3 KEY takeaways from the CanWNT's April squad announcement
The marathon of a journey toward the World Cup has all of a sudden become a sprint for the Canadian Women’s National Team.
Less than four months away from their opening game at the World Cup, when they take on Nigeria on July 21st in Melbourne, Canada is now getting set to meet for the last time before naming their squad ahead of that tournament, as they get set for a friendly against France on April 11th.
A crucial friendly against a fellow World Cup hopeful, it will be head coach Bev Priestman’s final chance to evaluate her team in a camp environment, as the next time they’ll meet will be in late June, where they’ll have already named their World Cup squad.
Safe to say, it makes this April window a huge one for Canada, especially after they had a mixed She Believes Cup, where their fight off-the-field with Canada Soccer left them drained mentally and physically, as they picked up a win and two losses in games against the US, Brazil and Japan, not really looking like themselves for much of the tournament.
Because of that, it was interesting to see the 25 names included in Priestman’s latest squad, which came out on Wednesday. Knowing that it’s the final audition for many, this window will give a good opportunity of who might be in that final squad when it’s announced in June.
Speaking of this latest announcement, however, here’s a look at what stood out from that announcement, after which Priestman shared her insights on some of the latest news surrounding her team.
Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team announces roster for match against France 🍁#CANWNT have announced their 24-player roster traveling to Le Mans, France to play @equipedefranceF during the April 2023 FIFA international window.@CANWNT x @CIBC#WeCAN— Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) March 29, 2023
April window to go ahead as planned?
Naturally, given everything that happened last window for Canada, there've been a lot of questions surrounding this France game.
After threatening to strike at the She Believes Cup, before getting forced to play due to Ontario labour laws, the players then noted that they’d pull out of this April camp if their demands weren’t met.
And while the team remains in negotiations for a full CBA, as both they and the men’s teams negotiate with Canadian Soccer, it sounds like some of those short-term asks have been met, which should mean that this camp will go through as expected.
Namely, a big ask was for the women’s team to have the equal opportunity to prepare for this World Cup as the men did last year, which wasn’t possible as the budgets were heavily cut ahead of the start of 2023.
According to Priestman, though, that appears to have been fixed in the short-term, as they’ve had an increase in finances in the near-future, allowing her team to bring more players, to hold more training sessions and have more staff, all things that were at risk in the earlier cuts.
“My understanding is that they’ve been approved, for April, the World Cup and September, so I hope that means we’ll be back to where we were before those budget cuts happened,” Priestman told media this week. “I’ve been reassured of that, and I think the players will receive the same reassurances on those short-term asks, but also the players are obviously pushing for the wider program as well as the youth program beyond that.”
“So short-term, yes, I’m able to bring in the players and the staff that we need to prepare properly for the World Cup, and that’s the most important and urgent thing, to go into that World Cup with what we need.”
Of course, Canada isn’t the only team mired in a dispute with their federation, as their opponents, France, were also in doubt to play this window as several key players had decided to retire or pull out of international call-ups due to the treatment of players under old coach Corinne Diacre.
This week, however, France received big news, as they finally gave into the pressure of their players, which included captain Wendie Renard, sacking Diacre and bringing in Frencmen Hervé Renard, who had formerly coached Zambia, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, amongst others, on the men’s side.
Because of that, it seems very likely that this game should go ahead, which is big news, as it certainly looked in doubt when first announced back in February.
Otherwise, Priestman provided a key update on another big issue that many were wondering about ahead of the World Cup - a lack of home games for Canada before they head to that tournament.
And unfortunately, her update wasn’t positive on that front, as she all but confirmed that her team won’t play in Canada before the start of that tournament, with the schedule just not allowing for that.
Basically, with there being no official window until the window of July 10th-18th, it left Canada with two unfavourable options if they were to play a home game before then.
Their first option was to play in June, as they could’ve played an out-of-window friendly, but that would’ve come at a risk, as the NWSL players wouldn’t have been released from their clubs by then, robbing Canada of a huge chunk of their squad.
Meanwhile, the other option was to play between July 10th to 18th, which is unlikely, as Canada will want to head to Australia as early as possible to get acclimatized to the time zones and other factors ahead of their July 21st opener. Typically, most teams arrive at a World Cup around a week before it begins, and will assemble in a nearby spot for a while before that, making it unlikely that Canada would choose to make that spot in Canada given how far it is to get to Australia from there.
Because of all that, it looks like Canada’s journey to the World Cup won’t actually pass through Canada, which is less than ideal.
“I don’t think it’s possible, because the NWSL only releases their players on the 26th of June, the US confirmed that, so we’ll only go into camp on the 26th of June,” Priestman explained. “And then there’s no June window, so we’ll go to Australia where we’ll have a closed-door game, or games, as we’re working on a second game.”
“So I don’t think this late on we can design a home game to tick that box, I think the window to do it probably was the April window, so we’ll go into those games, get ourselves prepared, I think the best thing for the team is to do that. So yeah, we’ll be based in Australia in June, July.”
Last audition for World Cup spots?:
It certainly can’t be easy to be Bev Priestman or a member of her staff right now.
With just 23 spots for the taking in the World Cup squad, she must find a way to whittle down her group, and fast, as she’s called in 25 names for this camp, and that’s without including a handful of injury absences who also remain in the mix, meaning that she still has plenty of tough discussions to have.
Because of that, a tall task awaits her and her team in this window, as they find a way to pick what they believe is the perfect 23-player group for what they need in this tournament.
Of course, this isn’t a new process for them, as they had to name only 18 players for the Olympics in 2021, (which later became 22), but given how much their player pool has grown in recent years, it does make things tough.
Especially given how good some of the younger players have played when given opportunities, such as Jade Rose or Simi Awujo, it could mean some tough discussions for key veterans, which won’t be easy for Priestman to have. Especially if other newer faces such as Amanda Allen or Sydney Collins shine, those discussions won't get any easier, as well.
Therefore, this camp will just be about trying to get any sort of final clarity ahead of a final roster decision. In particular, areas such as full back and winger need some clarity, and fast, something that Priestman is well aware of, and admitted as much on Wednesday.
“The spots are there for the taking. I only called in players this late in the process that I think could make that push,” she explained.“I think the full back position, you can see that with the number of full backs that have been named, as I’m trying to decide on the final sort of one or two spots there, then there’s the winger position, which I think now is a bit open due to the different questions that we’ve got to ask. What I think you’ll see from the roster is that we’ve got a lot of players who can play dual position (players) in midfield, so even though the midfield, it looks quite light, we’ve got Christine Sinclair who can play there, some of the full backs can play there, I’d even argue that Jade Rose can play there, since she can play centre back, full back, and I think she’d be a great central midfielder, too.”
“So there’s a lot of options, it’s just about picking the right one for what we have for us available in terms of starters, finishers, and working through that by the end of this April camp and then watching performances after.”
Tactical experiments still on the table?
Lastly, it’ll be interesting to see what Canada brings in terms of tactics to this camp, given it’ll be their last opportunity to see how certain players fit within a system or formation before a final squad is selected.
That’s key, as some players could prove to be useful in different roles than previously thought, or new partnerships could emerge, which could impact the final squad selection.
Especially given that Canada still has some questions to answer tactically after She Believes Cup, where they showed that they need to figure out some attacking partnerships, balance their midfield, and answer some new defensive questions. Plus, there are some questions with their formation, which has been a 4-2-3-1, as based on player profiles, a slight tweak to a 4-3-3 has seemed like a logical alternative.
Does the #CanWNT midfield pair of Julia Grosso and Jessie Fleming have the defensive acumen to survive teams like #USWNT?— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) February 17, 2023
And what of Janine Beckie at FB (or Ashley Lawrence at CM?)
We talk tactics 👇
HIGHLIGHTS 🎥https://t.co/kYI95GLNjK pic.twitter.com/tRX1Ufo5ia
Plus, all of that must be done while factoring injured players into that discussion, as well as players who might not have had the chance to develop some of those partnerships for one reason or another.
With just one game to do all of that, however, it’ll make for a crucial week leading up to it, where Priestman noted in her availability that her team plans to really hold some intense training sessions, which will be of huge benefit for some of the fringe players on the roster.
From there, if they impress, they’ll likely get a chance to see the field against France, which would be a huge edge in terms of any race for a World Cup squad.
One thing’s for sure, though, and that’s that Priestman and her staff will be very busy at this camp, as they try to condense what they would’ve ideally liked to do over a couple of camps into one window.