3 KEY takeaways from the CanWNT's squad for Olympic qualifiers vs. Jamaica
Less than a month after the 2023 World Cup came to an end, the CanWNT is preparing for their first game since their elimination from that tournament, as they get set to play a pair of crucial Olympic qualifiers later this month.
A two-legged series against Jamaica, they’ll first play the Reggae Girlz in Kingston on September 22nd, before heading back to Tornonto’s BMO Field for the return leg on September 26th.
From there, the winner of the tie will book their spot at the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, while the loser will miss out completely, showcasing what’s at stake across these two games.
That’s worth noting for Canada, who remain the defending Olympic gold medallists, having also medalled at the last three tournaments, and qualified for the last four.
Because of that, anything but qualification is going to be seen as a huge disappointment, as they’ve typically done very well at the Olympics.
Therefore, they’ll look to quickly put the disappointment of a tough World Cup behind them, one where they failed to make it out of their group for the first time since 2011.
Now, their attention is squarely focused on Jamaica, as that matchup rapidly approaches here. As a result, they already named their squad for that camp this week, as head coach Bev Priestman revealed which 25 players will represent Canada later this month.
Canada Soccer unveils squad for Paris 2024 Olympic Games Qualifier vs. Jamaica 🍁— CAN Soccer’s WNT (@CANWNT) September 8, 2023
The two-match winner-takes-all Olympic Play-In series will see Canada first travel to Jamaica on September 22 and conclude their series at home on September 26 in Toronto.@CANWNT x @CIBC
Here’s a look at what stood out from that announcement, one that really got the ball rolling ahead of a big month for Canada.
World Cup squad given a chance to run it back, with a few fresh faces:
Given Canada’s struggles at the World Cup, it was going to be interesting to see what this first squad would look like for Priestman.
Was it going to be mostly the same team that went to Australia? Might there be some new faces? Those were some of the questions that many were asking heading into this announcement.
Unsurprisingly, however, it looks like it’ll be mostly the same team that went to Australia, and understandably so. Given that these are must-win games, Canada won’t have much time to experiment, so it only makes sense for them to lean on some familiar faces for this camp.
That’s reflected in the make-up of the squad, as 21 of the players called in were in Australia, leaving just four new faces in Marie-Yasmine Alidou, Jade Rose, Sydney Collins and Bianca St-Georges.
The #CanWNT/#CanXNT have named their 25 player squad for their crucial 2-leg Olympic qualifier vs 🇯🇲— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) September 8, 2023
Allysha Chapman and Sophie Schmidt are out, and in are Jade Rose, Sydney Collins, Marie Yasmine Alidou and Bianca St Georges
Excited to see Alidou and Rose, in particular https://t.co/6kelrZwOFK
On the other side, only Sophie Schmidt and Allysha Chapman miss out from the World Cup squad, with the former having hinted at retirement before the tournament, while the latter has missed out on each of the Houston Dash’s league games since her return.
Otherwise, key veterans Janine Beckie and Desiree Scott remain out injured, while Clarissa Larisey is also out due to injury.
Overall, though, this is quite similar to the World Cup squad, especially when you remember that Rose and Alidou were very close to making the final cut for Australia, with the former missing out with an injury and the latter being one of the last cuts.
Because of that, however, the most interesting thing to see in this camp will be seeing how this group bounces back after the disappointment of the World Cup, especially given the lack of new faces.
After a tournament where they looked flat offensively, struggled defensively and started matches quite slow, leading to their early exit, they’ll have a tall task on their hands in this camp.
Now, as they get set to face a dangerous Jamaican team that caught many by surprise this past World Cup, making it to the Round of 16, they won’t be able to afford to make any of the same mistakes once again, something they’ll now look to clean up here.
Generational shift quietly accelerates:
With the exclusion of Schmidt and Chapman, it’s also worth noting that this squad is a lot younger than Canada is used to putting out, too, as other than the 40-year-old Christine Sinclair, no one is over the age of 30.
What that shows is that Canada’s generational shift has really gotten fully underway.
Of course, that’s been happening for a while now, but even despite that, the likes of Schmidt, Chapman, Desiree Scott and others have remained key fixtures in the squad over the past few years, helping mentor the next generation as they took over.
Sophie Schmidt announces her retirement immediately following the World Cup this summer.— wsoccer.ca 💜 (@WsoccerCa) February 14, 2023
She had told Bev she would resign in this window following these tensions, but Sincy talked her off the ledge and to stick it out for one last fight.#canwnt #canxnt
With those three all missing out on this camp for differing reasons, however, this will be a chance for that next generation to really prove that they can step up without them, emerging as leaders in key moments.
Given that a lot of them all play at the top level, and are key leaders on some of the top clubs in the world, that shouldn’t be an issue. Yet, as seen at the World Cup, that doesn’t necessarily always transfer over to the international game as easily, where it can be a different animal.
To be fair, there are also reasons for that - Canada’s tactical blueprint also held them back, as they struggled to keep up with the changing demands of the modern game on both sides of the ball in Australia, but also a lot of Canada’s top players struggled individually in the tournament.
Because of that, it’s left some wondering if this Canadian team is getting lapped by those around them, and if this team can compete at the top level of the world like they used to.
Therefore, in this camp, they’ll need to prove that the World Cup was a one-off, and that they’re still one of the top teams in the world.
Tactics are going to play a huge part in that, as well as squad selection, putting pressure on Priestman, but the players will also need to step up, especially without some of the key leaders that many have become accustomed to seeing on a regular basis around them.
Unchanged forward group faces questions:
As has been the case over the last few years, it was a big talking point heading into the World Cup - who’s going to score the goals for Canada?
Primed as a chance for the likes of Jordyn Huitema and Evelyne Viens to step up, especially given their form at the club level, it felt like Canada had options, even if goals haven’t always flowed at the country level.
Yet, those struggles persisted in Australia, as Canada scored just two goals in three games, both coming against Ireland, with one being an own goal and the other coming from Adriana Leon.
Along with a missed Christine Sinclair penalty in their opener against Nigeria, it was overall a tournament to forget for Canada offensively, as they struggled to generate chances, as well as finish the ones they did create.
The #CanWNT's struggles in offence and goal output were once again on display at the #FIFAWWC – but were there any lessons to take away from their 3-game group stage? 👀@jwilsonxviii shares some tactical ideas 🗣️— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 3, 2023
▶️ Watch more on GOODNIGHT AU / NZ 🌏 Presented by @CIBC 🇨🇦 pic.twitter.com/i0MIcVm9CR
Despite that, however, Priestman has called in the exact same group of forwards as the ones that she brought to Australia.
Part of that is out of necessity, to be fair - Larisey is one of the only other options available, and she’s been injured - but it’s still a worry for Canada given their goal-scoring struggles.
Because of that, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on Priestman to get more out of this attack, something that eluded her at the World Cup.
To be fair, she’s probably in a better situation than she was in Australia - Nichelle Prince is back and regularly playing for the Houston Dash after being in a race against the clock ahead of the World Cup with an Achilles injury, and Deanne Rose has a new club and should be fit after her recovery from a similar injury.
At the same time, Adriana Leon continues to not play at the club level, while Christine Sinclair remains more of a midfielder at the club level yet was included as a forward, so it’s not all rosy.
All of that to say, Priestman is going to have her hands full in order to get the right mix up front.
If she can do so, Canada’s chances at qualifying for the Olympics will improve drastically, but if she doesn’t, it could be a tall task, especially if Canada continues their 2023 defensive struggles.