"It's a really difficult situation": Injury crisis causing squad selection headaches for Bev Priestman, CanWNT as World Cup rapidly approaches
Quietly, the time is rapidly running out for Canada’s Women’s National Team, as they continue their journey toward the start of the 2023 World Cup this summer.
And now, approximately three months out from when they will be naming their final squad for that tournament, Canada is already getting set for their final test as a full group, as they take on France in Le Mans on Tuesday.
Yet, what would usually be circled as a huge chance for players to make that last pitch to head coach Bev Priestman to pick them in a World Cup squad this summer, this game does hold a bit of an asterisk over it in that regard, as Canada is also missing seven regulars, with six of them all expected to return before the World Cup.
Because of that, it leaves a big question mark for Priestman and her staff to answer - how does one evaluate the faces that are in camp versus those who aren’t there, especially given that those players might not return as the same version of themselves that they were before?
It’s not an easy task, as it’s easy to sometimes get lost in the play of whoever is shining right now in front of you, but you can’t forget those who are injured, especially given how key they all are to Canada’s success.
Therefore, while the team might be missing Kadeisha Buchanan, Desiree Scott, Shelina Zadorksy, Quinn, Deanne Rose and Nichelle Prince from this game, Priestman is making sure that they’re all factored into the team’s planning for this game - both in terms of how they’d fit back into the team, but as well as what the team could look like if any of them don’t end up returning in time for this summer.
“You start to say, well if these players don't become available for us in time for the World Cup, what is the identity of the team, and is that a little bit different based on what we have available?” Priestman explained. “And I think what you'll see in this game is a blend of us still preparing for a World Cup without those players, and a blend of us preparing for a World Cup with the players that are here.”
Yet, this window was always going to be experimental for Canada, who are playing just one game instead of two, having spent the past week training together in a castle in France, where they’ve also used their time to reconnect as a group after a tough February window.
And by every account, this camp has had every desired effect on the team’s mood off the field, so now, they’ll look to prove that the extra training time can also have an effect on the team’s abilities on it.
“So yeah, I think you'll see some tweaks,” Priestman continued. “I think we have to go in, and that was always targeted in this window, (as the extra training) allowed us to evolve, tweak and do things that maybe if you're playing a game the minute you get into the camp, you don't necessarily get to do that. So I think you will see some little tweaks to partnerships and things, we can't make wholesale changes this late in the piece, but we’ll definitely have to adapt and I think what you’ll see on the pitch is probably a little bit of all that.”
Therefore, while it’s not ideal for Priestman to be left with the “what-if’s” of all her injured players, she has no complaints about how things are shaping up for her team at the moment.
With only Janine Beckie having been ruled out of the World Cup, if all goes right, she should have most of the squad that she wants at that tournament unless any players have setbacks, which is key.
Plus, all of those injuries have also allowed Priestman to look at some new players, some of whom have really stepped up big when given the opportunity, potentially throwing them in the mix to be at the World Cup, such as Jade Rose, Simi Awujo and Amanda Allen, among others.
And even if those youngsters don’t end up making it? Priestman knows that her team is in good hands going forward. As key players such as Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott and Allysha Chapman all push into their mid to late 30s, Priestman can confidently look at her team and see young players who could step up in their stead, while pushing other players who might start to slow down soon.
So while Priestman’s preparation for this World Cup has been made very difficult by all of the injuries, she admits that it has also made her very excited for the future, no matter what happens this summer over in Australia.
“Yeah, it's actually a really difficult situation, and if you're not careful, you can go into this France game with a whole lot of clutter,” Priestman admitted. “I think as a coach, you have to work through what if players are back for the World Cup, and what if they aren’t?”
“And I think for me, personally, I've said it to the individuals, and I've said it to the group - I'll be waiting and pushing as long as I can to make sure that Canada has the best 23 players available at the World Cup. If that means taking extra players to a preparation camp before the naming of the official squad has to happen, I think the squad and every player involved would appreciate that.”
“So it's very difficult, and I also appreciate that it's very difficult for the players that know that they're pushing (for spots). But I must say, it’s also a credit to every single player in this camp, particularly with only one game this camp, I can only imagine if you're that sort of bubble player and you know it, yet there's only one game and the injuries we've had and knowing what we can afford to put out there as a coach. (Despite that), the attitude and application have been fantastic, and what I’ve seen is that regardless of who’s fit or unfit for the World Cup, beyond that, we have a bright future.”
“I think there's a whole host of players that have either come in late to the fold, or who have been in and around this team over the past 12 months that, should any players retire at this World Cup, (I’ll know that) I've got to actually see some new players and test them out in this environment, and I think that's been quite cool. Of course, I wish the injuries didn't happen, but that actually forced this (change) to happen, but in many ways, I now know if someone pulls up again, I've got some players here that have come in and applied themselves fantastically.”
You can catch the Canadian Women's National Team take on France LIVEon OneSoccer on TUESDAY, APRIL 11 (PRE-SHOW: 2:30PM ET / 11:30AM PT).
Here are a selection of the 10 top questions from the media call.