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HomeSportsSoccerA look at the 23 players seeking Canada's 1st Women's World Cup...

A look at the 23 players seeking Canada’s 1st Women’s World Cup championship

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As the anticipation builds for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, there’s a multitude of questions about the reigning Olympic champions from Canada. 

Can this team replicate their Olympic success at the 32-team World Cup? What formation will coach Bev Priestman choose to use? Where will the goals come from? 

And just who are these 23 players attempting to win Canada’s first World Cup championship? 

Here’s a cheat sheet of players to watch by position as well as some of the answers to the above questions: 

Goalkeepers

Kailen Sheridan is primed and ready for her moment to shine. She’s a stellar shot stopper and born leader. 

The NWSL’s top goalkeeper with the San Diego Wave has been waiting for this moment since moving up through the youth ranks. She’s been the understudy to now-retired Steph Labbé (dubbed Canada’s “Minister of Defence” for her heroics at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021) for the past few seasons. An unfortunate quad injury four months before the Olympics took her out of contention for the No. 1 starting job then, but the 28-year old from Whitby, Ont., is ready now. She has 35 caps for country. 

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Should there be injuries or card issues, Canada is well served in net with the likes of 30-year-old Sabrina D’Angelo (13 caps), who now plays with Arsenal. Lysianne Proulx, a 24-year-old from Longueuil, Que., is the team’s third-string goalkeeper. 

Fullbacks 

This Canadian team prides itself on being sound defensively and tough to play against. It’s part of the team’s DNA and it all starts at the back. 

Anchored by two of the world’s top centre backs in Kadeisha Buchanan (Chelsea) and Vanessa Gilles (Olympique Lyonnais) and two versatile wing backs in Ashley Lawrence (PSG now Chelsea) and Jayde Riviere (Manchester United), the back four — when healthy — has been pretty consistent. 

It also has depth, with hard-tackling wing back Allysha Chapman (Houston Dash) able to play either a starting role or off the bench and veteran centre back Shelina Zadorsky, captain of Tottenham Hotspurs, who’s back in the fold after a series of illnesses. Gabrielle Carle (Washington Spirit) can play both wings. 

An unfortunate training camp injury took up-and-coming defender Jade Rose out of the World Cup. The 20-year-old had impressed in just eight caps, in particular having a stellar game against Australia’s sensational striker Sam Kerr in a friendly last September.

While there were some uncharacteristic defensive mistakes at the SheBelieves Cup in February and against France in April, the team was carrying the weight of their fight for equal pay and several regulars out of the lineup due to injury. 

Midfielders 

This is a different-looking midfield than previous World Cups or Olympic Games, mainly because veteran Desiree Scott is not on the team. 

The 36-year-old Winnipeg native, nicknamed “The Destroyer” for her brave work in a defensive midfield role, had been trying to get back to health since knee surgery, but the timetable did not work in her favour. She’s been a key player since the 2012 London Olympics, winning three Olympics medals, appearing in three FIFA Women’s World Cups and playing 186 times for Canada. 

While the loss of her experience and leadership is significant — not to mention her personality (she is often called the glue of the team) — since Tokyo, Priestman has shown different looks in her midfield, whether that’s a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 or a traditional 4-3-3. 

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Regardless of which formation she chooses to use, the three starting midfielders in Australia (barring injury) will be Jessie Fleming, Julia Grosso and Quinn. If it’s a double pivot, where two players sit just above the fullbacks (allowing for flexibility with both defensive coverage and possession moving forward), it’ll be Grosso and Quinn.

The third midfielder playing higher up in more of an offensive role would be Fleming. If it’s a 4-3-3, these three players would interchange roles fluidly around the pitch, playing like a triangle in the middle. 

Fleming, a member of the national team since she was 15, has established herself as one of the world’s elite midfielders since joining Chelsea fresh out of UCLA three years ago. The 25-year-old from London, Ont., has an engine that doesn’t quit, working box-to-box for 90 minutes game in, game out. Priestman has said her creativity is essential to the Canadians scoring goals, not to mention, scoring a few herself.   

Canadians may be most familiar with Grosso as the Olympic gold-winning penalty kicker in Tokyo, but she is much more than that. Now 22, the native of Vancouver plies her trade with Juventus in Italy, most recently being named the top midfielder in Serie A. She’s comfortable in both a defensive role or pushing forward in attack. 

Quinn suffered a leg injury earlier in the year, which kept them out of a couple of Canada matches as well as some time with club OL Reign of the NWSL. A very technical player, you can expect to see timely through balls and beautiful switches of play from Quinn. 

Insert the veteran leadership of Sophie Schmidt (Houston Dash), playing in her fifth (and final) World Cup, and 19-year-old talent of Simi Awujo (USC) and the midfield looks very interchangeable and dynamic. 

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Strikers 

The biggest question mark lies up front and who will start. Does Priestman go with a forward lineup who are familiar with each other, but maybe not yet match fit, or does she go with players who are in-form? The coach has a proven track record when it comes to substitutions, so perhaps this is a moot point. 

Canada boasts the game’s greatest goal scorer in Christine Sinclair. With 190 international goals and counting, the now 40-year-old Sinclair plays a more supportive role up front than an all-out striker as in years past. She also doesn’t play 90 minutes a match anymore, so how does Priestman use the talismanic captain? As a starter for 60 or so minutes, or off the bench?

One thing is for certain, Canada needs to find the back of the net. In four games in 2023, they’ve scored just three goals (Vanessa Gilles, Evelyne Viens and Jordyn Huitema). Priestman says she expects the team to score by committee at the World Cup, with goals coming from all over the pitch, including set pieces, where they’ve spent a lot of time and energy. 

Losing Janine Beckie, the team’s fourth-leading scorer all-time (36 goals, 101 caps), to an ACL injury in March was a massive blow. Her versatility, work on set pieces and leadership will be greatly missed. 

Deanne Rose and Nichelle Prince, regular starters until recent Achilles injuries, have returned but their match fitness is in question, so they likely will be used as substitutes. 

Adriana Leon, who scored all three goals in a pair of September 2022 friendly victories against Australia, hasn’t played much outside of her time with the national team. Her playing time with Manchester United was limited and a loan to Portland hasn’t resulted in any more, but one thing is for sure, she’s always hungry to score and isn’t afraid to take a shot from anywhere. She gives Canada something different in attack. 

Three players who are at the top of their game right now are Huitema, Viens and Cloé Lacasse. 

Huitema has six goals in 15 matches this season for OL Reign and is likely to get a starting nod. 

Lacasse, the Portuguese league’s player of the year with Benfica who recently signed with Arsenal, has one goal in 19 caps for Canada, but has 101 over 131 games during her time with Benfica. This will be the 30-year-old’s first major international tournament for the country. 

Viens has been lighting up Sweden’s Damallsvenskan with Kristianstads DFF where she’s scored 12 goals in 17 matches, good for third-most in the league. She has four goals in 18 appearances for Canada. 

A wildcard could be 18-year-old Olivia Smith, a late addition to the squad. Earlier this year, she became Canada’s second-best international youth goalscorer (24 goals), trailing only Sinclair (27).

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