Key takeaways from CanWNT's latest squad ahead of October doubleheader vs. Brazil
The CanWNT are back in action later this month, as they get set to host Brazil in a pair of friendlies in Montréal and Halifax at the end of October.
After a successful September window, where they were able to defeat a solid Jamaican side across two legs to qualify for a fifth-straight Summer Olympics, it’s an opportunity for Canada to officially start building towards that tournament, too, which will be held in Paris next summer.
Given that they remain the defending gold medallists from the 2021 tournament, that’s huge, as they were eager to avoid becoming the third gold medallists to fail to qualify for the next edition, joining Norway (2000) and Germany (2016) as the two other teams to do so.
Now, however, while they’re back at the big dance, they’ll look to ensure that they have what it takes to compete among the best again. Especially after a frustrating 2023 World Cup, one where they failed to make it out of their group for the first time since 2011, they’ll head into these Olympics with something to prove.
Seeing how they’ve always seemed to thrive more at the Olympics, earning one gold medal and two bronzes (they’ve never finished higher than fourth at a World Cup, doing so once in 2003) will only add to that pressure, too.
Because of that, they’re looking to prepare for that in the best way possible, starting with this October window.
It won’t be easy, as Brazil is a good side, one quite familiar with this CanWNT team given that they’ve already met half a dozen times since the start of 2021, but these sorts of tests are crucial for Canada, as it’ll provide a good chance to experiment while playing against a top 10 team.
All while doing so at home, something that Canada hasn’t done enough of over the last few years, and that only adds to the importance of this window.
Speaking of these Brazil games, however, the CanWNT officially revealed their 26-player squad for this camp on Wednesday, as we’re now less than two weeks away from kick-off.
Here’s what stood out from that announcement.
Some new faces slot in:
Of course, the most exciting part of a new squad is seeing some of the new arrivals, as well as the absences, seeing what has changed from the last time out.
In that regard, there was some movement in this squad, as Canada called in 26 players after calling in 24 for the September window, leaving some room for some new faces to slot in.
And while that jump also accounted for the return of regulars Deanne Rose and Jayde Riviere from injury, they were also joined by some new faces - Emma Regan and Melissa Dagenais, with the former earning her first senior team call since 2018, while the latter earned her first senior call.
To begin, Regan is a fascinating name, as the 23-year-old BC native is in the midst of a strong first professional season with Danish side HB Køge, who she joined after a four-year stint in the NCAA with the Texas Longhorns, as well as a League 1 BC stint with Varsity FC in 2022 (now Nautsa’mawt).
A defensive midfielder who can also play anywhere across the backline, she’s played 17 games for Køge since her arrival, including four in Champions League qualifiers, quickly impressing at her new club with her play and versatility.
Because of that, it makes all sorts of sense to bring her back into the senior fold, given that Canada has a need for more central midfield options, especially at the #6 with Desiree Scott continuing her return from a knee injury.
Especially given that Regan has already had that familiarity in a senior team environment, even if it was five years ago, that can only help, too, as she tries to earn more of a permanent spot going forward.
As for Dagenais, she’ll look to add to Canada's depth in goal, given that the team elected to bring her in alongside their main three options, Kailen Sheridan, Sabrina D’Angelo and Lysianne Proulx, instead of replacing one of them.
What that shows is that head coach Bev Priestman sees something in the Québecois native long-term, as she continues her fifth season with the University of Miami, where she’s kept five clean sheets and conceded 16 goals in 12 games.
Likely to go pro next year, she’ll look to throw her name in the mix for that third goalkeeping spot ahead of the Olympics, battling with the likes of Proulx, Devon Kerr and Rylee Foster for that honour.
Elsewhere, the only big exclusion from this squad was that of Simi Awujo, who has become a regular for this Canadian side, but Priestman later confirmed that was due to NCAA commitments. Other than that, Allysha Chapman remains out after missing out for personal reasons in September, which Chapman has now confirmed this week was due to her now being pregnant, while Desiree Scott is continuing her return from a knee injury.
Lastly, Priestman hinted that this could be one of the last times that Christine Sinclair dons the Canadian jersey, although she deferred any sort of official announcement about a potential retirement or continuation of her career to Sinclair, who is yet to say whether she’ll be playing in 2024.
“What I can confirm is Christine is available for this window,” Priestman said.
“We’ve had some confidential conversations about where she’s at, but I don’t feel it’s my place to communicate that,” she finished.
A chance to build off a strong September window:
While Canada will look to build for next year’s Olympics, doing so while putting the sting of the 2023 World Cup behind them, it’s worth noting that they’re already off to a good start in that regard.
That, of course, came during the September window, where Canada dispatched Jamaica in convincing fashion across two legs to earn their spot at next year’s Olympics.
After a World Cup where Canada struggled offensively, were disorganized defensively and started games slowly, they were dominant and in control on both sides of the ball, and were quite consistent across both legs.
As a result, they won 4-1 on aggregate and were deserved winners, too, generating 3.64 xG to Jamaica’s 1.7 across the 180 minutes.
In particular, that former number is key, as Canada’s struggled to generate xG all year, only clearing the 1.5 mark once in a game this year - over Ireland at the World Cup.
Because of that, it’s encouraging to see Canada do that twice over a two-game span, doing so while generating good shot volume, finishing with 30 shots (16 on target) across those two matchups.
You add in that they did so while holding a lot of the ball, averaging around 55% possession and 85% pass completion (for context, they held 60% possession but only completed 76% of their passes at the World Cup), it shows that their decision-making improved drastically against Jamaica, too.
Therefore, the big goal for them now will be to build off that. They made some good strides against Jamaica, with a switch to a 3-4-2-1 with some new personnel playing a big role in that, but they’ll now need to prove that they didn’t just put up those sorts of numbers because they were matched up against a Jamaican team that can be prone to allowing chances at a high rate.
This is a Canadian team that at its best should be able to control the ball and wear down teams, while still being disciplined and organized defensively, but they struggled to show that at the World Cup. Given the talent that they have at their disposal, that was frustrating to watch, as they just couldn’t seem to click.
For them to show what they did against Jamaica, though, doing so in high-stakes games, just offered a glimpse of what they can be about, which they’ll now look to show against a talented Brazil side.
Because of that, expect more of that 3-4-2-1 this camp, with some newer faces getting to shine within that, as the likes of Jade Rose, Sydney Collins, Cloé Lacasse and Simi Awujo did so well last camp.
“Yeah, we evolved overnight between the World Cup and September,” Priestman said this week. “I do wonder if we could’ve evolved earlier, that's a question I've got to keep asking myself, but I definitely think we’ve evolved. We've got some young talent that is coming through who are performing at the highest level, and that’s nice.”
“If I look at our Olympic squad from 2021, it’s very different. I think the number of players that we've had in since, the players we’ve had in the lineup, it’s very different. We've obviously had a whole host of injuries, but I think that the lineup at Paris 2024 will be totally different, we’re a team that has gone through different experiences.”
“That was what we said last window, that we need to get back on track here, and this is how we do it, and now that the Olympics are in sight, we’ve got that Olympic feeling again, and this team absolutely loves the Games, so I can't wait.”
The importance of visiting new locales:
While this camp is certainly special because Canada is actually playing in Canada, something they’ve only done four other times since the start of 2022, it’s also quite cool to see where they’re playing, too.
By heading to Montréal and Halifax, they’re heading to two cities that love soccer, as seen by the support they’ve shown local pro teams such as CF Montréal and the Halifax Wanderers, yet neither of them have been able to host any of Canada’s National Teams all that often over the years.
With the CanMNT playing most of their games in Toronto for logistical reasons over the past few years, while the CanWNT has spent most of their time out of Canada, it’s made games like this a rarity over the past few years.
Because of that, it adds to the occasion of a pair of games like this. As seen when the CanWNT played on Vancouver Island last year, playing in front of a sold-out crowd at Starlight Stadium in April of 2022, that was a memorable occasion for fans, showing the value of playing in new locales.
Therefore, these games should be well-received by both teams. Given that there are six Québecois players on this roster, that will help garner support for the Montréal game, while the Halifax one should be played in front of quite the atmosphere given that tickets sold out for it in less than 20 minutes, showing the desire for this game.
Certainly, if that’s not proof of the interest that’s there to take the team to new locales when possible, it’s hard to say what else could do it, so hopefully this leads to more games like this across the country going forward.
That can only help grow the game, which is positive, showing the importance of being able to bring the National Teams to these locales, especially following the success they’ve mostly had in recent years.
“To know we get a unique following and get to take this team around the country is really exciting,” Priestman said. “I know when we played at (Starlight Stadium in Langford) with the team, it was a similar sort of atmosphere, it’s close and the fans were great, it made a really nice atmosphere, so we're excited, I can't wait.”