Time for new core? Position battles? 3 TAKEAWAYS from CanWNT's camp squad
With the World Cup now less than two months away, and most European seasons now over, teams have ramped up preparations in earnest ahead of that tournament.
The Canadian Women’s National Team are one of those sides, as they get set to head to Australia later this month, where they’ll undergo a pre-tournament camp before kicking off their World Cup adventure against Nigeria on July 21st.
A chance to both acclimatize to the time change and weather, as well as round off their squad, it’ll be a good opportunity for Canada to get into World Cup mode after last convening this past April.
Because of that, they announced their 25-player squad for that pre-tournament camp on Thursday, giving an idea of who will convene on June 28th on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Needing to whittle down their squad to 23 before July 9th, it’ll be one last opportunity for head coach Bev Priestman and her staff to assess this group, before they decide which 23 players will look to build off of Canada’s Olympic Gold medal from 2021, as well as push to avenge a disappointing Round of 16 finish from the 2019 World Cup.
Therefore, with that in mind, here’s what stood out from this 25-player squad announcement, as the preparations for this tournament really start to ramp up for Canada now here.
Canada chooses familiarity over competition with smaller squad:
Heading into this pre-tournament camp, it was going to be intriguing to see what approach Priestman would take in terms of squad selection.
Not needing to name a final team until early July, would this be a chance for some players to get a last audition before then? Or, following in the footsteps of some countries who have already named their final 23-player squad, would Priestman use this as an opportunity to build chemistry and help her final team find rhythm ahead of the tournament?
Turns out, it’s more of the latter, as Priestman called in only 25 names to the pre-camp, a list that is especially small when you consider that Nichelle Prince and Desiree Scott are on the list despite not playing in 2023 due to injuries.
Yet, that’s by design, as Priestman felt rather confident in selecting this smaller group, noting that bringing anyone else would be unfair for them as they probably just wouldn’t have had a chance to make it into the squad at this stage.
“Yeah, if I could name 23, I definitely would,” Priestman explained Thursday. “Because I think as a coach and even for the players, the more clutter that you can get rid of before you take off to Australia, (the better).”
As a result, that was a tough blow to players like full backs Gabrielle Carle and Bianca St-Georges, for example, who despite strong performances in the NWSL this season, just faced too much competition at their positions to make this squad.
Instead of pulling them out of those environments just to likely cut them given Canada’s depth at full back, Priestman felt it was best to leave them with their clubs, which will continue to play games, choosing to leave them and a few other players in similar positions on standby instead.
“Yeah, it was a difficult conversation with Gabrielle (Carle) and Bianca (St-Georges) because I think I think very highly of both of them, everybody does, and that speaks volumes to the depth of the roster in that position,” Priestman explained of their omission.
As a result, the only squad selection headache she’ll have to deal with is what to do with Scott and Prince now.
If fully healthy, those two are in the final 23-player squad, no doubt, but as Prince recovers from an Achilles tear, while Scott recovers from a knee injury, it remains to be seen if they’ll make it back in time.
Along with Deanne Rose, who just returned from an Achilles tear of her own, Priestman wants to give that trio until the last possible minute to make the squad, but is ready to replace them if need be.
“I think this gives an indication that Desiree Scott and Nichelle Prince are the two, that if I’m being open and honest, have the tightest timelines that we're talking about here,” Priestman explained. “Deanne Rose, as you would have probably seen, got two loads of 30 minutes for Reading recently, so hopefully we can ramp her up with no setbacks along the way, too.”
“But with the risks associated with such long-term injuries, that’s the reason why there are 25 and not 23 at this stage. I want to leave it as late as I possibly can, because I think we owe it to them.”
Otherwise, one last key roster note from Thursday is that despite the inclusion of Evelyne Viens and Clarissa Larisey in this squad, the pair of Swedish-based players were unable to get an early release from their clubs until July 10th, after which the final squad will already have been named.
Because of that, Priestman notes that she’ll remain in contact with those players right up until she names that final squad, instead of leaving them in limbo on whether or not they’ll head to Australia ahead of the final tournament, to avoid any unnecessary travel if they don’t end up making it.
New core ready to take step up after trophy-winning exploits:
It was another strong year for Canadians abroad, and that’s reflected in this squad, as 10 players enter this camp after having won silverware this season, including seven of them in Europe in Cloé Lacasse, Vanessa Gilles, Kadeisha Buchanan, Jessie Fleming, Julia Grosso, Sabrina D’Angelo and Marie-Yasmine Alidou.
Along with the play of the likes of Ashley Lawrence, Jayde Riviere and Deanne Rose (when healthy), who were crucial for their clubs, Canada’s been able to see a good nucleus of players develop and grow in Europe over the last few years.
That’s key, as those sorts of experiences can be immensely valuable heading into a big tournament like this. One where they’ll be playing the best teams in the world in front of record crowds in high-pressure situations, it’ll be a trial by fire for a lot of those not familiar with that.
But for players like Buchanan, Fleming, Gilles and Lawrence, for example, that will be no issue for them, having played in big league games, domestic cup finals, the UEFA Champions League and more already in their careers.
Because of that, keep an eye out for this group of European trophy winners. All between the ages of 22 and 30, they’re very much in their primes, and in many cases, have already developed into key pieces on this team.
As a result, this really feels like a tournament where they should prosper, taking over and proving that this is their team now. Of course, several key veterans from the last generation still remain, and should play key roles, but there’s no doubt that this is Buchanan, Fleming and Lawrence’s Canada, and their experiences in Europe should help them further prove that.
For Priestman, that’s exciting, as she’s been pleased with what those players have shown her in their trophy-winning experiences, and believes that winning mentality will only have a positive impact on everyone in the squad - young and old.
“Yeah, it's great. It's kind of where this team is at, right?” Priestman enthused. “You've got some brand-new players at their first World Cup, which is fantastic, that’s exciting, and that's going to bring a buzz to the group. Then, you've got the players in their primes who are accumulating medals, winning trophies, gaining experience, playing in front of sellout crowds and have been to multiple World Cups. And then you've got veterans that bring that sort of value of what this team is about, they've never had anything at this point in their career, and hopefully they're getting now the recognition that they deserve.”
And so I think that blend is going to be really special. I also know that some of the players have key leadership roles on this team, you’ve got Kadeisha (Buchanan), Jesse (Fleming) and Deanne Rose who are in the leadership group with the likes of Christine Sinclair, Desiree Scott, Allysha Chapman, so that blend is there and that handover of leadership is happening. And it’s ongoing, because ultimately when you’re playing in front of sellout crowds, and you have to wait until half time to chat as a coach because they can't hear you on the pitch, the leadership of this team then sits with the team. And some of those experiences they’ve had just bring calmness to the group.”
“I’m dealing with a very humble group, I know what got us on the podium (in Tokyo), that was them truly believing in what they are and who they are, and I've got to make sure that they feel that again this summer, that they’ve won trophies, played in huge games, so to use that to get their confidence when they go into these games.”
Plus, given their ages, this is a team that isn’t just built for now - they’re starting to look ahead to the future, as well.
Seeing that most of those aforementioned players will either be entering or still in their primes at the 2024 Olympics and 2027 World Cup, the best is still yet to come, too, so although this summer is the main focus now, this core is building something for the future as well.
“I'm not saying I selected this World Cup squad for going to Paris in 2024 or to the World Cup in 2027, but there is an element of building for the future as well,” Priestman added.
Pre-tournament camp a chance to acclimatize:
Lastly, this squad release came with a bit of important news for Canada, as they finally revealed their pre-tournament plans in detail.
Previously, they’d revealed that their plan was to go straight to Australia to acclimatize, but with no mention of where, and what they’d do there.
Now, it’s been revealed that they’ll spend their pre-tournament camp at the Gold Coast, a city on Australia’s east coast known for its beaches.
There, they’ll spend most of their pre-World Cup time in Australia, except for a short two-hour jaunt up the shoreline to the Sunshine Coast, where they’ll face England in a friendly on July 14th.
The current defending European champions, it’s a huge test for Canada, especially given that both teams have a strong chance at meeting in the Round of 16, should one of them finish first and the other second in their group.
On a media call, Head Coach Bev Priestman says that the friendly match against England on July 14 is important. Will focus on the opportunity. They haven't had a consistent XI and need to prepare ahead of the tournament. #CanWNT #CanXNT— Shireen Ahmed (@_shireenahmed_) June 8, 2023
From there, they’ll then get down to Melbourne, likely at least a few days before their July 21st opener against Nigeria, where they’ll kick off their World Cup campaign.
It might not be the home send-off that they and their fans would’ve liked, but it’s a chance to spend several weeks together, which could be immensely beneficial on and off the pitch.
Given how tight-knit they are off the field, the latter should not be an issue, but certainly the former will be key, as Canada has lots of work to do tactically, which is why they’ll also face a local boys' team on the Gold Coast to help tactical preparation.
Therefore, it’s safe to say - a busy few weeks awaits Canada once they head to Australia on June 28th, showing the importance of this camp.
“Yeah, I think the England game is going to be great,” Priestman explained. “We've broken the preparation camp down into three phases, and that last phase ends with the England game, and with that, I think we’ll get some flow, game readiness to go into the opening game of the group stage. That England game has to be more about us, and also about getting our partnerships right.”
“I think the big challenge that we've had, particularly in 2023, but even in 2022, it’s that we haven’t had an 11 that's been consistent, and we've felt that a little bit in the grand scheme of things by having to put people in new spaces because of all the injuries. What I do know is that these 23 players, whoever they end up being, are going to go on and do great things for this team, and we’ll give it our best shot, but I think a big part of this preparation camp is going to be about developing partnerships and getting the flow that we've lacked, because players had injuries.”
“We need to get that flow, and I think that the England game can be a great test for us, as we get to test ourselves against one of the best teams in the world.”