VANCOUVER — Standing on the side of the pitch after Canada’s quarter-final loss to England here Saturday, the country’s foremost soccer talent apologized to her coach.
Once, twice, three times, a teary captain Christine Sinclair, who appeared defiant after scoring Canada’s lone goal in the 2-1 defeat to the Lionesses, could be seen on television cameras telling John Herdman, “I’m sorry.”
It was a telling moment in Canada’s Women’s World Cup challenge. As far as this team has come in recent years, expectations remain Sinclair’s burden to bear.
“She can’t say sorry. She was just a legend again tonight. She was outstanding; answered some of the critics, stood up in the big moments when she needed to,” Herdman said following the match.
Fourteen minutes was all it took for England to score two goals against Canada, a significant hole to climb out of when you’re playing the world’s sixth-ranked team.
The Canadians tried. In doing so, they may have had their best performance of the tournament against their frequent foes.
But familiar problems, like a lack of composure in front of net, coupled with an English side that sat back and defended for much of the remaining 75 minutes, were the Canadians’ undoing.
What might have been was already ever-present in Herdman’s mind following Saturday’s game.
“I think we could have . . . I’m not even got to say we could have, should have.”
It’s a fair daydream, those could-haves and should-haves.
Canada had a favourable draw and a nation behind them. With the country’s all-time top scorer leading the way, no one would have been bowled over had Canada reached the semi-finals.
But that rise to a top-four finish, four ranking spots above the Canadians’ current standing, would have required a first-class performance from each individual.
Where there were standouts — like the brick wall Kadeisha Buchanan and the versatile Josee Belanger — and big-moment saves from Erin McLeod, there were also howlers from Lauren Sesselmann and missed chances from Melissa Tancredi and her counterparts.
And this time, no lone effort from Sinclair could save the day. At 32 years old, she is still the country’s best. But she is a couple steps off her prime and we shouldn’t expect another miraculous hat trick like the one she pulled off against the Americans at the London Olympics in 2012.
This is a transitional team; Herdman knew that going in.
“I don’t think the plan was written to have a team that peaks in 10 years for a Women’s World Cup in 2015. That plan was never written. We had a World Cup here in 2015 without consideration that the cycle of players may not be peaking.”
But the Canadian coach took solace in the knowledge that the summer tournament, which saw more than 54,000 fans crowd BC Place on Saturday, will motivate a new generation of women, players and coaches to get out and play.
“This is a real women’s football country. I don’t care what the result is tonight. Those fans showed everyone around the world how to support the women’s game.”
That knowledge was a touchstone for Sinclair, too, said the upset captain when she finally appeared in front of the media, red-rimmed eyes and all, nearly two hours after the match.
Her post-tournament message to her equally distraught teammates was clear.
“You look around the stadium tonight and there are 50-odd thousands people wearing Canada jerseys. The young kids now dream of representing Canada. We did that. This one stings but, in the grand scheme of things, this tournament was a huge success.”