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Priestman says SheBelieves Cup final against U.S. will provide benchmark for squad


The last time Canada faced the U.S., the skies opened above San Diego and the two teams slogged it out on a waterlogged pitch in the semifinal of the CONCACAF W Gold Cup.

Coach Bev Priestman and the Canadian women found themselves having to adapt again Monday because of conditions above, with the solar eclipse prompting a change in plans on the eve of the SheBelieves Cup final against the U.S. in Columbus, Ohio.

Priestman moved up training so as not to go during the eclipse. And the players, equipped with the necessary protective glasses, were eager to take it in.

"it's cool. It's good cultural activity for the players … I saw the look on Jessie Fleming's face when she realized we were going to get to see it," Priestman said.

Fleming, the Canadian captain, is an inquiring mind. The 26-year-old from London, Ont., who has won 129 caps for Canada, was a materials engineering major with an environmental science minor at UCLA.

The ninth-ranked Canadians will be looking for a measure of revenge for last month's penalty shootout loss to the fourth-ranked Americans when the teams run it back Tuesday at Field.

The U.S. prevailed that night in a penalty shootout with goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher stopping three spot kicks and scoring one herself to end a Canadian comeback after Priestman's team rallied twice to tie it 2-2 after extra time on a dramatic, soggy night.

Interim U.S. coach Twila Kilgore expects a different game this time around, with conditions expected to be more benign. The forecast calls for temperatures around 19 C with showers.

"We talked a little bit about this this morning as a team, just understanding (that) No. 1, it's a final. That puts a different feel on the game," said Kilgore. "It's a rivalry game. That puts a different feel on the game."

She expects the contest to be "a bit more physical" than the last meeting.

"It is going to be a battle," added Kilgore.

Priestman sees Tuesday's game as a "really good benchmark for us as to where we're at."

No. 7 Japan meets No. 10 Brazil in the earlier third-place game Tuesday.

The American women lead the all-time series with Canada 53-4-8 and have won six of the last eight meetings between the teams, including both previous meetings between the teams at the SheBelieves Cup.

The Canadians, however, dispatched the Americans 1-0 in semifinal play at the Tokyo Olympics, with Fleming converting a 75th-minute penalty.

While Canada is without the injured Sydney Collins, Nichelle Prince, Lysianne Proulx, Quinn, Jayde Riviere and Olivia Smith, Priestman says everyone in camp is good to go Tuesday. That's an improvement over Saturday when defender Gabby Carle and forward Clarissa Larisey were kept out of action against Brazil.

Veteran midfielder Desiree Scott, who missed the entire 2023 NWSL season due to a knee injury, is also available although likely only for limited minutes. Scott, whose return to action was further delayed by the death of her mother, did not see action in the Brazil game which saw Vanessa Gilles' 77th-minute goal cancel out Tarciane's 22nd-minute penalty kick.

Adriana Leon, Jade Rose, Simi Awujo and Julia Grosso scored from the penalty spot in the shootout that followed, with Grosso slotting home the winning spot kick, as she did in the Tokyo final. Ashley Lawrence shot high to open the Brazil shootout, won 4-2 by Canada.

It was a far cry from the San Diego shootout which saw only Quinn score among the Canadian shooters. Naeher stopped Adriana Leon, Jordyn Huitema and Fleming.

After Tuesday, Canada likely will only have four more games — in the May 27-June 4 and July 8-16 FFA international widows — before opening defence of its Olympic title July 25 against New Zealand in Saint-Etienne.

Playing the Americans on U.S. soil should also help the Canadians prepare for their second outing at the Olympics, against host France on July 28, also in Saint-Etienne.

"It's great experience. The U.S. at home are a really tough team to beat," said Priestman.

The American women are 341-22-34 all-time at home.

Priestman expects to name her 18-player roster and four alternates for the Olympics by the end of June. The official deadline for filing the squad is July 3.

Tuesday's game marks the last for Kilgore at the U.S helm. Former Chelsea coach Emma Hayes will take charge in early June for a pair of matches against South Korea with Kilgore reverting to her role as assistant coach.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2024