June 13th, 2024

Canada coach Bev Priestman faces tough roster decisions ahead of Paris Olympics

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on May 23, 2024.

Canada's Allysha Chapman and Australia's Hayley Raso, left, fall to the ground during the Women's World Cup Group B soccer match between Australia and Canada in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, July 31, 2023. Canada coach Bev Priestman is starting to get some of her injured talent back ahead of the Paris Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Hamish Blair

Canada coach Bev Priestman is starting to get some of her injured talent back ahead of the Paris Olympics.

And while that’s good news, it also adds to the degree of difficulty in choosing her Olympic roster ahead of the July 3 deadline. Priestman expects to name her squad by the end of June.

Priestman’s 25-player squad for a pair of June friendlies with Mexico in Montreal and Toronto contains no surprises. But it does illustrate that there are some tough decisions ahead in choosing 18 players and four alternates for the Olympics.

“It almost feels impossible,” Priestman said of selecting that roster.

The Canada coach said she goes to bed every night with a headache “thinking about what this 18 should and can look like. It’s not easy. But ultimately I have to do the right thing to win.”

The alternates, one of whom will be a goalkeeper, can only be used in case of injury, and once replaced, a player cannot return.

The ninth-ranked Olympic champion Canadians host No. 31 Mexico on June 1 in Montreal and June 4 in Toronto in the so-called “Summer Send-off Series.” The Toronto game has been designated a “Pride celebration match.”

Priestman’s task in the Mexico games is deciding which players she needs to see more of while maintaining partnerships to continue building on-field momentum.

“For some players, these matches you could say will help pick the team,” she said.

But Priestman also said she wants to take the pressure off the group, saying she wants to avoid the tension felt in the final games before the Tokyo Olympic squad was selected.

“We can lose a bit of ‘we’ and it can just become about ‘me,'” she said. “And that isn’t going to help us be successful, I know that much.”

Health and form will also be key factors.

Forward Nichelle Prince, midfielder/forward Olivia Smith and fullback Jayde Riviere, unavailable for the SheBelieves Cup earlier this year, are included in Priestman’s roster for the Mexico friendlies.

Forward Jordyn Huitema, who missed some recent Seattle Reign games with a back injury, is also on the roster. As is veteran midfielder Desiree Scott, back after a long-term knee injury.

Allysha Chapman, who gave birth to son Tavish on Feb. 12, will also be in camp as a training player. The 35-year-old Houston Dash fullback last played for Canada at the FIFA World Cup last summer in Australia, earning her 99th cap.

“It is very tight, we can’t hide from that,” Priestman said of Chapman’s Olympic timeline. “I wanted to give Chappie every opportunity, knowing what she’s done for this country.”

Priestman’s injury concerns are not over, however, with midfielder Quinn (knee) and defender/wingback Sydney Collins (fractured ankle) both sidelined.

“Both Quinn and Sydney could make an Olympic roster,” said Priestman. “Don’t get me wrong, it will be tight, particularly Sydney who’s coming back from what she’s coming back from. But yes, both of those could and I’ll be waiting as long as I can to make that Olympic roster announcement.”

Emma Regan, seen as a possible replacement at holding midfielder if Scott doesn’t make the squad, is also on the Mexican games roster.

Missing from the June roster are fullback Bianca St-Georges and midfielder Marie-Yasmine Alidou, who appear to be victims of the numbers game.

The Canadian women are expected to play two more warm-up games in Europe during the July 8-16 FIFA international window before the Paris Olympics. One of those games might be played behind closed doors, said Priestman who plans to take her team to southern Spain ahead of the Olympics.

Canada opens Olympic play against No. 28 New Zealand on July 25 before facing No. 3 France on July 28 and No. 23 Colombia on July 31.

Canada is 22-2-3 all-time against Mexico, but is winless in its last two meetings (0-1-1) in November 2021.

Canada and Mexico both made the semifinals of CONCACAF W Gold Cup in March, losing to the U.S. and Brazil, respectively.

The roster for the Mexico games features 14 players from European clubs, nine from the NWSL and two from NCAA ranks.

The Mexico matches are the first for the Canadian women since an April 9 penalty shootout loss to the U.S. in the SheBelieves Cup.

Canada (x- denotes training player)

Goalkeepers: Sabrina D’Angelo, Arsenal (England); Lysianne Proulx, Bay FC (NWSL); Kailen Sheridan, San Diego Wave (NWSL).

Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Chelsea (England); Gabrielle Carle, Washington Spirit (NWSL); x-Allysha Chapman, Houston Dash (NWSL); Vanessa Gilles, Olympique Lyonnais (France); Ashley Lawrence, Chelsea (England); Jayde Riviere, Manchester United (NWSL); Jade Rose, Harvard University (NCAA); Shelina Zadorsky, West Ham United (England).

Midfielders: Simi Awujo, USC (NCAA); Jessie Fleming, Portland Thorns (NWSL); Julia Grosso, Juventus (Italy); Emma Regan, HB Køge (Denmark); Desiree Scott, Kansas City Current (NWSL).

Midfielder/Forward: Olivia Smith, Sporting CP (Portugal).

Forwards: Janine Beckie, Portland Thorns (NWSL); Jordyn Huitema, Seattle Reign (NWSL); Cloé Lacasse, Arsenal (England); Clarissa Larisey, BK Häcken FF (Sweden); Adriana Leon, Aston Villa (England); Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash (NWSL); Deanne Rose, Leicester City (England); Evelyne Viens, AS Roma (Italy).

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2024

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