CanWNT SheBelieves Cup Preview: Spirited Amongst Tensions

CANWNT Player, Cloe Lacasse, Controls the Ball on September 3, 2023 Five Months Before the CANWNT SheBelieves Cip Games

PREVIEW- The Canada Women’s National Team participates tomorrow in their first match of the SheBelieves Cup against the United States, but much of the attention surrounds the fierce tension between the team and its federation in Canada Soccer.

With many of the Canadian players willing to play in the Cup after previously wanting to strike, many will look with curious eyes at how the CanWNT will respond to their situation on the field as they prepare to play “in protest”.

CanWNT SheBelieves Cup Preview: Playing In Protest

Focus On The Field, or Off It?

Three members of the CanWNT came out on Tuesday to speak to the media about their predicament. The players in question, Christine Sinclair, Janine Beckie, and Sophie Schmidt, all reiterated their strong will to continue to fight for their team, and for their worth. But many noted how exhausted they looked already before a ball has been kicked.

This morning, players were seen wearing their training tops inside out. The Canada Soccer badge and Nike Badge were not visible, but their outline was noticeable on the opposite side. Veteran leader Schmidt explained that they were still playing for the badge. It was just that their “federation was letting them down, ” which is why it was on the other side.

Bev Priestman, head coach of the Women’s team, attended a press conference that mostly focused on the off-field issues, including speculation of her own future. Priestman stated she was committed to the team, but that she did have regular opportunities available to her since the Olympics win.

Meanwhile, midfield star, Quinn, noted that while they want to focus on the games at hand.

“Unfortunately for us, we can’t just focus on football right now. We have to focus on things that are bigger than our team, bigger than ourselves and what we’re fighting for,” Quinn said in a short media scrum.

Given all this outside noise, it will be interesting to see how Canada performs in their opening match

Rotated Roster Gives Opportunity For Fringe Players

With this invitational tournament falling outside the typical FIFA windows, the CanWNT SheBelieves Cup roster is composed of an even split of European and Domestic players in the NWSL. Nevertheless, it is filled with strong players across the pitch.

Some new faces appear in Simi Awujo and Jenna Hellstrom, who come in to round out the squad after injuries to Desiree Scott and Nichelle Prince. This cup might prove to be a great opportunity for these players who do not have many caps to show Priestman why they deserve to be called up for the 2026 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand later this year.

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It also allows some of Canada’s most in-form players to showcase why Canada might be an outside favourite to win the World Cup. Cloé Lacasse has 18 goals in 23 matches for Benfica W in all competitions and is definitely CanWNT’s most in-form player currently. Ashley Lawrence is coming off a FIFPRO nomination to World XI after a strong 2022, where she reached the semi-final of the Women’s Champions League with PSG Feminine.

The squad is one that definitely has the firepower and experience to be able to win the tournament, even in these troubling times.

Tough Tests Ahead

Even before all the off-field drama, this invitational tournament was going to prove to be a tough test for the CanWNT. They face 1st in the FIFA Rankings United States, who are coming off a three-game win streak in friendlies against New Zealand and Germany. The last time these two teams faced was in the CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualification last July, where the Americans took the win by a single goal to nil.

They also face the ever-skillful and dangerous-in-attack Brazil, which is ranked ninth in the world. Brazil is coming off a strong end to 2022, where they went undefeated in a Copa America victory, and have lost only once since then – to Canada in November.  Regardless of their form, their attack will always be a threat to the likes of Adriana, Beatriz, Debinha, and, of course, Marta.

Lastly, Canada will face a Japanese side with something to prove. Japan have lost their last two games against tough opposition in Spain and England but will look to better their fortunes in this upcoming tournament. 12 years on since their World Cup victory, the Nadeshiko will want to prove that they can rise back up to the top after stalling for the last few years. They will rely on stars like Yui Hasegawa and Mana Iwabuchi, the latter of which was part of the 2011 World Cup-winning side.

On paper, it seems like each game gets easier for Canada, but with the off-field turmoil and on-field ambitions from their opponents, it is hard to predict how this tournament will unfold for the reigning Olympic gold medalists.

Action on The Horizon

The CanWNT open their account against the USWNT on February 16 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Orlando, Florida, at Exploria Stadium. Fans can catch all the action of the SheBelieves Cup on OneSoccer and Telus.