Various members of the Canadian media are less than impressed with the women's soccer team in the wake of their 2-1 Olympics-opening loss to Japan Wednesday. CBC's Ben Rycroft is saying there should be a change in goal, Sportsnet's John Molinaro cited "a huge disparity in class" between the Canadians and Japanese, and Duane Rollins of Canadian Soccer News called the team "mediocre" and went after injured national team member Chelsea Buckland for saying the loss represented a "good job". These aren't general columnists who just noticed soccer; all three are respected voices on the Canadian soccer scene, so it's worth considering what they have to say. However, from this corner, it's a little soon to be levelling this sort of criticism. This team could still very much be on track for a medal without any changes, and a one-goal loss to the reigning Women's World Cup champions isn't necessarily evidence that the current plan is flawed.
In fact, that loss may yet prove a blessing in disguise. The curious structure of this tournament actually might provide an easier path for Canada if they finish second in Group F instead of first. The first-place team in Canada's group will play the second-place team from Group G in the quarterfinals, likely formidable France but potentially even the dominant Americans. The second-place team will draw the second-place team from Group E, which will likely be Britain or New Zealand; even if Brazil stumbles into second, they might be an easier quarterfinal opponent than France and they'd certainly be less fearsome than the Americans. That's important, as the quarterfinal may be the most crucial match; win that and you're in the semifinals, so you'll get to play for either gold or bronze. Moreover, Canada only lost by a single goal thanks to a great goal-line clearance from Lauren Sesselmann. They're in extremely good shape if things come down to goal differential, and they're really rather well-positioned overall.
Does that mean there's no call for criticizing how the team played Wednesday? Of course not, and Rycroft, Molinaro and Rollins all make some solid points. The Canadians didn't control enough of the possession against the Japanese, they didn't create enough scoring chances, they weren't able to put Christine Sinclair in positions to be successful, and their defending and goalkeeping was less-than-stellar at times. There are certainly improvements to be made. However, it's not clear that fixing those issues requires dramatic changes; this team has a lot of talent, and it showed that at times Wednesday too, most notably on Melissa Tancredi's impressive goal. It could be that they'll continue to show the problems they displayed Wednesday in Saturday's game against South Africa, and in that case, the criticism will be proven right. It just seems at least equally possible that this team might be just fine without any drastic changes, though, and from this corner, it's way too soon to write them off. Nothing's changed from the original forecast of Canada's most likely path to a medal, so isn't it worth giving this team a little more time to prove itself?