Canada needed to win a two-legged qualifier against Jamaica to play at the 2024 Paris Olympics. After a dismal showing at the World Cup by their standards, Bev Priestman changed formations against Canada, employing a 3-5-2 which led to 2-0 and 2-1 wins respectively.
With this change in formation, Canada not only had a more productive attack but it also allowed one of their best players, Ashley Lawrence, to do what she does best. This lead to Lawrence creating two goals over the course of the qualifier against Jamaica while also demonstrating what a great two-way player she is.
In Kingston last Friday, Lawrence was at the heart of Canada’s first goal. Lawrence had a running battle with Deneisha Blackwood throughout the tie and on more than one occasion, Lawrence came out on top. When Nichelle Prince scored Canada’s first in the 18th minute on Friday, it came through Lawrence as she held off Blackwood before sending in a great cross for Prince to run on to.
Prince heads it into the back of the net! pic.twitter.com/iW2nwKgw5X— Concacaf W (@ConcacafW) September 23, 2023
A few days later in Toronto, Lawrence once again got the better of Blackwood early in the second half to send in a hanging cross that Jordyn Huitema placed neatly into the far corner of the goal. Huitema nodded the ball into space for Lawrence to run onto, and once she did, the Chelsea fullback made sure of her cross and picked the right one to give Canada a 3-1 lead in the tie.
When you look at the three-back system Canada is now employing, it makes sense. It allows Adriana Leon and Nichelle Prince to run defenses ragged, while also allowing the likes of Jessie Fleming and Quinn to control the midfield. More importantly, it allows Ashley Lawrence the time and space to cause havoc, and also be allowed a chance to express herself in a way a four-back system doesn’t always allow.
Lawrence provides some much needed width for Canada and has the quality to use either left or right foot. On top of that, her decision-making also allows her to become a bigger creative force from out wide and if she isn’t double-teamed, as shown against Jamaica, she will make the most of her one-on-ones.
Lawrence isn’t just good going forward either. When required, she has the energy and the defensive nous to position herself correctly when Canada lose the ball, and also put in the required tackle to win the ball back if it’s near her.
At a time where more teams are looking to invert their creative fullbacks, Bev Priestman has decided that switching formations would benefit her team much more in the long run. Players like Ashley Lawrence can adapt easily to tactical changes and if needed, can shift back into a back four should Priestman ask her team to do so. She also provides another outlet for Canada as the likes of Prince, Leon and Cloé Lacasse stretch the backlines of their opponents. Those runs leave space for someone like Lawrence to run with the ball and then display the right football IQ to pick out a teammate in a dangerous spot.
While most view a three-back system as more defensive shape, Canada has set it up well enough that it actually allows them to be more attacking without sacrificing too much of the defensive solidity we’re used to seeing from them. There’s still time for us to see something else from Bev Priestman before the Olympics next summer but for now, a 3-5-2 is the way to go to bring out the best in Ashley Lawrence.