the team Canada players reverted back to how players who lack comfort with the ball under pressure play. Long “hail mary” balls to their strikers. This reflects players who do not want the responsibility of loosing the ball. So they don’t get into situations where they could loose it – ie. into space to receive a pass. Instead the long ball is used where their are no culprits – the passer feels they’ve done their job by not loosing the ball and passing. The receiver feels like they’ve done their job because they also didn’t loose the ball even though they don’t have possession because the pass was not executed to perfection with the ball landing right at their feet.

    The French on the other hand kept the ball with tight short passing creating good scoring opportunities. Their players with the ball always had options unlike our players whose options ran away from the play expecting the long ball.

    This lack of comfort with the ball comes from not having individual technical skill largely because of how soccer is coached at the early stages of a competitive player’s career in Canada. Most players are coached by volunteer coaches with lack of ability to teach these skills as a foundation or they don’t realize how important individual ball skill is so they teach what they can which is positioning, strategy and tactics resulting in the hit and hope style of play (I know this because I used to be one of those coaches) – clearly the cart before the horse. Players can reach the top of Canadian soccer and win for years on teams that rely on “hit and hope” but once out in an international field well – you see the reality.

    The lack of “mental toughness” comes directly from the lack of “individual skill” under pressure. It will take years of practice to get this sense of comfort and Morace I think is cut from this style of play – where players never feel under pressure because they have skill. Morace is a good coach she just needs time because of what she has to work with and how fast the competition has developed because they’re style of play is built on the right foundation, individual technical skill.

    cheers

    Rodney

    Reply

  3. Jim

    June 30, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Wonder why Jodi Robinson was not used? Lots of questions to be answered on this one.

    Reply

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