SPORTS

Young midfielder Ashley Lawrence proving valuable for Canada's soccer team

06/16/2015 12:44 EDT | Updated 06/16/2016 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - Midfielder Ashley Lawrence has never scored a more important goal in her young career.

On the biggest stage in women's soccer, the 20-year-old recorded Canada's only goal in a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands at the FIFA Women's World Cup on Monday night. The first-half strike was enough to give Canada top spot in Group A.

"She's been lighting it up in midfield," head coach John Herdman said of Lawrence. "A little bit of pace. . . and just that composure to finish that goal. And she had a few chances tonight (Monday). She certainly had the bit between her teeth."

Ten minutes into Monday's contest, Lawrence pounced on a loose ball for Canada's first goal from open play of the tournament.

Right back Josee Belanger got the play going from the sidelines. Her throw-in was deflected by captain Christine Sinclair to Sophie Schmidt, whose shot was blocked by Dutch defender Mandy van den Ber. The ball bounced right to Lawrence, who side-footed the ball home for her first international goal in her 21st appearance.

"John really stressed as a midfielder just getting forward and getting in those right positions," Lawrence said after Monday's draw. "It was a great cross and the deflection came out and I just finished."

With the goal, the West Virginia University sports psychology student became Canada's third youngest scorer in a World Cup.

Lawrence, the most dangerous player in the first half, shone in front of 45,420 boisterous fans at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

In the sixth minute, the Toronto native juggled the ball outside the 18-yard box, but her shot was deflected by a Dutch player. On Canada's next attacking play, Lawrence sent a dangerous cross into the box, but nobody could connect.

"From that first match, nerves definitely settled in," said Lawrence, who captained Canada's squad at last year's U20 Women's World Cup. "I thought that I brought a more dominant offensive performance and I was proud of that aspect of my game."

Two minutes after her goal, Lawrence almost doubled Canada's lead, but her shot from distance just shaved the outside of the post to the right of Dutch goalkeeper Loes Geurts.

"She did tremendous," said Sinclair of Canada's goal scorer. "She's an attacking force for sure. Just seeing the growth of her in the past year, she's a changed player. Super happy for her. She's a great kid.

"The youngsters are doing awesome. We knew heading into this tournament they were going to play a major role. I think we had the youngest midfield in the history of the World Cup today. They did great."

With the draw, Canada topped its group and moved on to the round of 16. Though their opponent is not yet known — it could be one of 10 teams — the Canadian women will play Sunday in Vancouver.

Finishing first in the group will greatly reduce Canada's travel time going forward. Should the Canadians progress in the competition, Herdman's team will play their subsequent games in Vancouver and Edmonton

"It just makes it that much better for us to adjust and just be that much more prepared for the matches to come," said Lawrence. "We're just focused on recovery and preparation for the next few days. Any team that we're going to face are going to give us different challenges."

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