5 questions that the CanWNT MUST answer ahead of 2023 World Cup
The final audition may be over, but there still remain more questions than answers for the Canadian Women’s National Team.
Fresh off of a 2-1 defeat to France in their last official match before they name a final World Cup squad ahead of the 2023 World Cup, it was a frustrating match for Canada, as they didn’t look like themselves for a large chunk of the proceedings.
Of course, injuries played a big part in that, as they were missing seven of their regulars, but it was still a big surprise, as a lot of their depth players have stepped up big in recent months, yet just weren’t able to match that level in this game.
Because of that, it leaves big questions for the team to answer as they get set to name that final World Cup squad. From figuring out if their injured players will return in time, to deciding how much of a refresh their team needs, as well as some tactical questions, safe to say that there will be a lot for head coach Bev Priestman and her staff to ponder over the next few months.
So in no particular order, here are some of those unanswered questions that they will now look to find an answer for, as they gear up for this crucial World Cup this summer.
What’s this team’s identity?
Before making any player-related decisions, however, one huge question looms for Priestman - what will this team's identity be at the World Cup?
Always known as a defensive team, a strategy that they successfully won an Olympic gold medal with back in 2021, they’ve been trying to shift away from that over the past year, to mixed results.
Looking to score more goals and generate more offence, that shift has come at a cost recently, as they’ve lost a bit of the defensive solidity that they’ve been so known for.
And given that they haven’t been getting the goals to show for it at the other end, it’s been a big hit, as while they’re more comfortable at holding onto the ball now, they’ve become a bit leaky defensively.
This France game was a prime example of that, as despite holding 55% of the ball, Canada allowed two goals on 13 shots, including seven on target, for 1.62 xG, and only had one goal from 0.91 xG on six shots (four on target) to show for it.
As a result, it means that Canada has now been outscored 7-3 in four games in 2023, getting outshot by an average of 13-5.5, while losing the xG battle 1.97-0.64 on average. That’s not ideal.
The good news is that it’s hard to fully judge Canada on these games, as a mix of injuries and off-field trouble has certainly impacted their performances, and all of these games have been against top 15 teams, but at the same time, these are the sort of teams that they’ll have to beat if they want to win a World Cup, so it is a bit concerning to see how badly Canada have been outmatched in that regard statistically.
Therefore, it’ll be important for Canada to find a balance going forward.
Do they return to being more of a defensive team, sticking with what they’re comfortable with, even if it means sacrificing offence? Or do they start to play even more aggressively, playing to try and generate more chances in dangerous areas, even if it continues to hurt their defence?
How about a happy medium, where they emphasize midfield control, something that they’ve struggled with lately?
No matter what, one thing is clear - Canada needs to find an identity again, especially before they get set to play more top teams, because as they’ve learned so far in 2023, teams of that quality will punish you on any sort of mistake, of which Canada has made a fair few of lately.
Can they get that midfield balance right?
Speaking of balance, however, that will be something that Priestman will need to find in her midfield before the World Cup.
An area of strength for them during their Olympics run, they’ve struggled there as of late, especially against the top teams.
In particular, they’ve struggled without Desiree Scott and Quinn, with the former having yet to see the field in 2023, and the latter having played just 39 minutes off the bench against the US earlier this year.
The team’s main options at the #6, their absence has forced Priestman to experiment with options at the position, which she mostly tried to fill with a Jessie Fleming and Julia Grosso double-pivot earlier this year, before shifting to trying Sophie Schmidt there versus France.
Yet, while both options had some good moments on the ball, they just haven’t been able to provide the same defensive impact that Scott and Quinn can bring, which has contributed to those aforementioned defensive struggles.
Therefore, Priestman will need to hope that Scott and Quinn can return in time for the World Cup, where it would make sense to try a trio of Quinn underneath Fleming and Grosso, if not a similar trio with Scott filling in for Quinn.
Either way, if Canada wants to keep up with top teams, who typically dominate games in midfield, they’ll need the defensive acumen of Scott and Quinn, while freeing up Fleming and Grosso to push the ball up the field as 8s.
And if for some reason Scott and Quinn aren’t able to go, Priestman will need to get creative to try and keep that balance, even if it means trying out someone like Simi Awujo, who has the ball-playing and defensive ability to be a good #6, at the position.
Who are the starters up front?
It’s been the age-old question for Canada - who will score the goals for them in big games?
Yet, the question is starting to evolve - are they ignoring those who could potentially score the goals for them?
For example, of Canada’s front three in this France game, which consisted of Adriana Leon, Christine Sinclair and Jordyn Huitema, Huitema and Sinclair’s last goals before this game had come last summer when the pair both scored in a 6-0 drubbing of Trinidad & Tobago. Then, while Leon has scored five goals for Canada since that game, she’s struggling for minutes at Manchester United, which seemed to have an impact on her as she looked a bit off her usual rhythm in this game.
Meanwhile, someone like Évelyne Viens started on the bench, despite scoring two goals for Canada since October and remaining red-hot at the club level, which can also be said for Cloé Lacasse, who scored her first Canada goal last fall and has always looked dangerous in sub appearances. And you could also probably throw Clarissa Larisey in there, too, as she made a big club move this winter, and scored for Canada last fall despite limited minutes.
Therefore, it feels like that trio could be leaned on a bit more as Canada looks for more offence, especially someone like Viens, who has four goals in just around 800 minutes for her Canada career, yet hasn’t been able to turn that production into more starts.
Of course, someone like Huitema provides certain benefits that Priestman likes, such as her improved hold-up play, but it feels like Canada could be profiting more from what Viens has brought to the table.
Or, at the very least, especially with Huitema scoring in this game (even if it was off of a gift from French goalkeeper Constance Picaud that she’ll want to forget), there should be a strong competition between the pair, helping push Canada’s offence to another level.
Especially when the likes of Deanne Rose and Nichelle Prince return, that should definitely be the case, as Canada has good depth up front, but doesn’t always use it, something that they could be doing much more of.
Does the youth movement begin this summer?
It feels like in every game that Canada’s played recently, they’ve had a young player step up, with the example in this France game being yet another solid performance from Jade Rose, who looks to have cemented her spot in the World Cup squad.
Along with strong performances in recent months from the likes of Larisey, Simi Awujo and Amanda Allen, it’s going to make for some tough decisions for Bev Priestman, as it feels like some of these youngsters could be both the present and the future of this Canadian team.
Therefore, it’ll be intriguing to see how many can slip their way into the final squad. Canada isn’t old, per se, with just six players over 30 in the running to make that squad, but it does feel that some of these youngsters are ready to push these veterans, as they already have been doing in recent months.
What’s this team’s best XI?
Lastly, one thing that Priestman will want to figure out is what exactly her best team is, as it’s been a long time since she’s been able to say that she’s put something out resembling that.
With a consistent roulette of absences due to injuries and other reasons, it has left Canada to consistently be short a few players from what they would consider their best team.
And while they’ll certainly be missing some of those players at the World Cup, with Janine Beckie already ruled out, and always the possibility for more to join her, it feels like a while since Canada has even played with a team that is around 80 to 90% of what they’d consider their best group.
Because of that, it will be crucial for them to figure that out, as doing so will also help shape roster decisions elsewhere, while also helping them find the identity that they’ve started to lack recently.
When healthy, Kailen Sheridan, Kadeisha Buchanan, Vanessa Gilles, Ashley Lawrence, Jayde Riviere, Jessie Fleming, Julia Grosso and Deanne Rose’s names will be probably written in pen, but after that, there are going to be a lot of things to figure out, especially when it comes to how Canada plans to beat the top teams in the world.