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Leon scores three goals as Canada defeats Paraguay 4-0 at CONCACAF W Gold Cup

HOUSTON — Adriana Leon scored three goals and teenage forward Olivia Smith celebrated her first senior start with a goal to help Canada defeat Paraguay 4-0 on Sunday and remain unbeaten at the CONCACAF W Gold Cup.
Canada forward Adriana Leon (19) scores the first goal of the game against the Paraguay during the first half of the CONCACAF W Gold Cup match Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024 at Shell Energy Stadium in Houston. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP

HOUSTON — Adriana Leon scored three goals and teenage forward Olivia Smith celebrated her first senior start with a goal to help Canada defeat Paraguay 4-0 on Sunday and remain unbeaten at the CONCACAF W Gold Cup.

Captain Jessie Fleming had a chance to make it 5-0 from the penalty spot in second-half stoppage time, after substitute Simi Awujo was brought down, but sent her spot kick off the crossbar.

It was a first-ever senior meeting between 10th-ranked Canada and No. 50 Paraguay. And it proved to be a one-sided affair with Canada outshooting Paraguay 24-2 (12-1 in shots on target).

The South Americans stacked their defence but could only hold Canada off for so long.

"We had to adjust some things tactically," said Canada coach Bev Priestman.

"Paraguay are a good team and we came into this game knowing that and respecting that," she added. "We were working on defending just as much as attacking. But yeah, it was a really difficult (defensive) block to break down."

Leon, who had two goals in Canada's 6-0 opening win over No. 104 El Salvador on Thursday, scored in the 25th, 49th and 77th minute to boost her Canada total to 36 in 107 appearances. 

Smith had opened her account with a goal off the bench against El Salvador.

The 19-year-old from Whitby, Ont., who plays in Portugal for Sporting CP, was rewarded Sunday with her first start and, after Leon's 25th-minute goal, recorded a highlight-reel strike.

After a fine run down the right flank, Jade Rose delivered a cross after that goalkeeper Cristina Recalde could not hold onto. The ball bounced to Smith, who sidestepped one defender and then fired a shot through another's legs to make it 2-0.

Leon's 25th-minute opener was equally impressive with the Aston Villa forward taking advantage of a skewed attempted clearance that bounced back toward the Paraguay goal. The ball dropped to an unmarked Leon, who neatly volleyed it home for her third goal at the tournament.

The goal was initially waved off, but was confirmed by Mexican referee Katia Garcia after video review.

Leon made it 3-0 in the 49th minute, knocking the ball home from close range after a Clarissa Larisey cross bounced off several defenders. She got her third in emphatic fashion, roofing a ball from a tight angle in the 57th minute.

An 85th-minute goal by Canada's Jordyn Huitema was negated by the offside flag.

Canada wraps up Group C play against Costa Rica on Wednesday. Costa Rica, beaten 1-0 by Paraguay in its first outing, defeated El Salvador 2-0 later Sunday at Shell Energy Stadium.

The Canadians have already assured themselves of a quarterfinal berth but will looking for a positive result against Costa Rica to improve their draw in the knockout round.

The El Salvador win cost Canada forward Nichelle Prince, who is out of the tournament after suffering a calf injury late in the first half. Prince, who has 16 goals in 97 senior appearances, joins Sydney Collins, Jayde Riviere, Janine Beckie and Desiree Scott on the Canadian injured list.

Priestman made five changes to her starting lineup with goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, Vanessa Gilles, Ashley Lawrence, Deanne Rose and Smith slotting in.

Paraguay earned its invitation to the tournament by finishing fourth at the 2022 Women's Copa America.

The inaugural 12-country women's Gold Cup runs through March 10 in Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego and Carson. The group winners, runners-up and the two best third-place finishers will advance to the tournament's quarterfinals.

The men's CONCACAF Gold Cup has been held since 1991 with Canada winning in 2000.

CONCACAF covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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