These 6 CanWNT stars are set for their FIRST FIFA World Cup: What do they bring?
Playing at a World Cup is a lifelong goal for nearly every footballer on the planet.
The chance to represent your country at the pinnacle of international soccer is a dream that many harbour... but few ever get the opportunity to reach that summit over the course of a playing career.
However, several hundred players will get to live out that dream in Australia and New Zealand this summer, when the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup kicks off on July 20. Among them are 23 Canadians participating in the country's eighth consecutive World Cup, draped in Olympic gold and bringing loftier ambitions of world-wide dominance as they look to climb their tallest mountain yet (and surpass their best-ever finish of fourth place from 2003).
Bev Priestman's Canada team has got every reason to beleive they can do it, too. Bolstered by 18 returnees from that Olympic team, and 17 players that have previous World Cup experience, this is a team filled with top talent in every position. At the same time, there are also a few new names looking to make their World Cup debuts for Canada this summer, so here's a closer look at each of those players, who will look to aid Canada in their quest to win it all, starting with their opening game against Nigeria on July 20th.
Olivia Smith (Penn State / North Toronto Nitros)
At just 18 years of age, Olivia Smith is the youngest player on this Canadian team, but make no mistake - she’s here to make some noise.
A late addition to the roster, as she wasn't even on the team’s original pre-tournament camp squad, she made the most of her late invite to that camp, impressing enough to be included in the final squad.
Yet, for those who have followed Smith's young career, they won't be surprised by that. Canada's youngest-ever debutant at 15 years and 94 days of age, a mark she set back in November of 2019 in a friendly against Brazil, she's been on Canada's radar for a while now.
Despite that early introduction to the big time, it's been a bit of a slow burn since, however.
Having made two senior appearances back in 2019, she's yet to return to the team since, as she's spent most of her time playing with Canada's U20 team, with whom she's scored 20 goals and added 4 assists across 18 games, including a goal at last year's U20 World Cup (despite still being eligible for the next edition of that tournament).
Then, at the club level, she continued to get reps at the youth level and then in League 1 Ontario, before making the jump to NCAA this past fall, where she scored one goal and added one assist in 16 games with Penn State.
Recently, however, she's taken a big step forward, as she continued to play with Canada's U20s as they began a new cycle. There, she was excellent, scoring 12 goals and adding three assists in eight games as she helped them qualify for another U20 World Cup.
Soon after, she announced her commitment to forego the rest of her university career to go play professionally in Europe, with a team that will likely be announced after the World Cup.
Because of all that, it put her back on Canada's radar for the senior team, earning her the last-minute invite, and now, she'll look to make the most of her opportunity on the final squad.
A dynamic winger, she loves to take defenders on 1v1, and is lethal in front of goal, so look for Canada to potentially turn to her as a substitute option in games where they need a spark.
And even if she doesn't play much this tournament, she is someone who will look to play in many more World Cups in the future, so keep an eye on her as she continues to grow as a player.
Vanessa Gilles (Olympique Lyon)
It's wild to think that this World Cup will be Gilles's first, as she played such a prominent role for Canada at the Olympics and has been a key regular for years now, but indeed, the 27-year-old will be making her World Cup debut this summer in Australia.
There, she's got a big role to play for Canada. A locked-in starter alongside Kadeisha Buchanan at centre back, she'll look to lead Canada's dominant defensive group, one that will need to play a big role if Canada's to have any chance of going deep in this tournament.
And she'll do so in great form, as she comes off a strong debut season with French giants, Lyon, where she spent a year on loan from Angel City. There, she impressed enough to earn a second loan through 2024, helping Lyon win a domestic double while reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
A force in the air, Gilles has also improved massively with the ball at her feet over the last few years and is a threat in opposing boxes on set pieces, so look for her to try and chip in at both ends of the pitch this tournament for Canada.
Cloé Lacasse (Arsenal WFC)
Despite being one of just seven players 30 or older on this Canadian roster, Cloé Lacasse is getting set to make her World Cup debut this summer, as she continues her late rise as a player.
Despite never having played in a major tournament for Canada, she's expected to play a big role this summer, as she's quickly become an important part of this team over the last few years.
Coming off a strong season at the club level, where she scored 35 goals and added 18 assists in all competitions as Benfica the Portuguese league, Taça da Liga and Supertaça, earning the Portuguese league MVP award for her efforts, she’s ready to shine for Canada this summer.
Fresh off a big move to English giants, Arsenal, who she'll join after this tournament, she's very much in her prime as a player, and will look to prove that for Canada.
A Canadian team that always needs more goals, they'll hope she can step up as a key source of offence, making her a potential breakout star for this tournament based on what she did at the club level last season.
Evelyne Viens (Kristianstad)
One thing has become clear over the years - Evelyne Viens scores goals.
She's continued to prove that this year with Swedish side Kristianstads, as she has 13 goals in all competitions in 2023, sitting second in the golden boot race in the Damallsvenskan with 12 goals through 17 games.
Yet, that's all she's done since making the move to Sweden back in 2022, score goals, as she's racked up 38 of them across all competitions now since her arrival.
Now, she's looking to find a way to do that at the World Cup level, as she gets set to make her tournament debut this summer. An Olympic gold medallist from 2021, she has still yet to fully stake out a regular spot in Canada's starting 11, but she's been dangerous in flashes, scoring four goals in 18 appearances at the international level.
But with Canada needing more offence, she'll be looked at as a potential source for goals, as she's shown that when called upon, she can step up and can score them, something she'll look to prove again this summer.
Simi Awujo (USC Trojans)
Canada's second-youngest player on the roster at 19, Awujo is also the newest face on this team, as she only earned her first Canada call-up for a camp in September of 2022.
After a strong U20 World Cup for Canada last summer, however, she was given a chance to show what she can do at the senior level, and has not looked back since, immediately looking like someone who can contribute at this level since that first camp.
Because of that, she's already racked up six appearances for Canada, and will look to play some key minutes this World Cup, as Canada is short on depth in midfield.
Able to play anywhere in the middle of the park, Awujo has a unique mix of skill, size, speed and awareness that makes her a complete player, and has immense potential as a result.
She's shown that at the NCAA level with USC, where she has four goals and five assists across 31 games in two seasons, and is now looking to prove that this World Cup, where she’ll look to show that she's not just one for the future, but one to watch in the present, too.
Lysianne Proulx (S.C.U. Torreense)
Lastly, there's the 24-year-old Lysianne Proulx, who slots in as Canada's third goalkeeper this tournament, marking her first major international tournament.
She enters after a good season, too, as she was excellent for Portuguese side Torreense, with whom she just completed her first full pro campaign.
Yet to play for Canada, as she sits behind two very good goalkeepers in Kailen Sheridan and Sabrina D’Angelo, she's very unlikely to feature at this tournament, but will look to be ready if called upon.
One for the future, however, she'll look to use this tournament as a chance to enjoy and soak in the experience, before using it to eventually try and carve out a bigger role in the years to come for her country.