There's no hiding the fact that the Canadian women's team is in tough for its SheBelieves Cup opener on Thursday against the United States. With seven players unavailable, Canada begins an era under a new coach with their first match in about a year, against the uncontested best team in the world (whom they haven't beaten since 2001). Not necessarily the most encouraging of circumstances. Still, it's not all gloom and doom -- rather, this massive test could be a fascinating opportunity for Canada. Bev Priestman herself called it a potential "baptism of fire" for her reign as head coach, and that does feel like the appropriate description. The good news is there's really no pressure for Canada. Of course, there's plenty of pressure in the bigger picture, with this team needing to come together quickly under Priestman before this summer's Tokyo Olympics, but this young squad isn't necessarily expected to go out and dominate the team that's won two straight FIFA World Cups. In terms of how exactly Priestman will deploy her first lineup as coach, she has a few options: go all-in on the youth, and give the kids a chance? Lean on the veterans the team does have available? This first game feels likely to be the least experimental of the three -- it's probably not fair to throw too many uncapped players to the wolves with debuts against the U.S. A few younger contributors will absolutely be needed, though. Here's how Canada might line up for match one of the SheBelieves Cup.


Stephanie Labbé It's a tough choice between Labbé and Kailen Sheridan, but this might be a situation where the veteran gets the first crack. The 34-year-old Labbé is probably still Canada's first-choice keeper (she was in the biggest games in 2020, at least), and she's probably the best choice for the U.S. match. Of course, the 25-year-old Sheridan is more likely to be Canada's goalkeeper of the future, and it'd be stunning if she didn't play at least one, or even two, of the remaining SheBelieves Cup games. For this game, though, Labbé -- who has started Canada's last five games against the U.S., dating back to 2016 -- is the option that makes the most sense. The other 'keeper in camp is the 22-year-old Rylee Foster of Liverpool FC, who might look for her first Canada cap against Argentina.


Jayde Riviere, Quinn, Shelina Zadorsky, Allysha Chapman The backline is one of the places Canada is hit hardest by the absences. Both Kadeisha Buchanan -- Canada Soccer's reigning women's player of the year -- and Ashley Lawrence would be surefire starters in this game. Last time Canada played the U.S., Kenneth Heiner-Møller went with a five-at-the-back approach, putting Sophie Schmidt into a centre-back position. Priestman could go for the same thing, particularly if she's worried about getting stretched out on the flanks, but a back four that puts an extra player in midfield might provide more cover against the Americans' versatility across the whole park. Canada can't afford to give midfielders like Lindsay Horan or Sam Mewis to roam free (as Colombia did in January). That said, Canada's defenders will need to be sharp to keep up with Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press in the American attack. There's no proven strategy for neutralizing the U.S. -- that's why they're so good. A centre-back pairing of Quinn and Shelina Zadorsky should provide good cover; the pair has plenty of experience together, although most of their games in the same starting lineup have come with either Buchanan or Schmidt alongside them in a back three. Still, Quinn has proven to be a reliable centre-back over 57 appearances since their debut at age 18, and Zadorsky (who has 66 caps as well) has been in good form at Tottenham Hotspur -- she's also very familiar with Press, having taken on her Manchester United side recently. At fullback, a Riviere-Chapman pairing makes the most sense. Riviere has looked great since her debut in 2017, but she's got just 15 caps; it's telling, though, that she started last year's Concacaf final against the U.S. over Chapman. Priestman also knows her extremely well, having coached her since the U-17 level. Chapman's experience and strong performances over the past few months at club level for the Houston Dash make her the obvious left-back -- Priestman may actually want to assess both Riviere and Chapman to decide which gets starting fullback nods alongside Lawrence at the Olympics.


Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott, Jessie Fleming This is probably the easiest section to pick, having made the decision not to put Schmidt in the backline. Of course, if Diana Matheson were available, this would be more complicated. But really, Jessie Fleming is likely to be the centrepiece of Canada's midfield for the foreseeable future, and with both Schmidt and Scott (and Matheson) reaching the latter stages of their careers, it might be wise to make this a team truly built around Fleming. The 22-year-old Fleming already has 77 caps and she, alongside Jordyn Huitema, is at the forefront of the new generation that will soon be handed the keys. The Chelsea playmaker might be Canada's most talented player at this tournament, so they'll need her at her best in these games. Schmidt and Scott have been among Canada's most reliable soldiers through the years, with Schmidt set to earn her 200th international cap in this game. They'll be charged with helping clog things up in the middle and, hopefully, slow down their opposite numbers on the American side. Scott's ability to win battles in midfield will be key for Canada, who will need Fleming and the attackers to see as much of the ball as possible. If Priestman is looking for something a little bolder, Julia Grosso could be an option here as well, especially as a substitute. The 20-year-old had a good 2020, and she played the first half of Canada's most recent game against Brazil.


Adriana Leon, Evelyn Viens, Janine Beckie It's bold, but it's certainly fun. Canada deployed a pretty wide variety of attacking formations in 2020, but pretty much all of them involved Sinclair and Huitema. With neither of them available, Priestman has full license to get creative with the group she does have. Adriana Leon has 65 caps for Canada, but she only started four times under Heiner-Møller. This camp might be a perfect opportunity for her in particular to return to favour under a new coach, especially if played in the wing position she's become used to at the club level with West Ham United. On the other side, Janine Beckie is the most accomplished international goalscorer available to Priestman, with 31 goals to her name. Pencil her in to start all three SheBelieves Cup games, realistically. As an out-and-out striker, it would be fascinating (but a real gamble) to give Evelyne Viens a debut. She's been scoring at a torrid pace for Paris FC -- something she did in college as well. Canada might not have anyone in this camp with as good a nose for the net as Viens does, which Priestman herself has hinted at.. Off the bench, Deanne Rose and Nichelle Prince are excellent options; Rose was superb at the Concacaf Olympic qualifiers last year, helping set up Huitema for goals fairly regularly. She also started at the Tournoi de France against both Brazil and the Netherlands. She actually might be the more likely option to start here over Leon, but we'll go with the more experienced hand for the U.S. game. Prince had some trouble with injuries in 2020, but she has a pretty good track record (and she scored at the World Cup against New Zealand). Both those players will be critical for Canada at this tournament as well, and they're each sure to start at least one of these games.

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