The Canadian women’s team will head into this month’s SheBelieves Cup without their iconic captain Christine Sinclair. Canada Soccer announced on Saturday that Sinclair won’t be able to compete at the four-nation, invitational tournament in Florida due to an injury. Also ruled out because of injury for Canada are midfielder Diana Matheson and goalkeeper Erin McLeod (two of the team’s leading veterans), and uncapped defender Bianca St-Georges. In addition, Canada Soccer revealed that defender Kadeisha Buchanan, forward Jordyn Huitema and midfielder Ashley Lawrence won’t be released by their pro clubs to play at the SheBelieves Cup, which runs from Feb. 18-24 in Orlando. The tournament takes place during a FIFA international window, and under normal circumstances pro teams would have to release their players for international duty. But Buchanan (Olympique Lyon), and Huitema and Lawrence (Paris Saint-Germain) play in the French first division, and France recently imposed a seven-day quarantine for travellers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. FIFA is allowing clubs to retain players if they face quarantine periods that could potentially last longer than five days. While St-Georges and McLeod picked up their injuries at Canada’s current pre-tournament training camp in Florida, the injuries to Sinclair and Matheson prevented them from attending the camp, which kicked off last weekend. The loss of Sinclair is a huge blow for Canada. The veteran forward leads the team in career appearances (296) and is the all-time leading scorer in international soccer (for both and women) with 186 goals. Sinclair has been a mainstay with the national team since making her debut as a teenager in 2000, and hasn’t missed a Canadian camp since 2011. The loss of Matheson (206 caps) and Buchanan (the reigning Canadian player of the year) are also big losses for Canada. With these seven players unavailable for the tournament, Canada has called forward Lindsay Agnew (North Carolina Courage), and midfielders Victoria Pickett (Kansas City NWSL) and Sarah Stratigakis (University of Michigan) into camp. Canadian coach Bev Priestman is expected to name her final 23-player roster ahead of the team’s opening game of the tournament on Feb. 18. “Given the new roster realities, what a great opportunity for players to rise up and show that they can compete at this Olympic level,” Priestman said in a media release. “The tournament will be used to assess the player pool and players’ readiness to achieve our goals at the Olympic Games. Ultimately this sort of competition is exactly where we all want to be, pushing ourselves as we move forward in this journey.”
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With Canada set to play England in a high-profile friendly next month and the 2021 Olympics looming, it’s hardly a surprise that Priestman is taking a cautious approach and not taking a chance by playing Sinclair and the other injured players at the SheBelieves Cup. This will be Canada’s first appearance in the SheBelieves Cup, which will take place at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, and the games will be the first for the team under Priestman, a 34-year-old native of England, who was hired last October. This year marks the sixth anniversary of the prestigious tournament, and will see Canada play the United States, as well as Brazil and Argentina. The Canadian side will kick off the competition against the U.S., currently first in the FIFA world rankings, on Feb. 18. Following that game, they’ll take on 31st-ranked Argentina on Feb. 21, followed by eighth-ranked Brazil on Feb. 24. Canada is tied with Brazil in the world rankings. The SheBelieves Cup marks Canada’s return to action for the first time in close to a year, as the team has been idle since competing at the Tournoi de France last March. The SheBelieves Cup also gives a valuable opportunity for Canada to prepare for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.