First test for new coach

GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

Blame it on the swine flu.

Japan's loss is Hogtown's gain as the Canadian women's soccer team plays its first game on home soil in 2009 against its natural rival, the United States.

The Japanese pulled out of the friendly over concerns about the H1N1 virus.

No disrespect to Japan, which is no slouch internationally, but the Olympic champion Americans are a true test for new Canadian head coach Carolina Morace and her young side.

Morace won't only be looking for a result tonight at BMO Field. More importantly for the 11th-ranked women's soccer nation in the world is how it plays the game under its new skipper.

Morace was happy with the way the Canucks performed at the Cyprus Cup in March, but admitted there is considerable work to be done.

Under former head coach Evan Pellerud, a basic, unimaginative and sporadically effective tactical approach was executed. In the early years of Pellerud, results came via emphasis on defence and playing the long-ball.

But as the women's game advanced -- with soccer nations finally putting substantial resources towards development on the women's side -- Canada remained stagnant.

In international competition, Canada turned from a power to a side neither intimidated nor intimidating.

Playing Canada was no easy task, but it was a side that could be undone by teams that were superior in ball possession and were more technically sound.

In her first months , Morace has attempted to form new habits, especially in training. She is steadfast in her commitment to working on the finer parts of the game -- foot speed, quickness, ball control, and skill/tactical development -- aspects that are readily glazed over in favour of results in North America.

For Canada to become an international power once again, these elements are necessary. It's time the Canadian women started working the ball out of the back with poise and decisiveness. It's time the midfield served an offensive purpose, getting up in support of the attack. And it's time for the Canadian strikers to not just be targets, but also threats with the ball at their feet.

With Morace at the helm, the chances of Canada becoming that power have never been brighter. Morace was an ideal hire by the Canadian Soccer Association.

At the same time, the current national team boasts a considerable amount of young talent, led by one of the top women players in the world, forward Christine Sinclair.

Sinclair's sterling resume has been well-documented. And the 25-year-old has a chance to add to it tonight, sitting on 99 goals, one away from the century mark.

It is the first game of three this summer between Canada and the United States, providing a sound litmus test as to Morace's influence and the team's true ability.

WPS long overdue

Morace is not the only recent positive influence on the Canadian women's game.

In its first year, the Women's Professional Soccer League (WPS) gives the best players in North America and the world a highly organized and committed league to call its own.

The WPS has seven teams in its first season, with expansion plans for Atlanta and Philadelphia in 2010. Toronto is a logical choice to enter the fold in the coming years.

Big game hits home

The highly anticipated Champions League final on Wednesday between Manchester United and Barcelona from Rome will be celebrated in Toronto.

The 2:45 p.m. kickoff means a slew of soccer-crazed workers will be taking time off to partake in the festivities.

Among the hot-spots, the Manchester United Supporters Club of Canada (Main Event at 2368 Yonge St.) has become notorious for its die-hard support.


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