CANADIAN WOMEN PREPARE FOR CHINA

With less than a month before the elite of women’s soccer convene in China, Canada continue their final preparations for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Even Pellerud’s side are nearing the end of a two-week training camp at their residential base in Vancouver, which has been home to the team for the past 12 months. Ranked ninth in the recent FIFA Women’s World Rankings, the Canadians are aiming to build on their fourth-place finish at the 2003 World Cup in the US. They are drawn in Group C with Pellerud’s home nation Norway, Australia, and Ghana. They start their fourth World Cup campaign with a September 12 clash against Norway before playing Ghana on September 15, with both games in Hangzhou. The final Group C game is September 19 against the Australians in Chengdu. “We’ve had good preparations in terms of the residency camp and time together has been valuable,” Pellerud told whitecapsfc.com. “We’ve got a good team unit and a good team spirit. My only concern is I think that we really should have had some more international games under our belt, and we haven’t had that.”

Though Pellerud is not expected to select his final squad until the last week of August, the main player pool from which the Norwegian coach has been shaping his team includes over a dozen members of the 2006 W-League champion Vancouver Whitecaps side. From the goalkeeping abilities of Erin McLeod to the leadership qualities of Andrea Neil and the goalscoring touch of both Kara Lang and Christine Sinclair, the Canadian women will have plenty of Whitecaps flavour at next month’s showpiece event for women’s soccer. “The Whitecaps players have had an impact in my team and will even more so this year,” Pellerud revealed.

The build-up for the team since the turn of the New Year has been a challenging one, with Pellerud’s squad having been in a seven-week training camp between January and March of this year. In April, the women’s Olympic development team won the 2007 International Soccer Festival in Alabama after beating the US 1-0 on penalties. A full-strength Canadian team then got a taste of what awaits them in Hangzhou when they played a two-game friendly series with the hosts China in early May. Despite suffering defeats in both games, Pellerud described the Far East trip as a “valuable experience”.

Canada’s third international of 2007 was a sobering experience, as the powerful Americans defeated Pellerud’s team 6-2 in Frisco, Texas on May 12. They had to wait until early June before recording their first win of the year, with Sinclair becoming Canada’s all-time leading international goalscorer with two goals in a 3-0 away win to New Zealand on June 3. Canada then blanked their fellow World Cup finalists 5-0 three days later, as Whitecaps players Candace Chapman, Amber Allen, and Jodi-Ann Robinson all found the scoresheet in Auckland.

Last month, a strong Canadian line-up made their way to the XV Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After convincing wins over Uruguay, Ecuador, and Jamaica, Canada were brought back down to earth by hosts Brazil and their striker Marta Silva, who scored five goals en route to a 7-0 victory. That result lined the Canadians up to face the US under-20 side in the semifinals, where they suffered a further setback after losing 2-1. Though they beat Mexico to win the bronze medal, the result was seen as a disappointment, as Canada were considered one of the favoured sides to win the competition.

Pellerud admitted that certain areas of his team’s play were brought into focus after last month’s trip to South America. “Some of my main concerns were related to poor defending,” he said. “That has been the main focus, as we move into the next couple of weeks. The whole team needs to have a better commitment to defend. That is an important thing that can help bring us success in the World Cup.”

The team’s current training camp will conclude next Tuesday before the final 21-player squad travels to the Far East on August 26. Canada will play a warm-up friendly against Japan in Tokyo on August 30 before heading to China for final World Cup preparations.

Before they embark on their travels, Whitecaps fans will have the opportunity to see the Canadian women off in style during a pre-game ceremony ahead of Saturday’s crucial USL-1 encounter between the Whitecaps men and Canadian rivals Montreal Impact at Swangard Stadium. “It’s a very nice gesture to receive from the Whitecaps,” Pellerud said of Saturday’s send-off. “I’m sure the players will have a good time at the stadium.”

Single game tickets for Saturday’s 7:00pm kickoff start at just $16 and are available by calling Ticketmaster at 604.280.4400 or visiting whitecapsfc.com. For more information on Whitecaps ticket packages and group rates, please call 604.669.WAVE (9283) or visit our tickets page.