Canadian women prepared for soccer opener

 

 
 
 
 
Canada's Christine Sinclair celebrates her penalty kick goal against Cuba during the first half of play in a CONCACAF women's Olympic qualifying soccer game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday January 21, 2012.
 

Canada's Christine Sinclair celebrates her penalty kick goal against Cuba during the first half of play in a CONCACAF women's Olympic qualifying soccer game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday January 21, 2012.

Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press

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Call it The Herdman Effect.
Many of the faces are, by now, familiar. So, too, the increasingly-hollow pre-kickoff voices of burnished optimism.
What the difference has to be at this Olympic women's soccer tournament for Canada boils down to one man. To him. The freshness of his voice, the strength of his influence. His powers of persuasion.
The guy enlisted with raising the Titanic from the ocean floor. Coach John Herdman. In command of the bridge for all of 10 months.
"I feel much more prepared than ever before,'' says mainstay defender Candace Chapman, on the eve of Canada's tournament opener versus Japan. "That's the bottom line. We've done so much behind the scenes, video, team building, individual work.
"In the over 10 years that I've been involved, we've never really explored those elements this in-depth. John works 24 hours a day. If there were 25, he'd be searching for 26. We've never had his attention to detail. The type of leadership he puts on players, not only to figure situations out but to learn . . . it's a different kind of environment. Unique in our experience.
"He's just a really inspirational guy. And he doesn't just bring it for one game. Every game, every single practice, the level is the same. High. With the Italians, it was a lot more laid-back. With John it's 100 per cent, from the go."
If the Even Pellerud regime relied on physical strength and power and Carolina Morace's Dolce Vita revolution tried unsuccessfully to implement a more continental style of champagne football, from all early input the Herdman hallmarks will be on-pitch adaptability, tactical flexibility and preparation.
"We're fortunate,'' says veteran striker Melissa Tancredi. "He's come with a plan. I think he's always wanted to work with this team, and when he got here he already had in the back of his mind what he hoped to accomplish and how to go about it. He's brought a whole new intelligence to our game. We have all the back-up information we need. We just have to go out on the field and execute the plan. That's the difference. He's done a phenomenal job in 10 months. Pretty incredible, really.
"He has the details DOWN. They're key with him.''
Drawn into a ghoulish group that also includes reigning World Cup champions Japan and the fourth-ranked Swedes, the Canadians are, as everyone is doubtless aware, attempting to expunge bitter memories of a 2011 World Cup campaign in Germany that wound up leaving an aftertaste like bad schnitzel. Canada was winless at the World Cup, with a tournament-worst goal differential of -6.
"That World Cup,'' sighs Tancredi, "was, I think it's safe to say, the biggest heartache any of us have experienced in our athletic careers. If you can't take motivation from something like that . . .
"We're going to be relentless, no matter what the game plan. I don't think any of us are going to make the same mistakes we did last year. It was very tough. Some of us stepped away from the sport for months to comprehend what was going on. And the heartache didn't stop. There were resignations going on and for a bit there we had no clue where our program was headed. At a key time for us, remember, with Olympic qualifiers coming up.
"I think it shows the kind of character we have, the veterans especially, just pulling up their socks and getting over it. You need to swallow your pride and realize we still have the opportunity to do something special.''
That something starts, naturally enough, with the new man in charge. He has begun the necessary introduction of the next era's talent. And by all accounts, increased player input has pumped up morale.
"One of the great things about John,'' says Chapman, "is that he's not always focusing on the negative. It's a learning environment. He knows you're going to make mistakes but you're rewarded for the good things you do. It's a really good balance that way.''
That balance, a feeling of communal aim, is absolutely essential to emerging from a murderous group, in making this tournament a time of retribution and renewal for a program that has hinted at much, only to fail to deliver in massive moments.
"One of the laws of victory is: One agenda,'' preaches Herdman. "In football, if you end up with a squad of 21, you've got 21 different personalties with a lot of different experiences. So to bring them together on one page is never easy. But this group, our group, has worked hard at that.
"Connection is the key. Having a stronger connection than the other team is what we'll live and die by. If you look at other sides around the world, they've got some really technically gifted players. The U.S. has depth on the bench, on the pitch. The Japanese, so organized, such strong belief.
"For us to podium at this tournament means one agenda and everyone connecting. In every single game. We don't have the raft of individuals to rely on that can just score a goal from nothing. When connection disappears we're going to be at real risk.''
gjohnson@calgaryherald.com

 
 
 
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Canada's Christine Sinclair celebrates her penalty kick goal against Cuba during the first half of play in a CONCACAF women's Olympic qualifying soccer game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday January 21, 2012.
 

Canada's Christine Sinclair celebrates her penalty kick goal against Cuba during the first half of play in a CONCACAF women's Olympic qualifying soccer game in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday January 21, 2012.

Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice
Who will be the NHL's worst?
 
Sabres, easily
Hurricanes
Some other team
Don't know, but would love for my team to get McDavid!