On Saturday night at, Canada Soccer wanted to give Canadian fans an opportunity to celebrate the bronze medals that the Women’s National Team captured in Rio. The celebration was held in the form of a friendly match between Canada and Mexico at BC Place. Although this match had no real implications on the international soccer stage, it was an important day for Canadian soccer. The game was also a chance to celebrate the careers of Rhian Wilkinson, Melissa Tancredi, and Marie-Eve Nault: three of Canada’s longest-tenured players who, as of after the match, have retired from international soccer. With an exciting 3-2 win over Mexico, the Canadian team gave fans a true celebration for just how far women’s soccer has grown in their country.
There was a strong buzz throughout the stadium as the players warmed up and highlights of the Rio Olympics played on the jumbotron. The crowd of 22, 508 provided a passionate atmosphere. While most of the crowd was decked in red and white, there were a few pockets of green-garbed Mexico fans that made their voices heard during the anthem and throughout the game. Once the game kicked off, Mexico had the early advantage. Within the first ten minutes, they had challenged Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé with a couple of tough shots. Canada took back the momentum, and in the fourteenth minute, forward Deanne Rose deked through multiple Mexico defenders and buried a shot with her left foot to put Canada up 1-0.
Just two minutes later, Mexico came roaring back with a goal of their own, capitalizing on sloppy play by Canada’s defense. Canada was able to settle the game once again and continued to control the play. In the twenty-sixth minute, Jenine Beckie collected the ball after a scramble in front of the net and buried it in the bottom corner to restore Canada’s lead. Beckie got her second goal less than fifteen minutes later on a penalty kick that was drawn by Sinclair. The 3-1 score line would hold until the end of the first half.
In the second half, both Tancredi and Wilkinson were subbed onto the pitch to standing ovations from the Canadian fans. Mexico would add one more goal off a corner kick in the 59th minute, but Canada’s defense led by substitute goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo would shut the door after. After the final whistle blew, Nault (who did not dress for the game) joined Tancredi and Wilkinson on the field with all three of their families to celebrate their Canadian national careers. After each player received a video tribute and lengthy standing ovation, Canada’s head coach John Herdman addressed his players and the crowd. The emotional Herdman thanked the three players for their service to the team and country and assured that they would be missed. Before the game, Herdman discussed how those players have been important for Canada on and off the field. “Those players have been consistent; that’s what I’ve loved about them,” he said. “They bring a real grit to our team. There’s a strength in character and maturity in their leadership.”
There is no doubt that Christine Sinclair has been and continues to be the central piece to this team; however, Saturday’s game marked the passing of the torch in terms of the core that surrounds her. The two players who scored goals in the game, Rose and Beckie, are 18 and 22 years old respectively. So as three of Canada’s top players move on from soccer, it is clear that there is young talent to take their places. Perhaps Canada Soccer’s ability to grow the women’s game to a point where this is all possible is the biggest reason for Canadians to celebrate after all.