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Canadian women put on show for soccer fans


Some 40 minutes after Canada’s 6-0 demolition of Costa Rica on Sunday afternoon, young fans lined the west side of BMO Field for a chance to get close to their soccer idols.

Squeals of joy escalated as the Canadian women neared, a reminder of just how high John Herdman’s team is regarded by the next generation of would-be internationals.

Those fans can now say they were there for perhaps a moment to remember in Canadian soccer as 16-year-old Jordyn Huitema, in just her fourth senior appearance, opened her national team account with two goals — in the 73rd and 74th minutes — off the bench.

Canada was coming off a 3-1 win over Costa Rica on Thursday in Winnipeg.

Sunday was a good day for Canada’s youth brigade as 22-year-old Janine Beckie scored three goals and 18-year-old Deanne Rose added a single before an announced crowd of 20,628 on a hot summer day.

Jessie Fleming, 19, helped perennial talisman Christine Sinclair, who turns 34 Monday, pull the strings, playing provider as the fifth-ranked Canadian women repeatedly ripped open the 30th-ranked Costa Ricans’ defence.

Huitema, a five-foot-nine striker who has played all of 76 minutes with the senior side, was rewarded with a Gatorade shower by her teammates.

Her first goal came in a goalmouth scramble but the second was a confident strike from a player seen as a star in the making.

Huitema (pronounced HIGH’-tah-mah) thought teammate Nichelle Prince has scored the first goal. “I got up to celebrate with her and then everybody was kind of running towards me. I didn’t really know what was going on.”

“I’ll take anything I can get,” she added in true forward fashion.

There was no confusion about the second as she buried a Prince pass in the back of the net.

“I guess I was trying to make up for the first one,” she said with a laugh.

Huitema showed her class off the field as well as on it, sharing the glory.

“It’s just an hour to be able to share with such an amazing group of women,” said the Grade 10 student. “I couldn’t have chosen a better group of people to surround myself with.”

While Costa Rica did not provide the stiffest opposition, the two-game series with the Central Americans bodes well for the future. The Canadian roster had an average age of 23.6 years.

This is an exciting group … When I look at the future now it’s crazy to think these girls can continue to play capable of multiple World Cups, multiple Olympic Games,” said Herdman.

All the more exciting is the talent developing in the pipeline.

“There’s a 13-year-old somewhere that’s going to be 16 in 2020 (the next Olympics) and pushing these girls for their spot because our system’s producing that … Jordyn was 14 when she first came into our national squad. And now she’ll be pushing Sinc, I’m sure, in 2019, 2020, for that starting spot.”

That could be the sweet spot for a team that has already won back-to-back Olympic bronze. Herdman believes his team needs two more years to percolate, saying he knows the talent at his disposal.

Now he wants them to have more time, more games together to work on their chemistry.

“This team will have to play faster, for sure, when we get up against the Germans, the U.S., in a World Cup semifinal, final, whenever we get there.”

It’s clear Canada has Costa Rica’s number.

In Thursday’s win, Herdman’s team left a lot of goals on the table. Canada racked up 41 shots and crosses in Winnipeg.

Herdman wanted more ruthlessness in front of goal and the Canadians did not disappoint Sunday.

Canada went ahead in the second minute, led 2-0 after six minutes, 3-0 after 13 and 4-0 after 21. It marked the fastest ever 3-0 start to a game by the Canadian women. The previous record was 17 minutes in an 8-0 romp over Singapore in 2008.

It was 4-0 at the half and could have been at least 7-0.

The Canadians were helped early by a leaky Costa Rican defence that left acres of space for the Canadian front five of Sinclair, Beckie, Fleming, Rose and Sophie Schmidt to exploit. The five were constantly on the move, shifting the point of attack and befuddling the Costa Ricans.

With the outcome decided so early, there was less of an impetus to press in the second half and Canada seemed to take its foot off the accelerator until Huitema took the field as Herdman emptied his bench.

Sinclair, whose international tally numbers 168, could have had scored several times on the afternoon with some special moments of skill. Instead, she shared the wealth — particularly on Beckie’s third goal.

Taking a pass from Rose, fullback Lindsay Agnew lofted a cross to Sinclair in the penalty box. Sinclair could have turned and shot herself but instead chested the ball down and flicked it to Beckie who volleyed it high into the net in the 21st minute for a highlight-reel goal.

“That’s Sinc,” Herdman said of his skipper’s unselfishness.

Beckie, who had a frustrating night in front of goal Thursday, now has 18 goals in 34 appearances for Canada.

TORONTO STAR | SPORTS

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