(Scroll to the bottom of this post for some exciting news)
Canada is facing China tonight at BMO Field in Toronto. The match kicks off at 7:30 EST/4:30 PST and will be broadcasted live on Rogers Sportsnet East and Rogers Sportsnet Ontario.
This is a rare opportunity to play at home. Prior to 2008, Canada didn’t play a home game in over two years. Since then, one home game a year has been the norm, all of which have been held at BMO Field.
China has brought a really young team to face Canada and the US. 11 of the 23 players are from the 2006 U-20 WWC Russia and/or Thailand 2004, winning silver at both tournaments. That means that about half of the team was born on or after 1985. (I’ll give you better stats in another post). Veterans Bi Yan and Han Duan did not make the trip due to injuries.
The team is being revamped after a disappointing result at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup that meant China failed to qualify for the Women’s World Cup for the first time since the tournament’s inception in 1991. Shang Ruihua took over as the head coach in 2008 after the team’s rocky relationship with Frenchwoman Elisabeth Loisel (2007-2008). Shang was replaced by Li Xiaopeng (not that Captain Obvious should butt in, but it’s the footballer Li Xiaopeng and not the gymnast, although that would be interesting =)) earlier this summer. Li is a former defensive midfielder for the Chinese National Team, and made a rare World Cup appearance in 2002.
Canada has been training since camp opened in Rome on August 25. After winning two exhibition games against Italian club teams in early September, Canada lost 5-0 to Germany in front of a raucous crowd of 20,431 in Dresden. The team relocated to Alliston, Ontario for more training on September 21 and played a closed door scrimmage on the 26th against China with a 1-1 result.
Following tonight’s match, China will face the USWNT in Kennesaw, Georgia October 2 at Kennesaw State University Soccer Stadium and in Chester, Pennsylvania October 6 at PPL Park. China is preparing for the 16th Annual Asian Games in November and is targeting a gold medal finish. Canada will return to training after a short break. Camp will resume at Nottawasaga Inn & Resort in Alliston, Ontario on October 4 and go until the 14. They will have open training sessions, so both fans and media are invited to attend.
-The Chinese Team was really relaxed during their training session last night, much to the surprise of a couple of us silly Westerners who expected the team to be robotic and overly disciplined. The head coach got into the inner team scrimmage and poked fun at himself when he whiffed shots. The team joked around, they laughed and had cute nicknames for each other.
-One of the drills they did was break into groups of four to do one touch passing. Needless to say, they were very precise and very quick.
-My top 10 list of personal fails of the day includes not catching the name of one of the players practicing crosses from the left wing. As several observers noted, she sent in a ton of perfectly placed (and quick) crosses in the air and along the ground. If her service during tonight’s game is anything like what we saw at the training session, then expect a dangerous attack from the outside of the pitch.
-The good folks over at the USWNT Blog love to talk about the weather, so I figured I’d do it too. Why let the Americans enjoy all the fun when it comes to thermodynamics and rainfall? It was frickin’ cold and windy at last night’s practice! It’s supposed to drop to 15 degrees tonight (Celsius, my friends) with a bit of drizzle. I’m not sure how the players will be affected by the cruel reality of an odd Toronto autumn, but don’t be surprised if some people in the crowd are sporting their winter jackets.
-Rutgers University and Toronto Lady Lynx forward Jonelle Filigno isn’t in camp at the moment due to school commitments. But Carolina Morace stresses that she’s still very much interested in what Filigno brings to the team, so expect her to return to the roster in the near future.
-Melanie Booth, Kelly Parker, and Brittany Timko are currently battling some injuries. Kara Lang says she’s pretty much 100% after recovering from last year’s ACL tear and the stress fracture in her foot suffered late this summer.
-Several players have signed sponsorship deals with Umbro, including Stephanie Labbe, Kara Lang, Diana Matheson, Carmelina Moscato, Melissa Tancredi, Brittany Timko, and Emily Zurrer.
-It’s somewhat rare to see the Canadian players beyond their games, but some videos do appear on occasion and you know how important cute/enduring videos can be. They may be discussing their most recent win or speaking kind words about their Mom and then kicking butt at the Cyprus Cup; they may also have somewhat more serious interviews; Melissa Tancredi and Amy Walsh will have locker room dance offs; our favourite Cheesesteak, Karina LeBlanc, will be spying on the Norwegians; Christine Sinclair will bring the funnies; and the team likes to show their juggling skills. Perhaps you’ll get to know the team a bit more through a Facebook page with frequent updates and videos – I don’t know for sure – but word is that the girls are definitely interested in connecting with fans and they’re working on it.
And what you’ve been waiting for…
-I asked Carolina about the rumoured October friendly against South Africa and the not so delightful answer is: no, it’s not happening. She wanted a second home game this year but things didn’t work out (although she didn’t specify if negotiations about playing in Canada happened with other teams in addition to South Africa).
-The most recent series of camps and games are obviously leading up to a very important event: the CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifiers in Mexico October 28 to November 8. The team will head into residency camp if they qualify for the 2011 WWC. Specific dates and location(s) are not yet known.
-And the big news is (come on, you have to be excited about this!) qualifying will also possibly mean two home friendlies right before the World Cup. There’s also a good possibility that Vancouver will be at least one of the sites. Don’t forget that Canada will also host Germany in the latter part of 2011.