The Canadian women’s team roster for the upcoming Tournoi de France international tournament includes the usual cast of characters, including iconic captain Christine Sinclair. But among the 22 players named to coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller’s roster, one name stands out more than any other. Veteran midfielder Diana Matheson will compete at the Tournoi de France, marking her return to the national team setup following a lengthy injury absence. The timing of Matheson’s recall couldn’t be any better, with Canada needing all hands on deck as it shoots to reach the medal podium for a third consecutive time this summer at the Tokyo Olympics. Indeed, Matheson has been a key figure for Canada ever since making her national team debut on March 18, 2003. Since then, the industrious midfielder has scored 18 goals and tallied 22 assists in 203 national team appearances. How valuable has Matheson been to the Canadian cause? Consider this: she’s one of two players to reach the 200-cap plateau, and the only person with more appearances is none other than Sinclair, with 293. For the past 17 years, Matheson has been a loyal servant to Canada as one of the first names on the team sheet, regardless of who was in charge. While Canada has switched coaches a number of times during this period, Matheson has been a mainstay in the national team program, anchoring the team in central midfield with a commanding presence that belies her small frame. RELATED READING: Sinclair, Matheson highlight CanWNT roster for Tournoi de France Matheson isn’t the biggest player – she stands just over five feet tall – but she’s been a giant on the pitch for Canada thanks to her remarkable ability to retain possession and distribute the ball, as well as her sublime technical skills. She’s prominently featured for her country at the Olympics, with her most notable performance coming in 2012 when she played all six matches at the London Games. The defining moment of her career came in the third-place match when she scored in injury time to lift Canada to a 1-0 win over France. Matheson instantly became a national hero as Canada won the bronze medal, and she played a leading role in the Reds’ bronze medal campaign four years later in Rio. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Matheson, though. A torn ACL suffered in 2014 sidelined her for many months, and put her participation in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in doubt. Ultimately, Matheson was fit for the tournament, but only played 28 minutes as a substitute as Canada was disappointingly eliminated by England in the quarter-finals. Another injury, this time to Matheson’s foot, ruled her out of last summer’s World Cup in France. While missing their midfield general, Canada meekly bowed out in the round of 16 following a loss to the Netherlands. Now 35, Matheson is in the home stretch of her international career after previously appearing in four World Cups and three Olympics. This summer’s Tokyo Games could be the final major tournament for the native of Oakville, Ont. What kind of role will she play? It remains to be seen, with Heiner-Møller telling reporters last month that while he was hopeful that Matheson would be fit to play at the Olympics, she’ll have to be at her best in order to earn playing time. "The intelligence of Diana is something that is crucial for every team… and we need that sometimes, but we also need her to be able to execute," Heiner-Møller warned. With games against the Netherlands (third in the current FIFA rankings), followed by France (No. 4), and Brazil (No. 9), the eighth-ranked Canadians will test themselves against top-class opponents at the Tournoi de France, which can only help their Olympic preparation. RELATED READING: CanWNT at the Tournoi de France: What you need to know It’s also a good test for Matheson, and it provides Heiner-Moller a chance to assess her progress after she was sidelined for more than a year. "This will be a great opportunity to see her in the environment, with our team, but also against some of the best teams in the world," Heiner-Moller told reporters last week. Aside from Matheson’s experience and track record of producing in big games, it’s her high football IQ that Canada might be able to most benefit from going forward. This Canadian roster is littered with youngsters, including teenage prospects Jordyn Huitema (18), Julia Grosso and Jayde Riviere (both 19). Grosso, in particular, is one to watch for the future, as Canada will have to eventually move on from veterans such as Matheson and groom the next generation of national team starters Grosso, who plays in midfield for the University of Texas at Austin, is in the early stages of her national team career with just 18 caps to her credit, most of them as a substitute, so who better for her to learn from than Matheson, someone whom Heiner-Møller feels has a "soccer brain (that) is pretty massive." "She understands the game … She knows the game from different perspectives and positions," the Canadian coach offered. Watch all of Canada's matches at the 2020 Tournoi de France live on OneSoccer. CLICK HERE to subscribe.
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