Let's cut right to the chase: This week wasn't fun. On Monday, Canada tumbled out of the FIFA Women's World Cup in the Round of 16, missing a late penalty kick in a 1-0 loss to Sweden. Then, on Saturday, the men's national team suffered their own knockout-round heartbreak, coughing up a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 loss to Haiti in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals. Given that one-two emotional punch, it's easy to believe we're at a low point for the national team program. But, one needn't travel too far down memory lane to remember things looking even bleaker. After a promising start at the 2011 Women's World Cup, Canada was thoroughly eviscerated by France, then unexpectedly lost to Nigeria to finish dead last at the 16-team tournament. Just over a year later, in October 2012, a result in Honduras would have sent the men through to the next round of FIFA World Cup qualifying; instead, they had an 8-1 meltdown that precipitated a painful and winless 2013. I don't bring those up to carve into long-healed scars; rather, it's to remind us that tough times bring tough questions—and that answering those questions can help pave the way for sunnier times to follow. Here are some issues that the teams helmed by John Herdman and Kenneth Heiner-Moller will need to address, coming off of Canada's no good, very bad week:
How do the men come back at the back?

Alphonso Davies is one of the most dynamic and exciting Canadian players ever. He's also, according to national team lineup sheets, a left fullback. Whether Herdman's decision to use him there was tactical or out of necessity, it highlighted the historically anomalous condition of the team: plenty of attacking tools, but question marks in defence. Writing off a player like 22-year-old Marcus Godinho for a pair of crucial errors against Haiti isn't in anyone's long-term interest. But with the likes of Sam Adekugbe, Juan Cordova and Manjrekar James missing out on the Gold Cup 23-man squad, Herdman's roster choices will be under increased scrutiny moving forward.
What's next for Christine Sinclair?

Almost certainly, she'll soon become the all-time leading scorer in international soccer, needing three more goals to break Abby Wambach's record of 184. Once that moment comes, it will liberate Heiner-Moller to make personnel decisions without worrying about the goal-scoring chase. I'm not saying Sinclair will (or should) be cut or demoted once the record's reached. But she's 36 years old, and the team is entering the latter part of a transitional phase. It sounds like heresy, but it's a question we must confront: When will Canada's captain no longer be a regular fixture in its starting lineup?
What happens when Jonathan David cools off?

Spoiler alert: The 19-year-old's ridiculous pace thus far in his national-team career isn't sustainable over the long term. Ten goals in eight appearances has been a remarkable story, but every career has its ebbs and flows. The men's team is fortunate that, unlike in previous eras, they have numerous weapons on which to rely, including Davies, Lucas Cavallini and Junior Hoilett. There's no expectation or requirement that David can carry the team's attack on his shoulders in the way a player like Dwayne DeRosario once did. However, David and Cavallini captured lightning in a bottle in a way that won't be infinitely replicable. What adjustments does Herdman have up his sleeve once opponents start figuring them out?
What's Canada's place in the fast-changing world of women's soccer?

Canada came into the Women's World Cup ranked fifth in the world, but they'll fall off that mantle in the next round of FIFA rankings. Tumbling out of the top 10 could certainly also be on the horizon, given the way that the WoSo world is moving. Consider that, needing a goal in the dying minutes against Sweden, Heiner-Moller's last two kicks at the can were a pair of defenders—while 18-year-old Jordyn Huitema, touted as Canada's next big scoring threat, sat on the bench. Was this a tactical mistake on Heiner-Moller's part? Or was it a tacit admission that, in this transitional moment, when the pressure's on, Canada lacks the capacity to unlock opposing defences with finesse and technical skill? While tenacity and feistiness have always been part of the team's DNA, one wonders to what extent the team will lean even more heavily into that reputation as they look to reload ahead of the 2023 Women's World Cup.
What's good in goal?

Thankfully, the goalkeeper position isn't a point of concern for either team right now, as Milan Borjan, 31, and Stephanie Labbe, 32, have the positions locked down. Given the customary longevity of goalkeepers, both can be expected to still be around when the next senior World Cups come in 2022 and 2023. Behind them, however, the questions arise — not due to a lack of quality, but a lack of national-team experience. On the women's side, Sabrina D'Angelo and Kailen Sheridan have had more chances to cycle into the starter's role than the half-dozen men currently laying claim to the No. 2 spot behind Borjan. Borjan and Labbe, as expected, played every minute of these just-finished tournaments for their respective teams. But, should injury or any other unexpected circumstances befall either of them in 2020 — with the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 World Cup qualifying on the calendar — then what?

Continue reading...