OPINION | Resilience is one of Canadian women’s soccer team’s greatest assets as it looks to defend Olympic gold | CBC Sports

One of Canada’s greatest accomplishments in soccer was the women’s team standing atop the podium in Tokyo at the Olympics in 2021.

I won’t forget that entire final — not only because I woke up before dawn to watch it, but because it was one of the most gripping matches I have ever watched. Like many Canadians, I was on the sofa, my emotions oscillating between stress and hope and then jubilation. 

After covering the team for the last few years, from this triumph through last year’s World Cup and what was arguably one of the worst years for them, on the pitch and off, the magnitude of what will be the Paris Olympics should not be lost on anyone.

We’ve seen the retirement of some of the most storied players of the program in Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt, but we have also seen the emergence of incredible talent. Cloé Lacasse, Marie-Yasmine Alidou and Olivia Smith are flourishing overseas. Lacasse and goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo just celebrated winning the FA Women’s Super League Cup with Arsenal.

For the recent SheBelieves Cup, we saw the return of stalwart Janine Beckie from an ACL tear she suffered last year. Beckie has played a leadership role on the field and off and her presence with the national team is immense. 

Canada put on quite the show and after beating Brazil in a shootout, they went to the final against their U.S. rivals, losing in another shootout despite Adriana Leon’s two goals for Canada. 

Even without Smith and Quinn (both out because of injury), Canada was steady. And while there are some young players, like Simi Awujo and Sydney Collins, who have had to take on a lot of responsibility, the seasoned players led the way. Vets like Jesse Fleming, Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan have experience playing in Europe, which also provides for robust competition that can come in handy at the Olympics. 

After a semifinal loss to the U.S. in March at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Bev Priestman, the ever-optimistic Canadian head coach, said: “This team feels like it’s taken a step forward. We’re on our way. We know where we need to get to.”

I remember being completely mortified watching that CONCACAF match. The pitch was unplayable because of rain and like many commenters online, wondered why it was not called off. But the Canadians persevered. They played hard and did not give up. 

Canada dominated that match but so much of the focus was on the pitch conditions. The first U.S. goal was an unlucky error by Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan as the ball she distributed did not go as far as intended because of the waterlogged pitch. The ball was intercepted by ever-lethal young U.S. forward Jaedyn Shaw who capitalized on the opportunity. (Fun fact: Shaw is Sheridan’s teammate with the NWSL’s San Diego Wave.) 

A woman soccer goalkeeper makes a save on a soaked field.
Conditions were not good in the Canada-U.S. semifinal at the Women’s Gold Cup in March. (Getty Images)

It was another riveting match and when a soaking-wet Leon converted her penalty in the last few seconds of extra time with steel-like focus to tie the game, it became clear that what Canada does best is be relentless. 

Carefully assessing the moment and working through it is the best plan for them and seems to work the best. As we’ve seen before, the Canadians keep playing under rough conditions, environmental or even emotional ones. They show up.  

What we do know is that this team has been tested in the past in ways that we would not want our greats to be challenged during pivotal moments.  In February of this year, they hit the former board of directors with a lawsuit.

There is certainly precedent of other teams in lawsuits while competing in mega tournaments — see the U.S. and the 2019 Women’s World Cup. And there are so many cases of women’s teams around the world struggling with federation issues or sexist injustices. Don’t even get me started on Spain, Jamaica or Nigeria. I’ve written about them in the past. 

But as the Canadian women get ready to defend their Olympic title, we see their talent and skill thrive despite unwanted stressors. Resilience is something they have mastered.

This Canadian team has to be dynamic to be able to navigate through injury and other issues. Being able to focus fully on performance is an incredibly difficult thing for high-performance athletes, but it’s part of their practice and their implementation. 

With less than 100 days before the Olympics, we aren’t guaranteed results or medals. But what we do know is that the team from the country known all over the world for saying “sorry” will bring itself unapologetically to the pitch. 

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