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Canada defeats Mexico in first of two Olympics warm-up friendlies

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It was far from a perfect performance, but the Canadian Women’s National Team got the job done in a 2-0 victory over Mexico at Montreal’s Stade Saputo Saturday.

It was Canada’s first of two friendlies against Mexico in preparation for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games.

Adriana Leon scored her 40th goal for Canada to break the deadlock in the 73rd minute and Cloe Lacasse doubled Canada’s lead with an excellent run and finish in the 86th minute to seal the victory for the home fans.

In tournament football, playing a perfect match matters less than getting results. Canada looked great in moments but was not as ruthless or clinical enough in the final third as they perhaps should have been. Despite this, they did what was needed to secure an important confidence-boosting win.

A matter of two half for Priestman

Canada head coach Bev Priestman said post-game that the difference was playing on the front foot and running forward more often in the second half.

“I thought the first half, we played a little bit within ourselves, sideways, backward,” Priestman said. “I think the identity of (our) team is (one) who can hurt teams in behind. I think that’s what you’ve seen in the second half.”

Canada spent nearly the entirety of the first half-hour attacking in the final third, creating a myriad of high-quality scoring chances with accurate, long through balls and speedy counter-attacks down both flanks.

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Canada outshot Mexico 6-0 and had over 60 percent possession in the first 30 minutes, but didn’t have a single shot on target to show for their efforts. 

Priestman explained that a late change to their lineup may have affected their on-field performance in the first half, but her team is resilient and knows how to get results.

“We had a late change to our lineup and a different combination than maybe what we’ve been working on. And I think that probably showed in the first half,” Priestman said. 

“I think we never say die, you know, we’ve shown that if we go down or score late in games, that’s been a ‘never say die’ attitude. I think that comes from a commitment to one vision and we’re all facing in the right direction.” 

“So I was all over the moon for some of the players that I think almost needed that (strong) second half (performance) like Cloe Lacasse around running forward, playing forward that’s what I’ve been trying to get (her to do) in the last little bit because I think when she does that she’s unstoppable,” Priestman continued.

Mexico grew into the match as the first half progressed and played on the front foot for the final 15 minutes of the first half.

Mexico moved the ball cleverly and used their pace to create scoring chances. Their biggest opportunity came in the 42nd minute when a shot was effortlessly cleared off the goal line by Canadian defender Vanessa Gilles with a picturesque back-heel flick.

At halftime, Canada outshot Mexico 8-3, however, Mexico had two shots on target to Canada’s zero. Canada created plenty of chances, but couldn’t capitalize on them. 

Priestman praises Mexico

Mexico came out firing at the start of the second half, moving the ball around smoothly and using their speed to get behind Canada’s backline.

Priestman gave a lot of credit to Mexico for making it an extremely tough test.

“We wanted a test and I thought Mexico played well, full credit to them. They got a result against the US for a reason,” Priestman said. “I knew it was going to be a difficult game and we just had to persevere,” she added. 

Playing a team with a unique play style would help them prepare better for their group-stage games at the Olympics, Priestman continued.

“But I think it’s a different style and they really caused us some problems. I thought we got caught out with balls in the box and that’s for us to pick up on. I always want us to improve (every) game, but I think the style of Mexico can mirror a Columbia that we’re going to face and a hard-to-beat team like New Zealand. So it was a really good exposure and experience for us.”

However, Canada regained control of the match from the hour mark, creating three scoring chances in 10 minutes to put immense pressure on Mexico’s defense. 

Canada eventually finds the goal

In the 73rd minute, the dam finally broke as Leon’s powerful shot trickled under the outstretched arm of Mexico goalkeeper Celeste Espino. Canada broke the deadlock on their 12th shot attempt, their first shot on target. Leon has been on excellent form for Canada in 2024, scoring 10 times so far.

Canada kept the intensity high and pressed for another goal to ensure a victory. 

Another quality long pass by substitute Evelyne Viens –who capped off a fantastic performance by recording two assists– was controlled on the run by Lacasse, who outmuscled a Mexico defender before slotting the ball into the corner of the net to all but seal the win for Canada. It’s Lacasse’s fifth goal for Canada.

Priestman was thrilled with the performance of her substitutes, especially Viens.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get (the roster) to 18 (players),” Priestman said. “Listen, I think we’ve been a team of using finishers, I think that’s part of my identity as a coach. I want to get players in the game and trust players and I think it’s been a strength of this team (since Tokyo).  That speaks volumes to our team’s depth.”

Priestman also talked about the importance of the next player-up philosophy.

“When we get players in and being confronted with that, you can look down your bench and you’ve got some top players –Evelyne did what we know Evelyne can do– who can go and 

cause havoc as the game starts to open up.”

At, full-time, Canada outshot Mexico 13-8, but Mexico had three shots on target to Canada’s two. Canada slightly won the possession battle 52-48 percent.

Canada scored on both of their shots on target, but had they been more ruthless in front of goal –as they have proven they can in the past– they could’ve scored four or five. 

Priestman talked in depth after the match about how difficult it would be to cut the Olympic roster down to 18 players.

“I think you can’t hide it’s going to be difficult. There are going to be some top players that miss out and that’s the difficult part, but I think as a coach, my commitment is to pick the right team and the right blend of players,” Priestman said. “And knowing these two-day turnarounds are going to be tight and in Paris, it’s going to be warm, so you have to weigh up a lot of different things.”

“What I do know is it’ll be an exciting group, whoever makes it, and I’ve been really pleased with the group this week as there’s been a real feeling of togetherness.

The two nations meet again on June 4 at BMO Field in Toronto. 

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