Olympic qualifying: Canada v USA playing time analysis and what it means for Canada

One of the first assertions made in the aftermath of the USA’s clinical dismantling of Canada in the Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament final was that the US squad had much more depth. Canada were far too reliant on a handful of players and in a tournament that required you to play five games in eleven days if you were Canada and five games in ten days if you were the United States, strategic resting or rotating of players was crucial.

There can be no arguing that the primary goal of the tournament was to qualify for the Olympics and that squad rotation and decisions on who to rest should and would have been calibrated on keeping each country’s optimal lineup ready for the crucial semi-final rather than the ‘bragging rights’ final.

So I’ll concede that point but what interests me more is how Canada stacks up against the US women so I’ve done a more head to head comparison that treats the tournament final as perhaps more important than it was from a competitive point of view. This approach affords a more complete view of the depth of each team’s rosters.

Below is a chart I put together of how much each player played in the five games. It then separates out how much each player played in just the semi final and final and then how much they played in the three round robin games that preceded the knock out phase.

Keep in mind that American defender Ali Krieger was injured in the first half of the first game so the States played most of the tournament with one less out field player than Canada.

Lastly, I’ve subjectively picked out each team’s five impact players and looked at their playing time.

As the legend at the bottom of the chart says, the numbers in red indicate all the outfield players who played at least 80% of the available minutes (ie. 360 of a possible 450). The green boxes display the total number of minutes played by the players selected as impact players and the orange box simply shows which outfield players played every minute of the semi final and the final.

Note: the orange boxes haven’t come through on the American roster but the players that should have been highlighted are Rampone and Lloyd.

Here’s the conclusions I think are relevant.

  • Canada had five outfield players who played 80% of the time in the tournament while the USA only had three
  • All five of those players played every minute of the semi final and final while only two American players did the same
  • The five impact players on Canada selected (Sinclair, Chapman, Scott, Parker and Schmidt) played an average of 362 minutes while the five American players selected (Lloyd, Wambach, O’Hara, Morgan, Rapinoe) played just 277.4 minutes. That’s almost an entire game more for the Canadians on average.
  • Perhaps more relevantly, as the teams headed into the crucial semi final game, Canada’s five impact players had averaged 190.8 minutes of play in the round robin phase while the American impact players had only averaged 135 minutes. In other words, Canada’s five had played over 41% more than their American counterparts.
Moving forward

In the end, would resting Sinclair and company a bit more have paved the way to a win over the States? I don’t think so. Perhaps the most prominent number in the chart above is Shannon Woeller’s 450 minutes. If she’s being groomed as a long term starter at centre back then you can understand these minutes better as an investment in her. She’s young and the position requires a lot of time, at this level, to get comfortable with teammates you’ll be playing with and to hone decision making so that you read the game quickly and accurately.

The concern is that if this is Herdman’s strategy for Woeller the issue of lack of pace is not going to be rectified simply by giving her lots of playing time. Even if Woeller had another 40 caps under her belt, Alex Morgan is going to make her life miserable.

So the lack of depth has demonstrated two ways. Our better players had to play far more than the US impact players had to. This kept them fresher and made them more dangerous over 90 minutes. Secondly though, our lack of depth was perhaps exposed by having to play players who aren’t quite ready for the elite teams in women’s soccer. Not just Woeller but also Kaylyn Kyle, Christina Julien and most of our outside backs (Sesselmann, Gayle and Booth come to mind).

Bear in mind that the stated goal for this team, short term, is to be on the podium in London this summer. Given that the US will be there along with defending World Cup champs Japan, France (who beat us 4-0 in the World Cup), Sweden (who beat the States twice in 2010), Brazil and the hosts Great Britain, that’s a lofty goal.

If Herdman and the CSA branded the next two years a development period to try out a variety of younger players to prepare for the World Cup we’re hosting in 2015, they’d probably get a sympathetic ear from the soccer savvy public. But by saying we’re going for medals it means you’ve got six months to get players ready and that really precludes experimentation. It means going with what you have in terms of a squad. It means persisting with them so they get more and more used to playing with each other and working towards making them tight and cohesive at the back and fluid and dangerous in attack.

The only really big squad questions that Herdman has to figure out short term is whether to bring back Emily Zurrer given where Woeller is at and where a healthy Diana Matheson fits in now that Desiree Scott has announced her presence and shown she can be a huge boon to the side in the holding mid position that Matheson was known for.

Beyond those decisions it’s really just going to be trying to make what he has better and that will take some work if they’re serious about coming back from London with medals.

This entry was posted in Coaching, CONCACAF, Unspun and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Olympic qualifying: Canada v USA playing time analysis and what it means for Canada

  1. Colin Elmes says:

    Own the Podium $$ makes it necessary to speak of medals in London. If the team was to attain such a lofty prediction there would need to be some serious momentum gained in the part of the team and some significant under performance by their opponents. The chance of all the planets falling into line is very, very remote. It would be interesting to know exactly what the plan/timelines are for prep, who they are going to play etc etc. If this is anywhere near a part time schedule what you see is what you get.

    • Gregor says:

      Speaking of medals to secure funding is one thing; whether you follow through with actions that either say, “We’re going for gold” or “We’re using this as a development tool because we’re in transition/too young” is another. My understanding was that a good chunk of money the CanWNT was counting on was coming from Own the Podium but the only catch was they had to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. I don’t think future funding for the next Olympics will be tied to how they perform this summer. After all they lost in the quarter finals in 2008 (went through as one of the two best third place teams then took the States to extra time before losing) and still got funding this time around.

      Yes, will be interesting to see if the program is (a) demanding a full time commitment (b) if they have the money to make it full time for the next six months and (c) what the mix of training and games will be as they prepare as that was one of the knocks on Morace – not enough games (and from what I’ve heard second hand players were unimpressed with the lack of scouting of their opponents; particularly France).

  2. Colin Elmes says:

    Not sure the devleopment angle would sit well with people who make the funding decisions. Part of the problem here is hype. World Cup in the summer- too much “we have got a good chance” BS. Very few in this country understand this game and tend to go with the hype(especially the media) and actually think our women are in the same ballpark as the top 6 teams in the world.

    Now that you have your media credentials ask Herdman for an interview and ask the questions about the plan

  3. Rob Reed says:

    Canada did get torched in the back for pace. Reminds me of the old Westside (CDN) and Peg (USA) days 🙂

    I think the way to line up against the US could have been 5-4-1, with an out and out sweeper to protect our lumbering centrebacks and our weak fullbacks. I would put someone like a Britney Timko back there as a free sweeper, even though she is an attacking player (I think?)…at least she looks like she has some pace, ahtleticism, and she can read the game…and she doesn’t shy away from a tackle. Our fullbacks and wide mids can push on when we gain possession and then you’ve got a 3-4-3 on the counterattack. Point being, there is always some extra safety in the back and the US has proven in the past that they are not very quick to adapt to their opposition’s formation when they are struggling to find their game (the US coach was not prepared to change their formation vs France in the World Cup until her players and assistant coaches explained emphatically at halftime what was transpiring in the middle of midfield where they were getting slaughtered). End result, the US would probably continue to play 4 in the back for 90 minutes vs a 5-4-1, regardless of the score.

    Canada plays a 5-4-1 effectively v the USA and we probably lose 1-0 on a set piece goal.

    • Gregor says:

      Let me FTFY: Westside (treble) Peg (nada). At least in my day…

      I agree to some degree with your solution. As I said in a comment below, I think you need to have some flexibility in formation, tactics and approach when you’re a mid level team, world wide, in women’s soccer. You can’t play the USA’s and Japans of the world the same way you’d take on Dominican Republic.

      Would the change in approach win the game? No, we agree on that but it would allow us to mitigate their strengths and hide our weaknesses a bit better.

    • Colin Elmes says:

      So you coach an over performing team to 2nd at the Nationals after a wildcard entry to Provincials and now your an expert 😉

  4. Rob Reed says:

    C’mon Elmesy, you cannot have a soccer expert in Canada. That’s one step below an ice hockey expert in Spain. Of course the one exception is when you happen to operate a soccer academy in Canada. I’m sure you have heard of Total Ice Hockey Systems, located just outside of Madrid. Mucho expertos. 🙂

    • Gregor says:

      Reedy, stop picking on Colin. TSS has a curriculum y’know…and a subscription to Inside Soccer.com.

      • Colin Elmes says:

        I actually just default to Vancouver United’s Curriculum when I need to upgrade my skill set. Its listed on Amazon right beside the best seller “The Secret to our Success- Canadas Womens Team at 2011 World Cup” published by the Morace Group.

    • Colin Elmes says:


      I am sure it is cutting edge as far as hockey academy goes, blazing trails on how people learn to play the game and constantly being shunned a defaced by the local hockey governing body.

      Once I make my million maybe I will find a job in radio. 😉

  5. Julie says:

    Cool time analysis. I asked once if there was any hope for slow players and you mentioned they can work on quickness over 5 yards. It doesn’t sound like that applies for the centreback in this case. Does it apply for any position at this level?

    • Gregor says:

      She can work on it but the reality is that no matter how much she works on it she will not be able to catch a player like Alex Morgan, who probably also still works on her quickness over 5 yards and speed over 20-30 yards. There’s a limit to how much you can overcome your own physiology.

  6. Burnsie says:

    Sorry, Reedie, but playing with a sweeper is a disaster at that level IF the other coach has a clue 🙂 …..the US would just their strikers/wingers further up the field to the level of the sweeper. The US is just that much better than Canada at this point in time……

    Canada will be lucky to get past the quarter finals in London….especially based on the make up of this team. Can someone answer why coaches are selecting ‘bigger’ players when surely there are more athletic/quicker players out there with equal skill?

    • Gregor says:

      Agree with that Burnsie. I see a sweeper and I tell my striker to sit on her. Especially if she insists on playing 5-10 yards behind the other centre back(s). She’s either going to drag the marking centre back with her and occupy two players or the sweeper will still sit deep and mark her creating a 1v1 with no support.

      I don’t get the lack of athletic players with good touch either. We must have some. Clive’s daughter, Summer, who I wrote a blurb about earlier (re: her U17 National team success) is a good example of the type of player Canada is missing. She could end up being like an Alex Morgan.

  7. Burnsie says:

    Very true, Gregor. It is discouraging when you see some of the players out there who obviously are struggling to keep up with the pace of the game. It’s ridiculous that we would have to adjust the system at that level to cater to the players who are not capable of playing at the speed which is required.

  8. Colin Elmes says:

    Unfortunately a lot of it comes from sticking with players who were identified as NTC years ago and not taking into account that their peak playing period is long past. Late developing players are sadly overlooked time and time again.

    • Gregor says:

      Yes. Totally. I’ve seen some absolutely shocking team selection decisions on younger, high level teams. Boys and girls teams but more on the girls side to be honest. However, once these players are “in” it adds legitimacy that really hasn’t been earned and they end up staying within a level of play that (a) they are not good enough to be at (b) taking a spot that a more deserving player should have. This is obviously a small minority of players we’re talking about but as Colin says you can see this process resulting in players rising all the way to the national teams while late-developing players get short shrift.

      Establishing when a player has peaked and is at best only going to improve marginally is as much an integral component of high level coaching as being able to initially select strong players accurately and work with them to make them better. It’s heartless but recognizing when you’ve hit the law of diminishing returns with a player and need to replace them is essential at the professional and national team level.

  9. Colin Elmes says:

    Ooops- forgot to thank Malcolm Gladwell for my post above.

    Gregor, we agreed! Thurs Feb 2nd, 2012. I have made a note on my friendship board.

  10. jtiney says:

    Came across this post after reading your recent post re: CanWNT semifinal. I would like to point out that Zurrer is one of the strongest and smartest center backs out there and is extremely, yet deceivingly fast. Not to mention she is lethal in the air both offensively and defensively, and has killer defensive instincts. She is plenty more than capable of handling the likes of Wambach, Morgan etc. with class. and has proven it to Herdman as he admitted his mistake re: Qualifying. It is unfortunate that CanWNT has been laden with injuries to the top class CB’s but proud of how others have stepped up. I hope they get the bronze they more than deserve.

    • Gregor says:

      Maybe I lumped Zurrer in with the others a bit too quickly but I don’t think she’s “one of the strongest and smartest centre backs out there” There must have been some reason why Herdman didn’t include her in the qualifying campaign.

      • jtiney says:

        From what I have heard, she missed out on the Pan American Games due to club commitments and Herdman who had just taken over, developed a crush on Woeller who to her credit, actually played well vs the (weaker) opponents in that tournament. Who ever knows what really happens behind the scenes with coach and player, but she obviously proved herself to the new man at the helm and he has sung her praises since. I have always been a fan of Zurrer and from all accounts she is a great person too. Anyways, all the best to the women Thursday. France will be another tough test but they shall do us proud, I am sure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s