Bev Priestman isn’t wasting any time when it comes to expanding the player pool for the Canadian women’s team or building for the future beyond the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Installed as the new Canadian coach last October, Priestman’s first training camp in charge kicks off on Saturday in Florida as the team prepares to compete in the 2021 SheBelieves Cup later this month. The prestigious invitational tournament, which runs from Feb. 18 to 24 in Orlando, will see Canada take on the United States, Brazil, and Argentina, offering Priestman’s side valuable tune-up matches for this summer’s Olympics. It also allows Priestman the opportunity to start looking ahead, and begin crafting the long-term vision for the Canadian team. To that end, Priestman’s 29-player squad for this training camp (it’ll be whittled down to 23 players prior to Canada’s opening match at the SheBelieves Cup on Feb. 18) includes a number of fresh faces, many of whom could potentially be regular fixtures with the team in the coming years. In total, there are five players who have earned their first call-up: forward Evelyne Viens, defender Bianca St. Georges, goalkeeper Rylee Foster, and midfielders Jordyn Listro and Samantha Chang. Teenager Jade Rose has yet to earn her first senior team cap, but she did participate in two camps under former coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller.

BROADCAST ALERT: Watch Canada at the 2021 SheBelieves Cup live on OneSoccer

"I'm excited to see what the new faces bring. I've definitely picked up a certain tendency of hunger, desire, hard work from the group of new faces coming in. And I think for any sort of winning team, you have to have that level of competition for places," Priestman recently told reporters. She later added: "Any player that's getting exposure in this first camp has absolutely nothing to lose. Do I expect those five or six players to be in the Olympic roster? Maybe not, but who knows? They may absolutely prove me wrong. They can certainly be knocking on the door and they've got nothing to lose because they've been brought in for a reason." It’s not difficult to understand why the five newcomers being added to the mix for Canada excite Priestman so much, perhaps none more so than Viens. The 23-year-old native of Quebec 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. "She finds the back of the net really well; I think that stood out to me more than anything," Priestman said. "Her conversion rate has been really high in professional environments." 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 she’s always flown somewhat under the radar when it comes to the Canadian women’s side. Now she has a chance to prove she belongs in the senior team set-up. "For me, it’s about assessing her in an environment with some fantastic players around her. I’m excited to see her and how she adapts in the environment," Priestman explained.

RELATED READING: CanWNT to play England in international friendly in April

St. Georges, a 23-year-old defender from Quebec, is coming off a solid debut season with Chicago in the NWSL last year when she started in five of seven games and scored one goal at the Challenge Cup. She also featured for the Red Stars in NWSL’s Fall Series, and was named the team’s rookie of the year. Priestman, who previously coached St. Georges at youth level for Canada, called the defender a "bit of a warrior," and a "front-footed" player who likes to take the ball off of opposing forwards. "Her mindset is a mindset that wants to keep a clean sheet, and we all know to be successful you need players who want to keep a clean sheet, but also contribute to help you win games. Bianca has a great mindset and athleticism that can help this group," Priestman said. Foster, a 22-year-old native of Cambridge, Ont., spent four years at West Virginia University, where she recorded 39 clean sheets (second-most in school history) in 84 games as a starter. As a 15 year-old, she made her debut in the Canadian youth program in 2013. She went on to represent Canada at both the under-17 and under-20 levels, and was part of the Canadian team that participated at the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup (coach by Priestman) and the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. A lifelong Liverpool fan, she signed with the club in January 2020 and made her professional debut later in the year. "I’m excited to work with Rylee again," Priestman offered. "I think with Rylee, what you see is her ability to cut balls out of the air…. She has shown that at youth level; she can compete on the international stage."

RELATED READING: Bev Priestman names her 1st CanWNT roster

Of the five newcomers, the most experienced is Listro, a 25-year-old from Toronto who was part of the Canadian team at the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup that included Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence. She went unselected at the 2017 NWSL Draft after four years at the University of South Florida, and moved to Spain where she briefly turned out for UD Granadilla Tenerife. A return to Canada followed where she worked for a medical technologies company, but she made a comeback when she earned a tryout with the Orlando Pride and then signed with the NWSL side last year. Listro’s perseverance paid off earlier this month when Orlando signed her to a one-year contract with an option for an additional year. "You see a real commitment there," Priestman stated. "She brings that Canadian grit in the midfield, and she’ll do anything to win that ball back." Samantha Chang, a 20-year-old from Mississauga, is currently playing for the University of South Carolina. But she does have international youth experience, having played for Canada under Priestman at the under-17 and under-20 levels. Priestman likes her versatility – she’s a midfielder who can also slot in at centre-back – and feels her game has come some distance since coaching her at youth level. "Sam’s game has evolved a lot; she warranted a call-up," Priestman stated.

Continue reading...