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Bev Priestman has just over a year to get Canada ready for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Granted, Canada still has to qualify for the tournament and the 2024 Paris Olympics at the Concacaf championship in July, but at every national team camp for the next year, head coach Priestman will have an eye on the World Cup.
“I think it would be shortsighted of me to take players that I don’t think can make it to that World Cup, so I’ve always got that in the back of my mind,” Priestman said Tuesday. “But we do have to get there, and we have to perform now.
“I think particularly when you have younger players that maybe haven’t had as many minutes and those sorts of things, it’s the balance of potential versus performance.”
Priestman announced a 28-player roster for an upcoming exhibition game against South Korea at BMO Field in Toronto on June 26. From that list, she will select 23 players to take part at the Concacaf Championship from July 4-18 in Mexico.
Canada opens the tournament against Trinidad and Tobago in Guadalupe on July 5, then face Panama in San Nicolas de los Garza on July 8, and round out the group stage against Costa Rica on July 11, back in Guadalupe.
The top two teams from the group stage advance to the semifinal and qualifying for the 2023 World Cup, which has been expanded from 24 teams to 32. The two finalists will qualify for the 2024 Olympics, where Canada would go as defending gold medallists.
“When you’re going into a major tournament — I very much approached the Olympics like that — you have to pick a team that can win now,” Priestman said. “But you also have to invest in some players that can get to 2023 and help us do well in that World Cup.
“It’s a real balancing act, but I can’t see myself taking a player this summer who we won’t see that can get to the 2023 World Cup and help us do well.”
Saying that, Priestman’s roster for the coming game against South Korea features veteran striker Christine Sinclair and midfielder Desiree Scott, along with the core of players who helped claim gold at the Tokyo Olympics a year ago.
“For me, if you look at the last international window, that window told everyone that this team needs Christine Sinclair,” Priestman said. “She comes on as a finisher (substitute), it was the first time as a finisher for me, and you wonder how she will react to that role? It took her three minutes and she goes and scores.
“We have a very young, fresh, new-faced squad and some players with massive experience — it’ll be Jessie Flemings’ 100th cap in Toronto — but these veteran players are still performing and for me that’s all that matters.”
Sinclair scored in a 2-0 win against Nigeria in April, the second of two games against the African side. She turned 39 on Sunday, but is still going strong in the NWSL with the Portland Thorns.
A bigger question for Priestman going forward will be at the other end of the field and her starting goalkeeper now that Stephanie Labbe has retired.
Kailen Sherdian has taken over the starter’s role, but Priestman has brought four goalkeepers into camp, also including Sabrina D’Angelo, Anna Karpenko and Lysianne Proulx. Veteran Erin McLeod was left off the roster.
“It’s been sort of well-documented that Kailen has been listed as the No. 1, she’s had an incredible season and so has Sabrina,” Priestman said. “I think going into this tournament, that No. 1 would sit with Kailen, but at the same time, every player has to earn the right to start.
“I don’t want to shut the door on anyone pushing Kailen, but Kailen has had an incredible season and has been very consistent in our environment.”
SOGGY NIGHT IN HONDURAS
The Canadian men’s national team wrapped up an eventful June international window Monday night, losing 2-1 at Honduras in Concacaf Nations League play.
The loss came in a downpour in San Pedro Sula, where the water-logged field made it difficult for players to pass the ball.
Kevin Lopez scored in the 13th minute and Kervin Arriaga added a second in the 78th minute for Honduras. Jonathan David scored for Canada in the 86th minute.
“It was a difficult game, and they managed the game better,” Canada head coach John Herdman said. “It was like trying to perform with a Formula 1 car on an off-road track. All credit to the boys for just being up for the fight.
“I thought we had some good moments before they scored, but all credit to Honduras. This is Concacaf and these are the learnings. I thought our boys just kept plugging away and it was nice to see the ball go in (near the end).”
The loss was preceded by a 4-0 win against Curacao at BC Place in Vancouver on Thursday. Alphonso Davies scored two goals, while Steven Vitoria and Lucas Cavallini added the others.
Canada was to play a third game during the window, but the players boycotted an exhibition match against Panama on June 5, due to a contract dispute with Canada Soccer. The two sides are still negotiating a deal to divide up the prize money for qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Canada will compete at the World Cup in November and have another international window in September to prepare for the tournament.
WORLD CUP ANNOUNCEMENT
FIFA will announce the host venues for the 2026 World Cup taking place in the United States, Canada and Mexico, in a live ceremony from New York on Thursday.
A total of 22 cities are in contention to host matches for the tournament, which was expanded to 48 teams from 32 in 2022 in Qatar.
Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver are in contention to host games in Canada. It is expected Toronto and Vancouver will be selected with Edmonton being left out.