Canada’s women’s soccer team has opened training camp in Toronto in preparation for its last home game before next month’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
The Canadians will face Mexico on Saturday at BMO Field (1 p.m. ET on TSN2) before leaving for Europe on Sunday.
“I think as we’re progressing now, every single minute we’re spending on the pitch is important,” head coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller told TSN. “It’s going to be great to have a home match, a send-off match against Mexico. Hopefully we’ll have a good match, a great performance, and a good crowd.”
“The countdown is on,” said centre back Shelina Zadorsky. “We’re all so excited and I think getting us back in camp and training together is pivotal at this point. We’ve taken one game at a time all year and I think that’s been a strength of ours, so we’re looking to do that against Mexico. We know the World Cup is around the corner, but we have a big game against Mexico and we want to do our fans proud.”
It’s the first time Canada has played at home in more than eight months. The team last played in front of Canadian fans on Sept. 2, 2018 – a 1-0 win over Brazil at TD Place in Ottawa.
“We absolutely love playing at home,” said Zadorsky, a native of London, Ont. “For me especially, Toronto is really close to home, so family and friends will be there, and it’s great to rally the country around us before we go and try to do something special in France.”
“We’re hoping to play at BMO in front of a sold-out stadium,” said goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé. “We’re hoping that Canada comes out and supports us and sends us off in a really positive way.
“It’s one of our final games before the World Cup, so we really want to make sure we’re implementing everything we need to do in terms of final pieces of the puzzle to make sure that we’re ready to go for when the World Cup starts.”
“They’re excited, for sure. I think we feel the support while we’re playing away from home, but when we’re here, we see the support, we hear the support, and that’s the echo we want to listen to all the way through to the World Cup,” said Heiner-Møller.
This camp is also one of the last opportunities for players to impress before Heiner-Møller and his staff name Canada’s official World Cup roster next week.
“I think going into a World Cup, you always look at maybe 15 players, those have got the secure spots, no matter almost how they’re performing,” said Heiner-Møller. “And then the rest of them, it’s ongoing performance, and who’s actually on form leading into the World Cup.
“So we’re putting a lot of attention into that at the minute – who’s actually on form and who isn’t, and having both good conversations and hard conversations with some of the players, making sure that [they] need to perform now. Everyone wants to perform now, but for some of them it’s more critical.”
Many countries have already named their World Cup rosters well ahead of the FIFA deadline of May 24, but Heiner-Møller is choosing to wait to finalize his squad closer to the cut-off date.
“For all countries, it’s the perspective that they want to make sure that everyone knows what’s happening this summer. For most of our players, it’s the same thing. It’s just about making sure we’ve got the right players, all 23 of them, not just 18 of them,” he said.
Canada’s core group of players has been together for several years. Fourteen players currently on the roster were part of the squad that won bronze in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I think it’s been kind of cool to watch people connected with my Under-20 cycle grow up together,” said Jessie Fleming, who made her Women’s World Cup debut four years ago at the age of 17. “Keish [Kadeisha Buchanan], Ash[ley Lawrence], Nich[elle Prince], [Rebecca] Quinn, all those players, we’ve kind of gotten to play together for a while now. I think that group of players is just getting better and better, and obviously that’s complimented by some of the older players.”
“We do have a good group of girls that have not played in a World Cup before, but we have a lot of tournament experience,” added Labbé, who will be entering her third Women’s World Cup, but her first as the No. 1 goalkeeper. “A lot of the girls from the Olympics are still around, and we’ve also got a good blend of youth coming through the system as well. I think the balance between the experience that we have and the flair of the youth and the excitement is really big.”
Saturday will be Canada’s first game against Mexico in more than two years. The Canadians are 20-1-2 against the Mexicans all-time, with their lone loss coming more than 15 years ago.
“They’re a very technical and skillful team. I think 1v1, we’ll have to be sound defensively,” said Zadorsky. “They really can hit teams on the counter attack, with four numbers-plus joining. So I think their counter attacking game is great. We’ll have to defend solidly and hopefully we can be creative and break down their numbers.”
Mexico failed to qualify for this summer’s Women’s World Cup, missing the tournament for the first time in 12 years.
“We don’t really know how they’re going to come out. They’re not in the World Cup, so we’re not sure how they’ll shape up,” said Labbé. “But at the same time, they’re prepping for Olympic qualifying, so we know that they’re going to be working on some new things. But for us, it’s about focusing on ourselves and coming out and putting on a good performance, and doing what we need to do to adapt to whatever they give us and get a good result.”
“They’re very skillful on the ball, and the Mexican league is booming, so they come with some kind of confidence into this match,” said Heiner-Møller. “It’s a decent team to play against before the World Cup, and they know they should be at the World Cup.”
Canada will open its Women’s World Cup campaign on June 10 in Montpellier against Cameroon. The team will then face New Zealand in Grenoble on June 15 before wrapping up the group stage against the Netherlands on June 20 in Reims.