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Confident Viens coming off stellar season in Italy

Evelyne Viens Roma Evelyne Viens - Getty Images

Canadian forward Evelyne Viens amassed an impressive list of accomplishments in her first season with AS Roma, including winning the league scoring race and a pair of trophies.

But there’s one more title she has picked up while living in Rome: pasta connoisseur.

“I'm trying to stay away from it because it's too good. But honestly, my Instagram Explore page is just carbonara,” she joked.

Viens is back with Canada’s women’s soccer team for a pair of friendlies against Mexico as part of the Summer Send-Off Series.  The CONCACAF rivals will face off in Montreal on Saturday before travelling to Toronto for a rematch on Tuesday at BMO Field.

These are the final matches before head coach Bev Priestman names her roster for the Paris Olympics, with Canada, the defending gold medallists, kicking off against New Zealand on July 25.

Viens enters this summer in red-hot form. In her first season in Italy’s Serie A, she led the league with 13 goals in 24 matches, while also recording six assists.

She attributes her immediate success partly to her ability to adapt. Since being drafted fifth overall in the 2020 NWSL Draft by Sky Blue FC (now named Gotham FC), Viens has played for four different clubs in four different countries.

“I think you learn how to get out of your comfort zone and learn how to really handle different situations,” Viens told TSN. “Normally I take more time to adjust, like just to get to know my teammates and everything, but I think this club was already running… The people around me just helped me. They're so good that it helps you to look better.”

The native of L'Ancienne-Lorette, Que., made the jump to Roma after spending a year and half with Swedish club Kristianstad. In 2023, she led the team with 12 goals, but despite the success on an individual level, she felt ready for the next step in her career.

She cites Canadian teammate Julia Grosso, who just finished a three-year stint at Juventus, as one of the reasons the Italian league caught her eye.

“I just saw she got so much better, how she was good on the ball and confident, and it's something that could help my game,” Viens said.

Along with the scoring title, Viens helped her team to a couple of pieces of hardware. Roma captured the league title for a second straight season, and in the Coppa Italia final last week, Viens scored the tying goal against Fiorentina in the 90th minute, paving the way for her team to win on penalties.

“For me, coming in and being able to help the offensive line score some goals… it was just bringing my own touch, bring my professionalism,” she said.

Viens is now hoping to translate her success at club to the international level. She has been a mainstay with the national team since the beginning of 2021. With just six caps under her belt, she was named to the roster for the Tokyo Olympics, where she featured in two matches during the tournament en route to the Canadians capturing gold.

Since then, Viens has also represented Canada at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, playing in all three group stage games before her country was eliminated. She feels those major tournaments have helped shape her development.

“I think you don't understand it until you experience it,” she said. “I've learned how to manage my emotions, just perform my best. I have many more tools mentally to approach different situations. So, I think I'm just a more complete athlete now than I was four years ago.”

Despite regular roster selections, Viens has yet to see the same production in her international career as she has at club level. In 29 appearances for Canada, including seven starts, she has five goals.

Despite the ups and downs, Viens feels more ready than ever to contribute for her country.

“I think now playing in Italy, just in different competitions, having some Cup finals, having the Champions League – it just helped me to be ready for international level, because we have higher-intensity games,” she said. “I am getting ready in club more. I’m playing in club more. I'm in that flow of a striker better when I come in.”

On a Zoom call with the media last week, Priestman was quick to sing Viens’s praises. The coach cited the fact that Viens has been deployed on the wings as well as in her usual No. 9 position for Roma as a major reason behind the forward’s growth.

“I’ve seen big developments in some of her play,” Priestman said. “I think we know with Evelyne, when you get her between the goalposts, that’s where she comes to life. She’s that sort of fox in the box.”

Priestman gave Viens her first national team call-up at the 2021 SheBelieves Cup after the forward had never represented Canada at the youth level. The international game has been an adjustment.

“I think coming off the front and connecting play has always been an area that she probably needed to work on,” Priestman told TSN. “And I think I've seen that recently, where again, because of where she's had to play for club, she's connected more to her midfield.”

Priestman said she has met recently with Viens to discuss some of her recent performances for Canada and gaps she needs to work on.

“The big one for us, and Evelyne knows this, is her defensive understanding,” she said. “When you’re playing a top team in the world, defending on the international stage for Canada is just as important as scoring goals. Because she doesn't have a rich youth curriculum and history in our program, that takes time to understand.”

Viens is vying for the 18-player Olympic roster with a group of talented forwards. The roster for the two matches against Mexico features nine forwards, including the likes of Adriana Leon, Janine Beckie, Cloé Lacasse, Jordyn Huitema, and youngster Olivia Smith. Viens’s five career international goals ranks sixth among the current group of forwards.

But Priestman views Viens as a valuable “super sub,” someone able to give Canada a needed boost off the bench when the team is searching for a goal. She did exactly that earlier this year in the quarter-final match against Costa Rica at the CONCACAF W Gold Cup. With the teams deadlocked in a scoreless draw, Viens entered the game and scored the winner in extra time.

“That's not to say she can never start a game for us,” Priestman said. “But I think what we've seen and felt from Evelyne is she does a really good job of coming on and just being a handful… I think she's that player that goes on and sniffs out a goal and causes havoc for centre backs.”

Viens, like many of her compatriots, has learned to deal with adversity in her career. During her four years playing for the University of South Florida, she scored 73 goals in 77 career games to set school and American Athletic Conference all-time records, but never received a call to camp for Canada.

She credits working with a mental coach in recent years to help her maintain a glass-half-full approach.

“Yeah, I wasn’t getting called in when I was in college, but in the end, was I ready to be on the national team? Maybe not,” she said. “We play soccer. It’s the same game as I was playing when I was a kid, so I'm just enjoying it more. I know it won’t last forever. I'm so lucky to represent Canada.”

And it’s this attitude that makes Priestman of fan of Viens.

“She enthuses me every time I speak with her because she’s just so hungry,” Priestman said “As a coach, you want a team full of hungry players. Super, super impressed with her as a human being and what she can do on a football pitch.”