Bev Priestman is becoming something of a juggler as she prepares Canada’s women’s soccer team for its next chapter.
As the head coach set her roster for a pair of upcoming friendlies against Nigeria, she not only had to think about celebrating the players who captured gold at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, but about what the squad will need going forward, too.
“I actually find it really difficult at the moment to get that group down,” Priestman said. “And that’s going to be the interesting challenge, to get the blend right.”
That blend can be seen in the 29-person roster Canada Soccer announced Monday.
It features all 22 players from the Olympic squad, including star forward Christine Sinclair, three-time medallists Sophie Schmidt and Desiree Scott, and Stephanie Labbé, runner-up for the Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper last year.
There are also seven up-and-coming talents: goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo, midfielders Marie-Yasmine Alidou D’Anjou, Victoria Pickett and Sarah Stratigakis, defenders Sura Yekka and Zoe Burns, and forward Cloé Lacasse.
Priestman knows not every athlete will get a chance to take the field when the sixth-ranked Canadians host Nigeria at Vancouver’s B.C. Place on April 8 and at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C., on April 11.
But having both veteran champions and fresh faces in camp helps her prepare as the team works toward July’s CONCACAF W Championship. The crucial tournament will act as a qualifier for both the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“I want to widen the pool and make sure exactly as we did before we went to the Olympics, leaving no stone unturned to build for the future,” said Priestman, who has a 10-4-6 record since taking over the women’s team in October 2020.
Canada hasn’t faced Nigeria since a friendly in Spain in April 2019, a game the Canadians won 2-1.
Currently ranked 39th in the world, Nigeria will help Canada prepare for some of the player-to-player marking and transition threats they’re likely to face at CONCACAF W, Priestman said.
“Nigeria will be a very tough test. They’re more organized than they’ve been before and they have an athleticism that will compete with ours,” she said. “I think that’s definitely worth noting. We can’t underestimate them.”
Canada’s lineup for the friendlies will feature a number of stars, including Sinclair, who comes in with 308 international appearances.
The Vancouver game will feature a much-delayed celebration of the 38-year-old forward from Burnaby, B.C. Sinclair broke the international goal scoring record when she put away her 185th goal in January 2020 but plans to mark the milestone in April 2020 were scuttled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The matches will also offer the team and its fans a chance to say goodbye to Labbé. The 35-year-old goalkeeper from Stony Plain, Alta., announced her retirement in January and has already wrapped her club career with Paris Saint-Germain.
“That moment of being at home and with your fans, that’s something this team didn’t get to experience in the moment you achieve something you work your whole career for,” Priestman said.
“If I look at Christine, she’s in her hometown, she’s broken a record, she’s got a gold medal, she didn’t get to share that in the moment. So I think being at home and connecting with our fans is very, very special. But at the same time, we’ll also be focused on where we’re heading.”
Goalkeepers: Sabrina D’Angelo, Vittsjö GIK (Sweden); Stephanie Labbé, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Erin McLeod, Orlando Pride (NWSL); Kailen Sheridan, San Diego Wave FC (NWSL).
Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, FCF Olympique Lyonnais (France); Vanessa Gilles, Angel City FC (NWSL); Zoe Burns, University of Southern California (NCAA); Gabrielle Carle, Kristianstads DFF (Sweden); Allysha Chapman, Houston Dash (NWSL); Ashley Lawrence, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Jayde Riviere, University of Michigan (NCAA); Sura Yekka, Havre AC (France); Shelina Zadorsky, Tottenham Hotspur (England).
Midfielders: Marie-Yasmine Alidou D’Anjou, SK Sturm Graz (Austria); Jessie Fleming, Chelsea FC (England); Julia Grosso, Juventus FC (Italy); Victoria Pickett, Kansas City Current (NWSL); Quinn, OL Reign (NWSL); Sophie Schmidt, Houston Dash (NWSL); Desiree Scott, Kansas City Current (NWSL); Sarah Stratigakis, Vittsjö GIK (NWSL)
Forwards: Janine Beckie, Manchester City FC (England); Jordyn Huitema, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Cloé Lacasse, SL Benfica (Portugal); Adriana Leon, West Ham United FC (England); Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash (NWSL); Deanne Rose, Reading FC (England); Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns FC (NWSL); Evelyne Viens, Kristianstads DFF (Sweden)
—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press