Three hundred forty-five days since they last saw action, the Canadian women's national team is back this week. With the Olympics a few months away, the SheBelieves Cup -- particularly Thursday's clash with the United States -- will be a fascinating litmus test for Canada, who enter the 2021 calendar with a new coach at the helm (and a litany of key players absent). A couple weeks from now, Canada will be three games into the Bev Priestman era, and we may have a clearer picture of what this team's outlook is for the next year. We still won't know for sure just what the Canadian team is capable of, with a handful of likely starters missing, but at least a few questions will be answered to some extent. As Canada heads into their three SheBelieves Cup matches -- Feb. 18 against the United States, Feb. 21 against Argentina, and Feb. 24 against Brazil (all available live on OneSoccer) -- a few storylines in particular stand out. Here are the three most pressing questions facing the Canadian women's team at the SheBelieves Cup.
What does a Bev Priestman-coached team look like?Even under the most normal of circumstances, the Canadian team would be somewhat shrouded in mystery heading into this friendly tournament. Anytime a new coach takes over -- even one that's been around the program before -- it's safe to expect change. Priestman was an assistant for some excellent national teams, including John Herdman's Canadian side and Phil Neville's England. In those roles, she won Olympic medals and saw World Cup semifinals. Thursday, however, will be her first match in sole charge of a senior national team. There are a lot of ways Priestman could take this new era for Canada, with a few pressing questions in lineup selection and tactics against top opponents. With a player pool that's somewhere in transition between generations right now, it'll be important that Canada is set up for success. Their only chance of competing with the likes of the U.S. and Brazil at the SheBelieves Cup will be if Priestman can get the best out of this roster. So far, Priestman has spoken mostly about the players in this camp, leaving some mystery as to how exactly she'll want her team to play. Will she favour the three-at-the-back approach that Kenneth Heiner-Møller leaned on a few times last year? Who plays up front in these coming games with Christine Sinclair and Jordyn Huitema unavailable? Priestman's Canada will be thrown immediately into its toughest challenge in a while against the U.S. on Thursday; how will they approach it? With key players missing, does Canada sit back and absorb some pressure from an American side that put 10 goals past Colombia in a pair of January friendlies? Or is there enough in this squad to go blow-for-blow with a dangerous opponent? It's possible Priestman will have to pull out a tactical trick or two that she might not need with a full roster -- the way Canada plays at the SheBelieves Cup may not necessarily be how they play at the Olympics. Still, this will be a fascinating first glimpse of Priestman's on-field intentions.
Who's going to score?Canada scored just twice in three games at last March's Tournoi de France, and that was with a full roster. They were shut out in the Concacaf Olympic Qualifying final against the U.S. as well. Jordyn Huitema scored seven of Canada's 25 goals in 2020, and Christine Sinclair had three of them. Neither of them will be in Florida for the SheBelieves Cup. Nor will Ashley Lawrence, who scored twice in 2020. The good news, of course, is that both Janine Beckie and Adriana Leon (each with four goals last year) will be available. Those two will almost certainly be the primary attacking options for Canada, and ideally they'll each have a few goals in them this tournament. Evelyne Viens could be a good option for Canada too; she's been in strong form at the club level, with eight goals in 12 games this season on loan at Paris FC. She's never played for the national team, though, so it might be unlikely she jumps off the mark so easily if she does make her debut. Deanne Rose and Nichelle Prince round out the forward group; neither scored last year for Canada, but both have pretty good track records, especially off the bench. The attacking absences may be a blessing in disguise for the 21-year-old Rose in particular, who could certainly establish herself as a key striker for Canada's next generation, and perhaps a strong future complement to the 19-year-old Huitema. Canada will desperately need somebody to seize this opportunity and, hopefully, demonstrate that the side will be able to survive in a post-Christine Sinclair era.
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Are the kids alright?This will be by far the most youth-driven squad Canada has deployed in a while. Nine of Priestman's squad are under the age of 23, with just four over 30 and five uncapped players earning invites. Looming over the Canadian women's team for years has been the fact that the core that won two Olympic medals -- led by Sinclair, Diana Matheson, et al. -- is probably past its best days. Still, key veterans such as Sinclair, Matheson, Sophie Schmidt, and Desiree Scott, have all continued to play the most important roles for Canada in the past couple years. It's unlikely all those players will still be around for Priestman at, for example, the 2023 World Cup, so Canada needs to ensure it will be ready for a new generation. Recently, it's been hard for young players to find minutes at the international level for Canada, with players like Sinclair ahead of them in the pecking order. So, the SheBelieves Cup may be Canada's best chance to experiment a little and assess what this team might look like a few years down the road. Priestman has already hinted at it, but Canada's best option at this tournament is to make the best of an unfortunate situation and give as many young players an opportunity to prove themselves. The torch will need to be passed fairly soon, so starting that process as early as possible would be wise. Eighteen-year-old Jade Rose could get a shot in the backline, and it would be interesting to see how a midfield centered around Jessie Fleming and Julia Grosso could work. It would be a good time to test out Gabrielle Carle and Jayde Rivière at fullback again (they did line up together in Canada's last match against Brazil), with Ashley Lawrence unavailable. These three matches at the SheBelieves Cup are about as tough an introduction a new coach can ask for, but they're also a fascinating opportunity for Priestman to put an early stamp on a new era for the Canadian women's team.