Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Jul 7 2015, Page 26

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - July 7, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE D2 D 2 WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, TUESDAY, JULY 7, 2015 SPORTS winnipegfreepress. com T ORONTO — Karina LeBlanc remembers playing in front of empty stands, so the wellattended stadium love- ins that embraced the Canadian team at the Women’s World Cup were something special. “ When I first started, it used to be I could count on my hand how many people were are the game and it was usually friends and family,” the veteran goalkeeper recalled. “ Now to have screaming kids — just the other day I had a 40- year- old man walk up to me and he was in tears. He said ‘ You guys just make me so proud to be Canadian.’ ” With the World Cup over, the job now is to build on the success of the tournament and grow women’s soccer. Dan Levy, a North Carolina- based player agent with Wasserman Media Group, had high hopes for this World Cup. He believes the Canadian competition, from its fine play to good sportsmanship, won over many people. “ I do think that the level of play, sophistication in tactics, obviously their technical abilities, is stronger than ever. And that bodes well for the future, it really does.” And with the Olympics only a year away, women’s soccer can look forward to another highprofile tournament around the corner. “ Big events do provide a unique platform that others can’t... Fans gravitate towards great games, great players. They want to be inspired,” said Levy, whose company has deep soccer roots. South of the border, Fox smashed records with its coverage of the U. S.- Japan final ( 25.4 million viewers), erasing the previous U. S. soccer mark of 18.22 million for the U. S.- Portugal matchup at last year’s men’s World Cup. And the Fox numbers were positive across the board. “ They’re really pleased with how things have gone and I think that’s a testament to people caring about the event,” said Levy. “ I think it’s still hard, whether it’s this country or abroad, to sustain it week in and week out, certainly at the level we’re used to on the men’s side. “ But it does show that countries and fans will rally round big events. And that’s exciting because that hasn’t always been the case for the women.” The women’s game has a lot going for it. Simulation, which is a plague on the men’s side, is far less prevalent among the women who just seem to get on with the game. And fans love them. Levy points to the ground- breaking 1999 World Cup in the U. S. The victorious American team, whose star- studded roster included Mia Hamm, Christie Rampone, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Michelle Akers and Brandi Chastain to name a few, understood the importance of being role models and to inspire young kids. “ They set a great example and many women have followed in their footsteps, not just Americans,” he said. Certainly the outpouring of affection from spectators for all the teams at the World Cup was remarkable. “ I think the players feel more real to them, they’re more approachable,” Levy said. “ When was the last time you saw players from the EPL ( English Premier League) sign autographs after a game?” While women still don’t get rich playing soccer, Canadians do better than most. The lucky ones got carding money from Sport Canada, a contract from the Canadian Soccer Association to play in the National Women’s Soccer League ( NWSL) and undisclosed World Cup compensation from their national governing body. The federal government said 50 women soccer athletes shared $ 645,790.11 in 2014— 15 through its Athletes Assistance Program. In terms of the World Cup team, that ranged from $ 3,600 for Allysha Chapman to $ 24,000 for Emily Zurrer. The even luckier ones, such as captain Christine Sinclair ( who got $ 18,000 from Sport Canada), can also draw on endorsements. “ They do OK in comparison to some of the other players,” said Canadian coach John Herdman. “ But we know we’ve got some highly talented highly educated women here. That if they chose a career, they could be earning double, triple what they’re earning now. “ But we know this group are in it for something completely different. And they’re prepared to sacrifice because of the love of what they do, and this team and playing for their country surpasses any of those ( other) motivations.” Herdman said the World Cup served one major purpose, by inspiring a new generation of potential Sinclairs. “ This group of women has talked about the legacy they want to leave in this country. They’re clear about it,” Herdman said of his team. — The Canadian Press E ARLY in the season, it’s never the fact you lost a game that frustrates football fans, it’s the way you went about losing it. As we all know, even after a couple of contests, it is still too soon to write anything in wet cement about the Blue Bombers. Depending upon which version shows up Friday against the Montreal Alouettes — the Week 1 or Week 2 edition — this squad could very well have twice as many wins as losses, or vice versa. So why all the angst and derision? Because despite all the changes and promise this off- season delivered to the football club, and the formidable and unusual performance that materialized in Regina two weeks ago, Friday’s blowout loss to Hamilton followed a far too familiar framework for those who know this team. After pouring over the tape of the Saskatchewan game from Week 1, it must have reminded Hamilton how effective Bombers QB Drew Willy can be when he has time in the pocket, and is at the controls of a balanced offence. After all, he broke a record for passing accuracy and efficiency by completing almost 90 per cent of his throws, and his running game kept his opponent honest and guessing — and from coming after him for pretty much the entire evening. So, with only one game film from 2015 to scout, I’m assuming the Ticats took the time to revisit the archives of some footage from 2014, and guess what they found? The step- by- step instructions for how this team was taken apart from contender to calamity during the second half of last year’s season. Willy has demonstrated in his short career here he can be a force when given time to survey the field and step into throws. So Hamilton decided to follow the blueprint of last season and committed themselves to taking away that time, and knocked him out of the game. If you looked at that film you would see one of two things happen when teams commit to pressuring the QB in Winnipeg. He either gets the $%&! knocked out of him, or he is pressured into making poor throws and poor decisions in the pocket. Both are suitable outcomes for opponents, so they play man coverage and blitz, without a care in the world their back end may be exposed. At times Friday we saw as many as seven men on the line of scrimmage, and plenty of five- and six- man pressures, with unblocked players coming from every which way. When Willy got hurt, his backup entered the game — the backup who plays a very similar style to Willy — and unfortunately, got a very similar result. Sack, pick, QB hit, quick throw, punt. Mix and repeat. You would think Hamilton would be concerned about opening themselves up so much, but when your opponent can’t pick up the blitz, and you don’t have to cover for more than two seconds, you can jump routes in one- on- one coverage without concern of being beaten deep. If there was one realization that came out of Friday’s game, it was this offence, regardless of how many new and improved players it has on it, still hasn’t demonstrated it knows how to hurt a defence enough to make it stop blitzing. Or maybe it doesn’t have the right player behind the centre to make those quick decisions, or who can escape the rush and extend the play. All is not lost, however, as we begin Week 3. This team had to go away from the run last week because of how far it fell behind. If their defence starts to live up to their billing and starts to settle in, they can afford to be much more judicious with the football, and keep their opponents from unleashing the hounds whenever the mood strikes them. Besides, it’s better this team faces up to this affliction now, than at the end of the year again. They often say the more things change, the more they stay the same, and after the last game, this seems truer than ever. This football team needs to begin bucking this trend on Friday, for the blueprint on how to beat them — that took half of last year to go to print — has already begun to recirculate. Doug Brown, once a hard- hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hardhitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press. Twitter: @ DougBrown97 N O one on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence is going to run away from their ugly numbers to start the 2015 season. They have surrendered a leaguehigh 78 points, are last in yards allowed per game at 463, average gain per rush at 7.6 and pass, 9.6. Fact is, even though this team is 1- 1 it’s defence might well want to skip going over the game film through two weeks. Except, that’s the only way to fix this thing. “ We’re not where we want to be, of course,” said Bombers cornerback Matt Bucknor. “ There’s always room for improvement and for us it’s starting with the little things like communication alignment assignment. We’re working on a lot of things every day and that will lead us to better things on game day.” Bucknor was making no excuses for having to adapt to a new defensive co- ordinator, now that Richie Hall has replaced Gary Etcheverry. “ It’s part of the business. This is my fourth year, my fourth DC ( defensive co- ordinator),” he said. “ For us, it’s being able to adjust. That’s the nature of the game: rules change, the game changes, you have to be able to adjust to it all. There’s no excuses. We have to focus more.” While there are some familiar faces with the defensive dozen, they’re not all in familiar places. The entire linebacking crew, for example, is new and features converted cornerback Chris Randle now playing the SAM ( strong side). “ Besides quarterback, Chris Randle is playing the toughest position on the field,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “ And there’s nobody else we’d rather have doing it. But, will it take time? Yeah, it takes time. He’s also one of our hardest- working pros on our team. I have the utmost faith in Chris Randle. “ That was Game 2 with a new staff and a new system. I believe they’re still working to gel together as a unit, but also figure out exactly what the coaching staff wants.” RAKEEM THE DREAM? The Bombers play host Friday to a Montreal Alouettes side that manhandled the defending Grey- Cup champion Calgary Stampeders last week. And they did it with a rookie QB in Rakeem Cato making his first CFL start. Cato completed 20 of 25 passes for 241 yards and three TDs. But now CFL teams, especially the Bombers, have tape on the guy. “ It definitely helps us get a read on him now,” said Bucknor. “ As much as we can now work on what he does, we have to focus on what we do as a unit. He’s a good quarterback. He came out and had a great game in his first game. He’s a professional. You can’t take anyone lightly.” ed. tait@ freepress. mb. ca Twitter: @ WFPEdTait Blue make no excuses for lacklustre defence Still need to gel under Hall By Ed Tait Building on success of World Cup next on agenda Ticats did homework; blitzed early and often DOUG BROWN By Neil Davidson JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Tiger- Cats receiver Bakari Grant hauls in a TD pass in front of Bombers linebacker Chris Randle during a pre- season game. DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS Christine Sinclair ( left) and Karina LeBlanc helped bring women’s soccer to the forefront in Canada’s during the World Cup. 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