The Canadian women's national team's trip through Britain this past week was, by all accounts, a rousing success. On Tuesday, they followed up a 3-0 win over Wales with a 2-0 win over a top-tier side in England, meaning they'll return home with two wins in hand (and not a single goal conceded). The Olympic Games begin in about 100 days in Tokyo, Japan, and Canada will be looking to improve on its bronze medals in the past two tournaments. With a number of younger players improving immensely since the Rio 2016 Games, hopes are sky-high for this Bev Priestman-coached team, especially after Tuesday's showing against England. The only problem: Who should actually be on the Canadian squad in Tokyo? The roster for this most recent friendly camp featured 26 players, and even still it was missing some key past contributors like Kadeisha Buchanan, Diana Matheson, and Adriana Leon. The Olympic tournament, though, only allows teams to bring 18 players.
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So, how will Priestman cut down her group to its optimal combination? After the two recent friendlies and the earlier SheBelieves Cup, she certainly has several questions to answer. Here are four of the biggest questions facing Priestman as she prepares to select her Tokyo roster.
Who's the starting goalkeeper?At the moment, it seems like 34-year-old Stephanie Labbé is in the driver's seat for the starting job between the posts – she's started pretty much all of Canada's big games for a couple of years now, including the 2019 World Cup, the 2020 Concacaf Olympic Qualifiers, and the more recent friendlies. So, why the question? Well, for her first game in charge of this team in February, Priestman started 25-year-old Kailen Sheridan in goal against the United States (by most accounts, a big game). Had Sheridan not been injured in the early stages of that match, might she have ended up starting the subsequent contests over Labbé? Sheridan was still unavailable for this most recent camp because of that injury, but she may be back to full fitness by the time the Olympics roll around. If she is really Priestman's preferred option, don't be surprised if it's Sheridan getting the starts. – by Charlie O'Connor-Clarke
Who takes Canada’s extra midfield slot?Alright let’s map out Canada’s midfield in Tokyo, shall we? Jessie Fleming, Quinn, Ashley Lawrence, Desiree Scott… and who? That foursome seems to be locked in through Priestman’s first five games in charge, playing significant roles whenever healthy or available, but Canada will need to bring at least one more midfielder, potentially two. OneSoccer Today's Oliver Platt suggested Kansas City NWSL midfielder Jordyn Listro fill that extra role thanks to her versatility, though the 25-year-old only made her first appearance for the national team in February. Julia Grosso, 20, remains a solid choice and comes with experience – 21 caps and inclusion in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup squad. Bicentennial-capped Sophie Schmidt, who came off the bench against England, and Diana Matheson also remain on the bubble, with the latter proving a real long shot having played just a handful of 2020 friendlies for the senior side since a pre-2019 World Cup foot injury. Lone goalscorer at the SheBelieves Cup Sarah Stratigakis is another long shot. – by Marty Thompson
What's Canada's best attacking group?Well, Christine Sinclair is probably part of it, I'd say. Beyond the greatest goalscorer of all time, though, there's some leeway in how Priestman selects her attackers. Janine Beckie has certainly done enough to keep her automatic place in the squad; her two games at this camp in the U.K. have been very strong; with Évelyne Viens (more on her in a second) becoming a reliable goalscoring option, Beckie has been able to adopt a more supportive role in the attack. She's probably Canada's first-choice set-piece taker going forward, as well. Will all of Deanne Rose, Nichelle Prince, and Jordyn Huitema make the team, with their varied skillsets and undeniable pace? And what about Adriana Leon? She has 69 caps for Canada, and she's played at two World Cups. She has 19 international goals, and she's been a key piece for this team – especially off the bench – in recent years. It seems her stock has dropped in 2021, though, with players like Rose and Prince perhaps surpassing her in the pecking order. Lots to think about; Canada will need to score goals, so how can they make sure that happens? – by Charlie O'Connor-Clarke
Does Évelyne Viens get on the plane?Canada’s breakout forward is one of a handful of Canada players to play all five games in 2021, starting with her debut at the SheBelieves Cup. Priestman likes the 24-year-old centre forward, there’s no doubt – she was picked over Jordyn Huitema versus England… and we all know how that worked out. Her goal against Wales was no small feat either, relying on a cheeky near-post flick to earn her first in a Canada shirt. Viens has probably done everything she can to convince Priestman to bring her to Tokyo – but will it be enough? The 24-year-old stands behind Christine Sinclair and Huitema in the succession order to Canada’s starting striker throne. While Huitema is versatile and can play out wide, you can’t move a healthy Sinclair from centre forward and the chances of Canada naming all three to the 18-player list seems far-fetched considering the depth required at other positions. It’s still an interesting argument and a headache worth having for Priestman. – by Marty Thompson