Assessing 3 crucial positional battles for the CanWNT ahead of World Cup
As time continues to dwindle, some tough squad decisions remain on the horizon.
With the 2023 FIFA World Cup now less than four months away, the Canadian Women’s National Team have some hard questions to ask themselves over the next few months, as they get set to pick a 23-player squad for that tournament.
Because of that, they’ve got a big task ahead over the next month, where they take on a refreshed France side in Le Mans on April 11th, which will be their last chance to evaluate players before they name a World Cup squad in June.
In particular, they must find a way to whittle down the numbers at several key positions, such as full back, winger and in midfield, which are all positions where a good chunk of players remain in the battle to get on the plane to Australia this summer.
Having called up 25 players for this camp, to go along with several injured players that remain in the mix, it promises to be a tough couple of months for head coach Bev Priestman and her staff, who know that some tough decisions loom in their near future at several key positions, something she highlighted earlier this week.
“I think the full back position, you can see that with the number of full backs that have been named, as I’m trying to decide on the final sort of one or two spots there, then there’s the winger position, which I think now is a bit open due to the different questions that we’ve got to ask,” Priestman explained.
“What I think you’ll see from the roster is that we’ve got a lot of players who can play dual position (players) in midfield, so even though the midfield, it looks quite light, we’ve got Christine Sinclair who can play there, some of the full backs can play there, I’d even argue that Jade Rose can play there, since she can play centre back, full back, and I think she’d be a great central midfielder, too.”
Because of that, here’s a closer look at how each battle is shaping up, and what to watch out for over this camp, as well as the months to come in the leadup to Canada naming their squad.
Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team announces roster for match against France 🍁#CANWNT have announced their 24-player roster traveling to Le Mans, France to play @equipedefranceF during the April 2023 FIFA international window.@CANWNT x @CIBC#WeCAN— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) March 29, 2023
Locks: Ashley Lawrence
All but confirmed: Jayde Riviere
On the bubble: Gabrielle Carle, Allysha Chapman, Jade Rose, Bianca St-Georges, Sura Yekka
Arguably, there might be no better battle for spots on this Canadian roster at the moment than at full back. Just to get an idea of why that is, just look at the latest squad, where Priestman called in six natural full backs, with a seventh player, Jade Rose, also having been deployed there in the past for Canada. For context, teams will typically bring in three or four full backs for a tournament, let alone a one-game camp.
Safe to say, the race for spots is as tight as ever at the position, as beyond Ashley Lawrence, who will play heavy minutes at this World Cup, the race to join her is wide-open.
Leading the way is Jayde Riviere, who normally would be a lock, but after missing much of 22-23 following hip surgery, her progress will be monitored as she gets her first reps in since that injury. Having made the big move to Manchester United earlier this year, however, it’s expected that she’ll hit the ground running, however, so it makes it likely to imagine she earns her way into the World Cup squad, as Priestman was not shy in trusting the 22-year-old before the injury.
After that, however, things are very open.
Gabrielle Carle is a natural shout as she can play at both full back positions and at centre backs, but has struggled to get into Canada’s squad since the start of 2022. Having recently made a move to the NWSL to join the Washington Spirit, however, where she’s already earned a spot as a starter, she’s significantly improved her odds as of late, so keep an eye on her.
Otherwise, Allysha Chapman is a favourite to be included given her defensive ability, but her minutes did slightly dip for club and country in 2022, so at 34, it’ll be interesting to see if that’s a sign of age catching up to her. For what it’s worth, however, she had a strong performance for Canada earlier this year at She Believes Cup, and did feature in the Houston Dash’s season opener off the bench, so that gives her a strong shout of making it.
Jade Rose is also another favourite, as the 20-year-old Harvard product has been excellent every time she’s played for Canada, as despite having to go up against the likes of Australia, Brazil, Japan, and the US in her appearances, she’s never looked out of place. Mainly a centre back, she’s shifted over to full back for Canada recently, and given that Priestman also gave her a shout earlier to play in midfield, it’ll be hard to imagine her missing out.
Because of that, things will get tough afterwards for the last options, which are Bianca St-Georges and Sura Yekka.
St-Georges has the best shout, as she grew a lot for the Chicago Red Stars last year, and looked good for Canada as they dealt with injuries in the fall, but looks like she could be a victim of the numbers game, unless she has a heater to start the year. As for Yekka, she just hasn’t seen the field enough for Canada, although a recent move to Swedish side Vittsjö GIK could boost her chances, after playing in France’s second division in 21-22.
Projection: Ashley Lawrence, Jayde Riviere, Jade Rose, Allysha Chapman
Locks: Jessie Fleming, Julia Grosso, Quinn
All but confirmed: Desiree Scott
On the bubble: Simi Awujo, Sophie Schmidt, Victoria Pickett, Marie-Yasmine Alidou
Meanwhile, over in midfield, things are less wide-open, but at the same time, there are some questions to be had once you get past the locks.
Those locks, of course, are Jessie Fleming, Julia Grosso and Quinn, who should feature heavily in Canada’s midfield, potentially together, which would give Canada formidable control in that area of the pitch, something they’ll need as they get set to play the world’s best.
Otherwise, Desiree Scott is a lock to join them as long as she recovers from a knee injury, which has so far kept her from seeing the field for club or country in 2023, as her presence as a defensive midfielder has proven to be crucial, especially seeing what Canada has looked like defensively in her absence.
After that, though, it’s anyone’s guess to see what happens with the last spots. First, Priestman must decide how many midfielders she brings, as she could bring anywhere from five to eight, with six being the likeliest number, although she could drop it to five if she’s considering playing Ashley Lawrence or Jade Rose in midfield.
Leading the way on that push, however, is the 34-year-old veteran, Sophie Schmidt, who is coming off a career year for the Houston Dash, where she was named team MVP and player’s player of the year, playing a mix of central midfield and centre back. Therefore, even if her role has diminished for Canada, where she’s mostly been a late-game sub, it’ll be hard to imagine her missing out, especially as she continues to play a strong role for the Dash, and adjusted to her new spot with Canada by scoring one goal and adding two assists last year.
After that, 19-year-old Simi Awujo is also a very strong shout to make this squad, where she could very well be the team’s youngest player. With two good seasons at USC under her belt, she’s been a revelation for Canada, though, as her mix of technical ability and physical attributes is a profile that no one else on the team can match, leading Priestman to trust her in some key moments over the past year, where all she’s done is strengthen her chances of being in Australia.
Elsewhere, should Priestman choose to name more than six midfielders, however, she does have two interesting names to look at - Victoria Pickett and Marie-Yasmine Alidou.
Neither of them are in this squad, and they have just four combined caps, so it’s hard to imagine them making the final squad, but Pickett has looked good in the NWSL for Gotham, while Alidou has quietly put together an intriguing debut campaign in Portugal for Famalicão. Therefore, given that they have good profiles as attacking #8s, they could be names to watch should Priestman want to boost her squad at that position.
Projection: Jessie Fleming, Julia Grosso, Quinn, Desiree Scott, Simi Awujo, Sophie Schmidt
Locks: Cloé Lacasse, Adriana Leon
A race against time: Nichelle Prince, Deanne Rose
On the bubble: Clarissa Larisey, Amanda Allen
Lastly, there’s the winger position, where Canada has several questions to answer, especially after Janine Beckie was ruled out of the World Cup with a torn ACL. Likely to play big minutes there and at full back, her absence is a big hole to fill, especially given that Canada has dealt with injuries to other key wingers.
Leading the way in that charge will be Cloé Lacasse and Adriana Leon, who despite being in contrasting form for club and country, will be expected to feature heavily.
Firstly, there’s Leon, who has barely featured for Manchester United since signing there last summer, yet has been the most in-form Canadian scorer since 2021 with nine goals, emerging as a key attacking option for Priestman. Then, there’s Lacasse, who just can’t stop scoring for Benfica with 29 goals in all competitions in 22-23, yet just has one goal to show for it with Canada, despite some bright performances.
As a result, both could be a lethal combination, especially if Leon can keep up her strong Canada form and if Lacasse can start translating that Benfica magic over into a Canadian shirt, which would be key for a Canada team always looking for more goals.
Otherwise, the two names to really watch will be Nichelle Prince and Deanne Rose, who have been regular starters on the wing when healthy, but are both recovering from ruptured Achilles’. Rose has already returned to training for Reading, so looking likely to be ready for the summer, while Prince is still working back having suffered it a few months after her, making things tighter in terms of her recovery.
If they’re fully healthy, they’ll be locks to make it to Australia, but if they’re not, things then get interesting.
Because of that, keep an eye out for Clarissa Larisey and Amanda Allen. Larisey is a strong shout, in particular, as she’s already got one goal in five caps for Canada, and has looked to have transitioned seamlessly from a move to Swedish club Häcken after her stint with Celtic in Scotland. At just 23, she’s still young, too, making her one to watch for the next cycle, which is a bonus.
As for Allen, she’s a long shot at just 18, but she’s already earned a first senior cap, where she did not look out of place in a cameo against Brazil, so should Priestman need to turn to a new face, she’ll certainly be ready for her opportunity. And even if that doesn’t come in this tournament, at her age, she certainly should have a few more World Cups and Olympics in her future, at the very least, especially given that she already looks set to turn pro at her young age.
Projection: Cloé Lacasse, Adriana Leon, Deanne Rose, Clarissa Larisey