TORONTO — The road to Rio hit a bump for the Canadian women's soccer team Saturday, soundly beaten 2-0 by Brazil in an international friendly.
It was Canada's first game on home soil since last summer's World Cup. And as homecomings go, it was decidedly shaky — admittedly against quality opposition — despite an enthusiastic crowd of 28,604 on a sunny afternoon at BMO Field.
"Really disappointing because I know there's more to come from that group," said Canadian coach John Herdman.
He will be hoping it comes Tuesday in Ottawa where the 10th-ranked Canadians face the No. 8 Brazilians in a rematch.
Canada had a woeful start punctuated by poor touches and giveaways. The home side trailed 2-0 at the half on goals by Marta and looked uncertain on defence and clumsy on offence. The poised Brazilians, meanwhile, defended well and showed flair and skill in cutting open the Canadians, who saw their four-game winning streak snapped.
A frank Herdman acknowledged his players looked nervous at the start. He also suggested that the game plan "to take control of the game" early on rather than play direct football up the middle had been too much on the day.
"I think they'll learn from it, for sure," he said, adding he believes his players have the talent to play "a better brand of football."
He pointed to youngsters Nichelle Prince, Deanne Rose, Ashley Lawrence and Jessie Fleming as positive storylines.
But he was blunt when asked about goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, who has taken over as No. 1 from the injured Erin McLeod. The 29-year-old Labbe, who earned her 29th cap, had some shaky moments early on but improved as the game wore on.
Herdman said while he wanted to keep the faith, he may have to assess his goalkeeping options.
"As a coach, you've got to make a big decision here. Do you keep pushing or do you keep the fight open and see who will respond well?"
With McLeod out well past the Olympics and Sabrina D'Angelo nursing a fractured wrist, the other option is 20-year-old Kailen Sheridan, who has one cap.
Canada came on in the second half, with the Brazilians making it interesting late with some loose passages of play. The crowd willed the Canadian women on as the clock wound down, cheering every attack whether it was warranted or not.
In the buildup to the match, Canadian captain Christine Sinclair called Marta "still the one player in the women's game that can almost single-handedly win a game for her country." The 30-year-old forward lived up to that billing, taking advantage of Canadian errors.
A defensive meltdown led to a Brazil goal in the 11th minute.
Centre back Kadeisha Buchanan went down in the sideline trying to break up a play, allowing Beatriz to race down the flank. Allysha Chapman misplayed the ball, which bounced to Marta who took full advantage from close range.
Marta made it 2-0 with a long-range shot in the 41st after Janine Beckie was dispossessed in midfield. Buchanan gave Marta too much room and the Brazilian star used it to hammer a left-footed shot past Labbe from outside the penalty box.
"Kadeisha will want that one back, for sure," said Herdman.
Sinclair, who has been nursing a leg injury in recent months, gave way to Melissa Tancredi in the 74th minute. Marta exited two minutes later.
Sinclair gave credit to Brazil.
"They're one of the best teams in the world. They came out pressing us, they caused two mistakes by us and they punished us for it ... But I thought we rallied. The second half was a lot better. The second half was a lot more of what we expect. We just didn't put the ball in the back of the net."
Canada's starting 11 came into the game with 863 caps between them. Sinclair, Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt and Diana Matheson accounted for 677 of those.
Bronze medallists four years ago in London, Canada wraps up its pre-Olympic schedule with a game July 23 against No. 3 France in Auxerre. The Canadians will play a closed-door game against No. 12 China while in France.
Canada's all-time record against Brazil drops to 5-7-6. The Canadians had won their last meeting, 2-1 in the Algarve Cup final in March in Portugal, ending a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) against the South Americans.
The Canadian women have played 15 games since exiting the World Cup at the quarter-final stage, compiling a 10-5-0 record.
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