"It was perfect."
That was Canadian captain Christine Sinclair describing her goal-of-the-year candidate on a masterful set-up by veteran Melissa Tancredi. But she could have describing a lot more: a powerful 6-0 win, her own four-goal performance, a crowd that was a little short in numbers but way over the top in energy and enthusiasm. The first Western Canadian game for a Canadian national team in three and a half years could never have been worth the wait. But by god, those women did their best.
Canada's 6-0 win over Haiti was exactly what the world expected and Christine Sinclair's four goals was merely one more confirmation of her excellence. It silenced no doubters and heartened no boosters. But it was a tremendous show as the women, playing Vancouver's first international soccer game in more than half a decade, totally lived up to expectations in a way that so many of our teams don't.
We were against inferiors in borrowed equipment, the classic plucky underdogs who from kickoff were running hard, looking for a heartening result for a country that so badly needed something to cheer for. The movie script declared that Haiti, who played with pluck, courage, and near-constant effort, would at least get some moral victory. Instead they got a total trouncing, a potentially life-altering injury, and last place in Group A.
I can understand those watching on television not getting too excited about Canada beating the hell out of such a third-rate team. But as I said yesterday, this was about the occasion as much as the game. The occasion was fantastic, and then the players made sure it counted. I'm still walking on air.
The whole team played beautifully. John Herdman acknowledged that Canada started a little slow and that their finishing was slightly below par, but that was just the difference between a 6-0 game and a 10-0 game. In the last half hour Canadian players adopted a "shoot first, ask questions later" as if hoping to bag something of their own rather than just putting goals up on the board; it's hard to blame them. Particularly given that piece of teamwork we saw between Tancredi and Sinclair.
Scroll to 29 seconds in this video to see it; they have ended the Canadian Goal of the Year competition nineteen days into 2012. Tancredi said she saw Sinclair on the run; you can see her just turn her head before the ball arrives. Both recognized that defender Carmella Aristilde was trying to watch both of them, and Sinclair shouted "Tank!" to get her teammate's attention. So, with her back to her captain, Tancredi idly flips the ball behind her, over Aristilde, right into Sinclair's stride. Sinclair touches it home perfectly, and good god. After the game, even Tancredi and Sinclair were laughing about it, like they couldn't quite believe that worked.
I don't want to disrespect the Haitians, who showed some promising stuff. The energy level was high and, while I'd have to watch a replay to pick out any individual performers, they were able to clutter a few of Canada's passing lanes and mount some half-convincing attacks against a defense that could dominate them in every category. If this result doesn't have them too downcast, I wouldn't be surprised if Haiti could sneak past Costa Rica to grab second in Group A. They were more enthusiastic and consistent than the Costa Ricans against tougher odds until Canada finally forced their collapse.
Haiti's chances, though, may have been ended by the devastating injury suffered by starting goalkeeper Ednie Limage. Limage, who just completed her freshman season with the Université de Moncton, went down in the 66th minute after a horrifying collision with teammate Samantha Brand. Limage went straight to hospital and, while there's been no update on her condition since last night, the best guess is she's suffered a spinal injury. Limage was at fault on Sinclair's first goal but also made some spry saves and was definitely one of Haiti's better players.
The crowd was announced at 7,627: not a great attendance for a Canadian women's game but not disgraceful on a on a snowy January evening and a Thursday night against lowly Haiti. It was decidedly pro-Canada, and the supporters were boisterous beyond their numbers: Sinclair said with a smile that "it's nice to play these important games in front of a home crowd that's cheering for you and not against you."
That same crowd, hopefully a bit beefed-up, will return on Saturday at 7 PM to watch Canada play Cuba. If Cuba's first match was any indication they'll be even more of a walk in the park than Haiti was, and there'll be more cause to sing and dance the night away as Canada piles on the misery for an underfunded, underappreciated Caribbean visitor.
It's sure nice to be the big bad soccer bully for a change.
Elsewhere in Group A: Costa Rica beat Cuba 2-0 in a game that was, at times, borderline unwatchable. Cuba was slower and not nearly as talented as Costa Rica so instead they played physically in a way that should have seen a lot of yellow. Once Costa Rica found their rhythm the Cubans had no answer and they were lucky not to lose by more. My full report on Day 1 is on the SB Nation soccer portal.