ROSTER ANALYSIS: What to make of CanWNT squad set to face Australia?
VANCOUVER – The journey towards the World Cup begins now.
Having officially booked their spot at the 2023 World Cup earlier this summer at the CONCACAF W Championships, the CanWNT is kicking off their preparations for that tournament in less than two weeks now, as they get set for a pair of friendlies against Australia.
One of the two co-hosts for that tournament along with New Zealand, this Australian camp will allow Canada to both get a taste of what the environment might be like come next year, while also giving them two stiff tests against the 12th-ranked side in the world.
Because of that, it's expected to be an important camp for Canada, who will be looking to put the pain of a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the US in the finals of the CONCACAF W Championships behind them, using it as fuel for next year's World Cup.
Therefore, it was quite intriguing to see the 23-player squad that head coach Bev Priestman dropped earlier this week, as it gave an early idea of what she and her staff are thinking for that tournament.
Here's a look at some of what stood out from that announcement.
Surprise squad absences dominate headlines
The good news, as expected, is that a lot of the heavy hitters are back for Canada, such as Christine Sinclair, Janine Beckie, Jessie Fleming and Kadeisha Buchanan, who are all expected to play a big role for the team next summer. (Edit: Kadeisha Buchanan was later removed from the roster due to injury).
The bad news, however, is that Canada is also missing a good chunk of key regulars, as Vanessa Gilles, Deanne Rose, Jayde Riviere and Allysha Chapman were all ruled out of this camp with injuries, while Ashley Lawrence was ruled out for personal reasons.
For Canada, that's a big blow, as Gilles, Riviere and Lawrence make up 3/4ths of their vaunted backline this summer, while Rose is a key part of the attack, leaving Priestman with some pretty big shoes to fill.
To help do that, however, a few replacements were brought in, with Marie Levasseur, Sura Yekka and Jade Rose all slotting in defensively, joined by Simi Awujo in midfield, and Clarissa Larisey up front.
Squad is out for the #CanWNT/#CanXNT ahead of September— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) August 23, 2022
23 player squad for Bev Priestman
New faces from July: Jade Rose, Marie Levasseur, Sura Yekka, Simi Awujo, Clarissa Larisey
Out: Zoe Burns, Jayde Riviere, Deanne Rose, Vanessa Gilles, Ashley Lawrence https://t.co/C8A8dhGWUs
Levasseur, Yekka and Rose are all familiar faces for Canadian fans, having all earned caps under Priestman before, but Awujo and Larisey, in particular, are brand-new call-ups.
First, there's the 23-year-old Larisey, who is in her 2nd year as a professional with Celtic, having joined from Iceland's Valur last season. A former Memphis Tiger, where she scored 31 goals in 48 games across three years for the NCAA program, she had nine goals in eight league games for Celtic last season, before scoring five in her first two league games this season.
As a result, she became too hard to ignore for Priestman, who needed to both replace Rose and find more goals, decided to give Larisey the call, knowing that her versatility and her eye for goal could be key.
"She probably could play across multiple positions, winger, #9, maybe the #10, she's played wing back, as well," Priestman said of Larisey. "So when you talk about that versatility for tournament rosters, I think that opened the door for her."
“Plus, individually, what I've seen from her, she's got pace, she's direct, she scores goals."
Otherwise, there's the 18-year-old Awujo, who is also earning her first call to Canada, fresh off of a very solid U20 World Cup with Canada, where despite her team failing to snatch a win, she played every minute for her side.
A big midfielder, Awujo impressed with her box-to-box presence down in Costa Rica, something that she's also shown in her one year with the USC Trojans, where she had two goals and two assists in her first year.
Because of that, for a Canadian team who has stressed the need for more long-term options in the midfield, Awujo also became a no-brainer inclusion, especially given that she's an American dual-national, too.
"I think her profile is quite different, she's tall, very dangerous in the box, and can travel with the ball very, very well," Priestman said of Awujo. "So it's quite different to what we've got, a bit of a blend of a couple of people that we currently have in our midfield. So when you talk about a new profile, I think she could score goals in the box, so I'm excited about what Simi can be."
New faces, new opportunities
At the same time, for all of the excitement about the new inclusions, doesn't mean there weren't any surprise exclusions, however.
The biggest? Evelyne Viens, who after surprisingly missing out on Canada's CONCACAF Championships squad, missed out again on the squad for this window.
Despite Viens having 11 goals and seven assists in all competitions as a #9, Priestman opted to stick away from the striker for now, saying that she didn't feel the time was right to bring them back.
"It's not necessarily anything they're not doing," Priestman explained. "I sort of shared what I felt that they needed to do to make that World Cup roster, and that hasn't changed, but obviously I'm watching them very closely, and they are doing well."
"I just felt that I needed to assess some new players, I think there are some positional gaps that we need to look at, and that's why I've chosen some of the players to come in, so it's nothing that they're not doing."
For a Canadian team needing goals and some defensive depth, however, it remains to be seen if those absences come back to haunt them, as was arguably the case this summer
CanWNT hope to continue evolution
At the same time, no matter who is on the pitch for Canada right now, one thing remains clear - Canada must continue to evolve as a team tactically, especially if they're to be a team that can contend for the World Cup next year.
As their Olympic gold medal showed, the foundation is there, but given how quickly the women's soccer landscape has changed in just a year, Canada is at risk of quickly falling behind, especially if the European Championships this summer were to mean anything.
And they know that. All year, Canada has been looking to evolve their game tactically, especially on the offensive end of things, as they try to strike a balance between being the defensive machine that they can be with some punch going forward.
They showed flashes of that during the CONCACAF Championships, and while they just didn't put it together in the final against the US, they got a good taste of what they'll need in order to beat the best, so now, their next step is to find that on a more consistent basis.
"I feel like we're moving forward," Priestman explained. "It's just a case now of trying to cement our roster, trying to see who could be in our 23 come next summer. And then tactically, we are evolving, (tweaking) some things, and trying to work on being the fittest team at the World Cup, as those little things I think can make all the difference."
"Look at the Euros recently, the standard of the game has gone up again, so fit teams, tactically organized teams, those are the standard of the women's game now."
U-20 World Cup showing further highlights gaps
Speaking of that aforementioned U20 World Cup, Priestman also made sure to touch on it Tuesday, as she took in a few of the games.
There, while Canada didn't necessarily fare badly over the course of the three games that they played, they overall struggled, dropping their three games to South Korea, France and Nigeria.
Yet, that was the latest example in a long line of them why Canada needs a professional women's league, which was also something that Priestman made sure to note.
#canw20— wsoccer.ca (@WsoccerCa) August 18, 2022
It's just the beginning of the journey. This is a crucial generation of players in 🇨🇦 women's soccer history. They could be playing in a pro league in 3-5 years.
We can't lose this gen. pic.twitter.com/9Vf0tSEyVP
As seen in flashes, there is a lot of talent to be found in Canada, but it just needs to be unearthed and nurtured, and for as long as that professional league doesn't exist, that's not going to happen, leaving Canada to fall further and further behind those around them in terms of youth development.
"You've got to accumulate caps now, both for the national team and for professional leagues," Priestman said of what Canada's youth players need. "We were playing against players playing a PSG week in and week out, and we've got players in the NCAA."
"There's a gap. I think that's a reality, but that gap can be bridged through investments, be it in a domestic league, or getting our players playing overseas in professional leagues week in and week out."
If not, that could have a big impact on Canada in the long-term, something that they'd certainly like to avoid.