The rise and decline of the Canada women’s national team

Canada women's national soccer team

Prior to 2012, even the average Canadian soccer fan was largely unaware of the Canadian women’s national team’s record.

In order to fully appreciate the team’s progress, one would have to recall a second-place finish on home soil at the 2002 U-20 World Cup. The team was led by then-teenaged Christine Sinclair and for many, the tournament is viewed as the advent of the program’s success.

This was followed by a fourth-place finish at the 2003 senior tournament (an outing that has yet to be matched). However, forgettable performances at the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Beijing Olympics led to an ill-advised coaching change. This culminated in a disastrous showing at the 2011 World Cup.

A new era

In the wake of that senior tournament, former New Zealand head coach John Herdman was brought on by Canada Soccer. His turnaround of the team’s morale was immediate.

A roster virtually unchanged from the 2011 World Cup captured a gold medal at the 2011 Pan-Am Games. The team then claimed second place in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the impending 2012 London Olympics.

At the Olympics, the same Canadian women’s national team – sporting a patched-together defensive lineup riddled by injuries – made their way out of a group which included world champions Japan and heavyweights Sweden.

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They would eventually go on to beat England on home soil in the tournament quarter-finals, at which point the nation first began to take notice.

When Canada was edged out by the USA in a controversial semi-final match, the response from fans back home was uproarious.

In the third-place match, a Diana Matheson injury-time goal managed to capture a bronze medal against tournament favourites France. The storyline dominated airwaves for weeks and the team was etched into the annals of Canadian sports history.

Following the events of 2012, Canada won the bid to host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. On home turf, they were ousted from the tournament by England in an error-strewn quarter-final match.

However, they repeated as Olympic bronze medallists at the 2016 Rio Olympics. This subsequently pushed them to an all-time high fourth-place FIFA World Ranking.

The team became synonymous with moderate success, and with improvements to funding, recruitment and training came optimism for the future of the program.

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An uncertain future

In early 2018, the shock departure of John Herdman to the men’s camp upended Canada Soccer.

Former assistant Kenneth Heiner-Møller, about whom little was known to most supporters, became head coach in Herdman’s place.

After a drastic change in leadership, supporters were left to wait. The anticipation for silverware grew, but things were about to get much more difficult. Meanwhile, a crucial pair of senior tournaments at end of the quadrennial cycle approached: the 2019 World Cup hosted by France and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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