John Herdman saw plenty of rust but also lots to celebrate in Canada’s 3-2 win over Mexico on the weekend.
The B.C. Place Stadium friendly was billed as a tribute to his Olympic bronze-medal team and the Canada coach was choked up as he led a post-match tribute to the retiring Marie-Eve Nault, Melissa Tancredi and Rhian Wilkinson.
But while celebrating the past, Herdman also had an eye open to the future.
With his squad having just one camp together since last summer’s Olympics in Brazil and limited recent playing time, he was not surprised Saturday’s performance was spotty. There were giveaways galore.
But Deanne Rose scored on a beautiful individual effort in the 14th minute before Janine Beckie showed her shooting accuracy in the 26th.
Herman enjoyed both pieces of skills but took particular pleasure in Canada’s third goal in the 40th minute.
After being chopped down for a penalty, Canadian captain Christine Sinclair stepped aside to let Beckie take the spot kick. An observer might have thought Sinclair was just catching her breath after going down hard. But Herdman said something else was at play.
“She knew in the Olympics the penalty (miss) against Australia hit Janine hard, from a confidence point of a view,” said Herdman.
“As a leader she allowed Janine to take that penalty … Christine is our penalty-taker, for sure. But she’s a class act and that was a great piece of leadership.”
Beckie buried the penalty for a goal.
The front five of Beckie, Rose, Sinclair and teenage midfielders Jessie Fleming (18) and debutante Sarah Stratigakis (17) ebbed and flowed like an attacking current at times, complete with delicate one-touch passing.
“Another level of football that maybe we haven’t seen,” Herdman said approvingly.
He sees it as evidence of the growth of a Canadian team ranked fourth in the world.
“In the past it used to be stop Sinclair and you’ll stop Canada,” Herdman added.
“We’re starting to really develop an offence that can cause problems. But with that, we’ve got to maintain that Canadian DNA of strong defence.”
Injuries and absences did not help the Canadian cause against Mexico, especially at centre back. Nault, who has already started her post-playing career as a co-ordinator at a regional Quebec training centre, was originally slated to watch from the sidelines.
Nault, who didn’t get word from Herdman that she was playing until two weeks ago, ended up captaining the team and playing the full game.
“She hadn’t kicked a football since November,” Herdman said. “She’d been playing hockey once a week … it was great to see her hanging in.”
In future, Herdman will look to get more time with his team after the Olympics to avoid the rust shown Saturday.
As it was, his time with this squad was cut short when Tuesday’s planned closed-door rematch with Mexico was cancelled due to bad weather. Herdman won’t get his players together until Feb. 24, about a week in advance of the Algarve Cup in Portugal where Canada is defending champion.
Herdman expects to have a full squad with France-based Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence released for the tournament. Germany-based Sophie Schmidt, who sat out the Mexico game with a wrist injury, should be healthy.
Herdman is awaiting word on the status of veteran Diana Matheson, who was left out of the Mexico match as a precautionary measure as team medical staff assessed several injuries.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press