Canada unveils squad for 2024 Paris Olympic qualifier
In the wake of Canada's early exit from the FIFA Women's World Cup, coach Bev Priestman and her family spent five days in Fiji.
The idyllic surroundings could not mask the disappointment of a tournament three-and-out in Australia.
"What I learned in that moment is it doesn't matter where you are in the world — I could have been sitting in my office — it still sucked," Priestman said in a virtual availability Friday. "Like the players, I've poured every ounce of me into this team and preparing this team for the World Cup and we came up short.
"Some of that's because of me. Some of that's because of the players. Some of that's just football."
Getting back to work has helped shift the focus, with Priestman and her players now looking ahead to a two-game Olympic qualifying playoff later this month against Jamaica.
The Olympic champion Canadians, who fell to 10th in the world rankings from seventh after failing to survive the group stage in Australia, open the two-game series Sept. 22 in Kingston, Jamaica, before hosting the 37th-ranked Reggae Girlz four days later at Toronto's BMO Field.
Canada has won all nine previous meetings, outscoring the Jamaicans 60-1. But the Reggae Girlz lasted longer at the World Cup, reaching the round of 16 where they were edged 1-0 by Colombia.
"I think they're a different team from the old Jamaica," said Priestman
Jamaica beat Panama 1-0 and tied France and Brazil 0-0 to finish runner-up in its group. The tournament run saw the Jamaicans, the first Caribbean country to qualify for a Women’s World Cup knockout round, climb six places in the world rankings.
"They'll be riding a high from that," said Priestman.
Jamaica is led by Manchester City forward Khadija (Bunny) Shaw, the 2022 CONCACAF Women’s Player of the Year and a finalist for this year's Ballon d'Or.
Canada exited after tying Nigeria 0-0, edging Ireland 2-1 and losing 4-0 to Australia.
Priestman says the Jamaicans will face a Canadian side motivated to put "the (World Cup) wrong right" and because of "how dear the Olympic Games are to this group's heart."
As far as the tournament post-mortem is concerned, Priestman said she had individual sessions with players as well as a "player reset meeting."
"We have to turn the page, I think," she said. "We can't go into camp unpicking the World Cup. We did that. We've had that meeting."
While Priestman was reluctant to divulge details of that post-mortem, so as not to help the Jamaicans preparations, she said there have been problems at both ends of the pitch this year.
The Canadians' much-vaunted defence has conceded 12 goals in seven games (2-4-1) this season while the offence has produced just five goals.
Priestman said data from the World Cup showed Canada had created more chances than runner-up England. But Canada fell down the pecking order when it came to the number of shots on target or converted.
The tournament also saw a lot of teams field players under the age of 25, she said.
"We have to invest in our youth system to get these under-25 players ready," she said. "The number of them was significant in the most prolific teams."
Asked if she had received any calls about job offers, a smiling Priestman said if she had, she had muted them.
"Ultimately I'm really focused on getting this group to the Olympics and really going to defend our (gold) medal," she added.
Priestman has stayed loyal to her World Cup squad, selecting 21 of the 23 tournament players for the Jamaica series.
Priestman has named a 25-woman squad with only fullback Allysha Chapman and midfielder Sophie Schmidt missing from the World Cup roster. The 35-year-old Schmidt, who has won 224 caps for Canada, retired from international play after the World Cup while the 34-year-old Chapman, who has not featured for the Houston Dash since returning from the tournament, is unavailable for "personal reasons."
Defender Jade Rose, who missed the World Cup through injury, returns to the squad. The other additions are defenders Bianca St-Georges and Sydney Collins and midfielder Marie-Yasmine Alidou.
Alidou took part in Canada's pre-World Cup camp in Australia but did not make the final roster.
Collins made her senior debut in April in a 1-0 loss to France in Le Mans, Canada's final World Cup tune-up.
Collins is an Oregon native who holds dual Canadian-U. S. citizenship. Father Brett played three seasons in the NFL as a linebacker with the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams while mother Susan played volleyball in Canada.
Collins was selected by the North Carolina Courage in the first round (eighth overall) of the 2023 NWSL draft out of Cal.
Veteran midfielder Desiree Scott, who missed the World Cup through injury, is still not ready to join the team, said Priestman.
Canada and Jamaica were paired in the Olympic playoff after finishing second and third, respectively, at the CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico in July 2022.
The U.S. qualified directly for the Paris Olympics by virtue of defeating Canada 1-0 in the CONCACAF W Championship final. Jamaica, which lost 3-0 to Canada in the semifinal, defeated Costa Rica 1-0 after extra time in the third-place playoff.
Host France, Brazil and Colombia have also already qualified for the 12-team Olympic soccer field.
Priestman said Canada is looking to play games in both the October and November international windows, with the hope that one of the windows will involve home fixtures.
Goalkeepers: Sabrina D'Angelo, Arsenal (England); Lysianne Proulx, SCU Torreense (Portugal); Kailen Sheridan, San Diego Wave (NWSL().
Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Chelsea (England); Gabrielle Carle, Washington Spirit (NSWL); Sydney Collins, North Carolina Courage (NWSL); Vanessa Gilles, Olympique Lyonnais (France); Ashley Lawrence, Chelsea (England); Jayde Riviere, Manchester United (England); Bianca St-Georges, Chicago Red Stars (NWSL); Jade Rose, Harvard University; Shelina Zadorsky, Tottenham (England).
Midfielders: Marie-Yasmine Alidou D’Anjou, Benfica (Portugal); Simi Awujo, USC; Jessie Fleming, Chelsea (England); Julia Grosso, Juventus (Italy); Quinn, OL Reign (NSWL);
Midfielder-Forward: Olivia Smith, Sporting CP (Portugal).
Forwards: Jordyn Huitema, OL Reign (NWSL); Cloe Lacasse, Arsenal (England); Adriana Leon, Manchester United (England); Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash (NWSL); Deanne Rose, Leicester (England); Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns (NWSL); Evelyne Viens, AS Roma (Italy).
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2023