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Priestman says she can focus on soccer after off-field distractions have diminished

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Coach Bev Priestman says she has "unfinished business" with the Olympic champion Canadian women's soccer team.

And with a newly signed contract to stay on through the 2027 FIFA Women's World Cup, there is clarity about that mission.

The 37-year-old Priestman, who took over the Canadian women on Nov. 1, 2020, was initially appointed "through the next quadrennial" and had been working on a rolling contract that had no term end-date. Now she has a new, defined deal.

"On paper I was always going to be here until 2027. But I think this sends a message to the players, the organization," she said in an interview.

Priestman sees brighter days ahead for Canada Soccer, which still has to fill the posts of general secretary and men's coach and finally resolve the ongoing labour dispute with its players.

But she acknowledges it has been a bumpy road at times getting there.

"If I had spoken to you this time last year, it would have been a totally different conversation," she said.

In recent months, however, she says distractions off the pitch have diminished.

"You look at the back-end of the year, there's no surprise that things improved on the pitch. Because that's what I could spend my time focused on. We ended the year with the way I would like to see Canada Soccer continue to move forward, which is investment in the women's team, great planning off the pitch where I'm not looking (at the) budget left right and centre."

She said at the end of the year her feeling was "this is what the job did feel like when I first took over and this is what it needs to feel like moving forward.

"That was a critical piece because I could just focus on what I feel I'm good at. At the beginning of the year, it was nothing like that. If anything, I'm spending my time worrying about things no other head coach in the world is. And like I say there's a correlation there with how we did on the pitch and what I had to do off it."

Canada has won five of six since a disappointing showing at last summer's FIFA World Cup in Australia that saw it exit after the group stage. Priestman's team, which went 7-5-1 in 2023, has conceded just two goals since the World Cup and recorded three consecutive clean sheets.

It was an encouraging end to a difficult year.

"Some really stressful times off the pitch. And probably things that people aren't even aware of," she said. "But at the end of the day, I wanted to commit to the team, to my staff, so we can all put our head down and build."

Asked whether she had received other job offers, Priestman said "there's always been whispers or people who want to talk to you.

"What I will say is I never fully went into any interview process. I think I've always been transparent with Canada Soccer as well on that … A few things came up but at the end of the day I made my intentions clear, which was to sort this contract out and make it clear for everyone that I'm here to stay."

Her existing contract had a renegotiation clause, which she chose to activate ahead of this summer's Paris Olympics "to shut the door on other things."

"For me and the family, we love Canada, I love this team," Priestman said. "And I feel like there's some unfinished business."

The family is settled on the West Coast.

Her wife, Emma Humphries, is director of women’s football development for the Vancouver Whitecaps and coach of the Canadian women's under-17 team, which is set to open play Friday at the CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship in Toluca, Mexico. Their young son Jack is due to go into his first year of school in September.

Next up for the 10th-ranked Canadian women in the CONCACAF W Gold Cup in February and the SheBelieves Cup in April, both in the United States. Canada opens defence of its Olympic title in late July in France.

Priestman has a 28-9-10 record in 47 matches at Canada's helm and was a nominee for FIFA Women's Best Coach in 2021 and 2022. She succeeded Kenneth Heiner-Moller after he returned to his native Denmark.

Priestman spent five years with Canada Soccer in a variety of coaching roles before returning in June 2018 to her native England, where she served as coach of the England’s women’s under-18 side and assistant coach with the senior English women.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2024.