"I hope we take it to them": Amidst busy week off the field, CanWNT set to kick off She Believes Cup vs US
After a busy week off the pitch, the Canadian Women’s National Team is set to take the field again, as they begin 2023 World Cup prep with a crucial match against their biggest rivals, the USWNT, in Orlando on Thursday.
Yet, despite a chance to try and one-up their dominant southern neighbours in this match, Canada is preparing to do so while fighting one of their biggest battles as a team - the one to receive equal treatment as a team from their federation as they prepare for the World Cup.
As has been the case since they arrived in Orlando ahead of this SheBelieves Cup, Canada’s players have been balancing preparation for this match while also remaining at odds with Canada Soccer, whom the players noted in a statement last week recently told them their 2023 budget would be cut. Among other things, those cuts stand to impact squad sizes, number of training sessions and even deny the team the ability to play at home before they kick off the World Cup in July.
Following a year where the Canadian men’s team had the chance to attend their first World Cup in 36 years, that milestone has now left a sour note, as the CanWNT have been left to prepare for a huge tournament while not having access to the same level of resources and support that they need to do their best.
Therefore, their ask is simple right now - to have a chance to be able to change that, and get access to the resources that their counterparts had to prepare with in 2022, such as a bigger staff, more training sessions, and more.
“All we’re asking for is to be given equal opportunity to our men’s team to prepare for the World Cup,” Canada’s Janine Beckie told reporters this week.
As a result, that has left Canada in an interesting position as they get set for this She Believes Cup. What would normally be a huge chance to prepare for the World Cup, with games against #1-ranked US, #9 Brazil and #11 Japan, Canada has had to balance that while also battling to get that equal treatment from Canada Soccer.
That much was clear on Wednesday, as while Canada was in high spirits as they arrived at matchday-1 training, they did so while donning their training kits inside out to hide the Canada Soccer logo, sending a clear message of where things stand at the moment.
"We are so proud and honoured to play for Canada. But right now we feel as though our federation has let us down," Canadian veteran Sophie Schmidt told reporters after training. "And that is the reason why we have it the other way around."
Canada players come out for training in Orlando with training tops turned inside out to cover the Canada Soccer logo #canwnt pic.twitter.com/24FXa37lR6— Steph Yang | Horrible Soccer Goose (@thrace) February 15, 2023
But now, despite all of that, Canada must now try and turn their attention to the US, who enter this summer’s World Cup as favourites given their status as back-to-back champions.
There, head coach Bev Priestman has had quite the challenge on her hands, as while her job is to ensure that her side is best prepared for what will be a tough tilt against a strong team, she also knows that her team is focused on something much bigger than just a game.
“I'm incredibly proud and honoured to represent the group of players I have in front of me, and it’s not just them as players, but what they stand for,” Priestman told reporters Wednesday. “And I think what comes out loud and clear in this group. They're not just fighting for themselves in the next six months, they’re making sure that the next generation of players coming through have the same opportunity for themselves to perform at the highest level just like their counterparts.”
Yet, while all of this turmoil might have affected most coaches, Priestman remains unbothered by that. Much as she’s been since she was hired at the end of 2020, she remains fiercely committed to her players, who after winning a gold medal at the 2021 Olympics, want to repeat similar success at the World Cup.
So although the turmoil surrounding her team might have tempted some to leave, especially given the demand that might be out there for a coach like Priestman (an interest that the Guardian shared to be true earlier in the day), she reaffirmed her commitment to her team in a big way on Wednesday.
“Post gold medal, there's been regular opportunities put in front of me, but I'm committed to this group of players,” Priestman confidently stated. “I've shared some incredible moments with them, and I want those moments to continue. And it is really difficult circumstances (right now), we can't hide from that, but my aim is to be with this group of players and to share more incredible moments with them.”
Because of that, the mission is simple for Priestman heading into this USWNT game - to give the best account of themselves on the pitch as they can.
Off it, the battle continues for her side, and will see her players engage in some form of protest before this match, but on it, Priestman is looking to get the most out of this group as they continue their journey toward the World Cup.
#CanWNT’s Beckie on the inside out training kits.— Har Journalist (@HarJournalist) February 15, 2023
“We made a decision as a team that we were going to do this and show our solidarity. This is one of the ways we decided to do that.”
What do you have planned tomorrow?
“You’ll see tomorrow, I don’t want to say anything now.” pic.twitter.com/ZtCsvloW4T
Given how things went the last time they played the US, which was a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in the CONCACAF Championship final last summer, they want to show what they did since then, which includes wins over Australia (x2), Argentina, Morocco and Brazil, is a better reflection of what they are as a team, than what that frustrating night down in Monterrey showed.
One of the favourites this summer for a reason, Canada certainly has unfinished business to take care of against the US, a team they will likely have to go through to get to a World Cup, and will look to show that when they take the field on Thursday.
It won’t be easy, especially given everything going on, but Priestman has full faith in her side, and believes that once that whistle goes, they can prove why they’re the defending Olympic champions.
“I felt, and I think the group would agree, we didn't give the best account of ourselves in that (CONCACAF Championships) game, for many reasons,” Priestman explained. “Fatigue, short turnaround, mindset, all of the things you get in that setting.”
“So I hope we take it to the US, as we did with Brazil, Australia, some of that form that we've seen from this group recently, I really hope we take that to the US. I think we can and if the mindset is right, yeah we're dealing with things that I just don't know as a coach the toll these things have taken on players, but at the end of the day, on paper, if I go off some of those incredible performances from this group, I hope we take it to them, and I hope we share some of the things that we have shown in our identity.”