Canada's women's soccer team will host Costa Rica in a pair of June friendlies in Winnipeg and Toronto, savouring a home showcase while keeping an eye on a rising CONCACAF team.
The series starts in Winnipeg on June 8 before shifting to Toronto for a June 11 game.
"There aren't many FIFA international windows each year but we're taking advantage of as many as we possibly can," said Canada coach John Herdman. "The June fixtures are just a great opportunity to bring (in) a team like Costa Rica, whom we're going to have to beat at some point to qualify for the World Cup and Olympics."
Playing on a FIFA international date also allows fourth-ranked Canada to call in European-based players like Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence and Sophie Schmidt.
Canada last played No. 29 Costa Rica in February 2016 at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Houston, winning 3-1 to secure its berth in Rio where it went on to win bronze.
The Central American side has some marquee players in midfielders Shirley Cruz, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, and Sky Blue FC's Raquel Rodriguez, who won the 2015 MAC Hermann Trophy as the best female player in NCAA ranks.
"They've got some real key players that can make a difference and they were a genuine threat to our Olympic qualification," Herdman said. "They're a team that has grown massively over the last five years and their World Cup results kind of showed that. They were fighting to get out of their group."
Costa Rica tied Spain 1-1 and South Korea 2-2 before losing 1-0 to Brazil at the 2015 World Cup.
Costa Rica is ranked fourth in CONCACAF behind the top-ranked Americans, Canada and No. 26 Mexico. There is a gap before you get to the fifth-ranked Haiti at No. 63.
"We know they're only going to get better," said Herdman. "Bringing them to Canada is for us to keep an eye on their progress as well as to give us a chance to play a style of football as well that fits that type of opposition."
Costa Rica is the latest addition to a fixture list that sees the Canadians look to defend their title at the Algarve Cup March 1-8 in Portugal before playing No. 8 Sweden on April 6 in Trelleborg, Sweden, and No. 2 Germany in Erfurt, Germany, on April 9.
The Canadians will open play at the Algarve Cup against No. 15 Denmark, No. 23 Russia and No. 38 Portugal.
While Canada is at the Algarve Cup, the U.S. will be hosting Germany, No. 3 France and No. 5 England at the SheBelieves Cup.
Canada has inquired about playing in the tournament but was told that commitments had been made to other teams. The Canadian women have since risen up the rankings and Herdman hopes his team's status will produce a future invite.
Canada expects to have midfielder Rebecca Quinn back from injury and available for some matches at the Algarve Cup but will be without injured veteran midfielder/forward Diana Matheson.
Herdman also welcomed the news that veteran goalkeeper Erin McLeod is back training with Sweden's FC Rosengard after a knee operation. He said he will give McLeod ample time to continue her comeback before calling on her.
"I'm hoping we see Erin back between the sticks for Canada by the end of the year," he said.
Canada last played in Winnipeg in 2014, tying the U.S. 1-1 in a game that saw Buchanan help make her name.
The Canadian women played in Toronto last June prior to the Olympics, losing 2-0 to Brazil at BMO Field. Herdman's squad beat Brazil 1-0 three days later in Ottawa on a late Janine Beckie goal.
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