Which in-form CanWNT stars will shine brightest at 2023 World Cup?
The World Cup is a great opportunity for players to step up their game.
From key veterans to fresh faces and everyone in between, this is a tournament where long-time stars can remind us of their greatness, players in their prime can show that they’re among the best in the world, and new talents can show why they're the next player up (sometimes, all at once).
It's a spotlight under which unknown faces can become household names overnight, or a stage for icons to take one final bow. From a Canadian perspective, much of this team has seen all of this before. Christine Sinclair has stepped up big at several World Cups, while players such as Ashley Lawrence, Nichelle Prince and Janine Beckie made the most of the 2019 World Cup to really take a step forward in their careers.
Kadeisha Buchanan also went from a relatively-unknown commodity playing in the NCAA before shining at the 2015 World Cup, cracking the FIFA World XI later that year and using her strong showings to blossom into one of the best centre backs in the world – and become a five-time Champions League winner, too.
Yet, when focusing on all these stories, there's another factor worth noting: The stars that shined brightest usually entered those tournaments in strong individual form. For instance, Beckie had just come off a solid first season with Manchester City and was already a key part of Canada before the 2019 World Cup; Ashley Lawrence was an important starter at PSG and was indispensable at full-back for Canada; As for Sinclair, well... she was Sinclair, scoring goals for fun at a world-record rate.
This was also the case with Buchanan, who had established herself as a key part of Canada’s backline before that 2015 tournament thanks to her performances in the NCAA, as she'd been a key part of the team for over a year prior to her 2015 breakout.
These breakout stars don't actually come out of nowhere. If you're paying close enough attention, you can sometimes spot which player is primed for a big tournament before the first kick, as their form with club and country can be a precursor for what's to come.
Because of that, Canada will be leaning on several in-form players to step up and lead them through this tournament.
Kailen Sheridan enters this World Cup as one of the best goalkeepers in the world right now, having put up some excellent performances with the San Diego Wave over the past two seasons, and is ready to assume the reins for Canada at her first major tournament as no. 1.
Looking to follow in the steps of some legendary Canadian goalkeepers – who often tend to shine at these sorts of tournaments – Sheridan looks primed to really show why some feel she’s still underrated despite her consistent performances for club and country.
Then, at the back, Canada has a litany of in-form options to rely upon, as Buchanan and Lawrence are in their primes and are fresh off strong seasons for Chelsea and PSG, respectively, with the latter now set to join Buchanan at Chelsea this fall after signing as a free agent.
Along with Vanessa Gilles, who had a strong debut season with French giants Lyon on loan (earning a second loan back to the club), they’ll be expected to do a lot of dirty work in front of Sheridan.
Elsewhere, in midfield, this is expected to be the tournament of Jessie Fleming and Julia Grosso, who have really stepped up and shown that they can be two pieces for Canada to build around in the middle for now and the years to come.
Fleming has been doing this for a while now, to be fair - she had a huge performance for Canada’s gold medal-winning squad at the Olympics, is heading into her third World Cup and has been in top form for Chelsea for a couple of seasons now, but Grosso’s emergence has given this midfield a big boost.
Coming off a big first full season with Juventus, she's a dangerous box-to-box threat in midfield, nabbing four goals and seven assists in all competitions, while showing that she can go head-to-head with some of the best midfielders in performances for club and country.
Because of that, keep an eye on the pair, who complement each other nicely, and should be expected to play heavy minutes in Canada’s midfield this tournament.
Lastly, up front, pay close attention to Jordyn Huitema, Cloé Lacasse and Evelyne Viens as potential difference-makers for Canada’s attack.
First, there’s Huitema, who has six goals this season for the OL Reign, where she’s really taken some big strides as a player. That has started to translate over to Canada, too, as shown with a recent goal in a friendly against France back in April, along with some strong performances.
From there, keep an eye on Lacasse, who is arguably the most in-form attacker of them all, fresh off a huge season for Benfica, where she was named Portuguese league MVP and earned a move to English giants Arsenal after nabbing 35 goals and 18 assists in all competitions. With Canada’s winger depth looking thin, she could have a big tournament if leaned upon, given her form.
Finally, there’s Viens, who continues to be a goal machine in Sweden with Kristianstads, where she has 12 goals in 17 games this season, good for second in the golden boot race. Having scored nearly 40 goals in her last season and a half in Sweden, she’s ready to step up for Canada, having shown good glimpses in limited roles, reflected in the fact that she’s got two goals in her last seven appearances with her country despite only playing 306 minutes across those games.
Those aren’t the only players to keep an eye on this tournament from a Canadian perspective, of course, as there are several other key regulars that will also look to step up, but these players will have to be key for Canada to have any chance at winning.
Often, as seen in these sorts of tournaments, teams will lean on those who are in form, especially given the calibre of opponents and the pressure of playing in a tournament like this.
In those moments, players who are used to pressure and are playing well at the club level typically shine brightest, and will play big roles in helping their teams forward.
So while Canada will need contributions from across their roster to have a chance at glory, they’ll need to lean on those who are in form and fit as often as possible, from game one onwards.
Especially given their reputation as a strong defensive team that relies on the strength of the collective, they'll need players to step up within that to push the rest of their team forward.
Because of that, don’t be surprised if that then allows some of those players to really have breakout tournaments, such as Grosso, pushing them onto the long list of those who have been able to use this tournament as a platform to shine and take a step forward in past iterations.