Not too many players get the chance to make their international debut against the No. 1 ranked team in the world who just also happen to be the two-time defending World Cup champions. But that’s exactly what happened to Canadian forward Evelyne Viens last week. Viens, a 24 year-old native of L'Ancienne-Lorette, Que., collected her first cap when she came on as a substitute for Deanne Rose in the 59th minute against the United States in Canada’s opening match of the 2021 SheBelieves Cup. Against the U.S., Viens didn’t have too many touches of the ball, but she displayed an eye for goal and effectively lined up with her teammates at times. Crucially, Viens did enough in the final 30 minutes of that 1-0 loss to the U.S. to earn the trust of coach Bev Priestman, as she replaced Nichelle Prince in the 53rd minute of Canada’s 1-0 win over Argentina on Sunday. For Viens, one of several newcomers who earned their first call-up by Canada at this tournament, it was a "pretty unreal moment" to make her Canadian debut against the U.S., the best team in women’s soccer. Making it even more special for the Canadian forward was the fact that several of her friends from the University of South Florida, where she played before turning pro last year in the NWSL, were in attendance at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium to watch the game.
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"It was a pretty amazing feeling when I got in. I knew I had a chance to (play) against the States, and at the same time you never know how the game will go. So for me to just being able to step onto the field and getting my first minutes against the best team in the world was such a learning experience, and at the same time my friends from USF were there, so it was a pretty good feeling," Viens told reporters on a Zoom call on Monday. Vien’s national team debut was a long time coming, and an argument could be made it should have happened long ago. She was a prolific scorer for the University of South Florida in the NCAA ranks before being selected fifth overall by Sky Blue FC in last year’s NWSL College Draft. Viens made her professional debut in last summer’s NWSL Challenge Cup, and scored in the semifinals, a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Red Stars. She’s currently on loan at Paris FC in France’s top division, where she’s scored eight goals in 12 appearances. During her NCAA tenure, Viens led South Florida in scoring for four straight years, bagging 73 goals in 77 games. In her senior year, she set a school record for most goals in a single season (25). But Viens never earned a call-up to Canada’s senior side (there were discussions and the previous coaching staff had her on its radar), and she was never a part of any Canadian team at youth level. Viens was named to the senior team’s provisional roster ahead of last year’s Olympic qualifying tournament before being cut from the final squad. Still, Viens maintains that she never grew frustrated by being overlooked by Canada for international duty. "For me it’s all about mindset. … When I did not see my name getting called up, it was another opportunity to keep working on stuff that I needed to work on. For me getting my first cap, I’ve experienced a career goal, and mentally and physically, I’m ready to show (what I can do)," Viens exlained. "It was not frustration. It was more like, 'What’s next?' How can I improve myself and keep working so that the moment I do get a call up I’m going to be ready." With only two appearances off the bench under her belt, Viens is still adapting to the international game, but she has already realized that she needs to be quicker and take fewer touches on the ball. "The major difference is the speed of play. Everything is just a second or two faster (in the international game) than the professional level. I just need to get used to that," Viens admitted. Canada and Brazil, tied for eighth in the current FIFA world rankings, square off Wednesday in the final match at the 2021 SheBelieves Cup for both nations. After the tournament is over, Viens will head back to France to complete her loan spell with Paris FC before returning top Sky Blue FC for in about a month’s time for the remainder of the team’s pre-season. The NWSL kicks off its 2021 season with the Challenge Cup, which starts on April 9. "The fact that I played in Paris and now that I’m in camp (with Canada), it’s getting me in a better shape, and mentally I’m ready to learn more and keep evolving, so I’m going to be ready for Sky Blue," Viens stated. Beyond that, she also has her sights set on earning a spot on Canada's roster for this summer's Tokyo Olympics. With the competition so tight at the forward position, though, Viens knows she has her work cut out. Scoring against Brazil on Wednesday might help her chances, as she noted that Priestman is keeping close tabs on her attacking players. "As a striker she expects me to score goals and create chanced for teammates. I need to show that in games," Viens said.