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Clock ticking on Priestman as Canada coach ponders her Olympic roster selection

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TORONTO — The clock is ticking when it comes to Bev Priestman's Olympic roster selection, with Canada's game against Mexico on Tuesday at BMO Field another chance to impress.

But Priestman says the real decision-making process will come following this camp, after scouring footage and data with her coaching staff — and considering players' health.

"So I need to wait," she said after a training session Monday at BMO Field. "I need to wait as long as I can to ultimately take the best team possible to represent Canada at this Olympics.

"And what I do know is I've got to make some calls to some players who are unbelievable players that would probably make a lineup or a squad in other countries."

Priestman acknowledges it's a good problem to have. But that doesn't make it any easier.

"I have a great relationship with this team and you care about your players, as human beings and as footballers," she said. "That's always the difficult part of the job."

Canada has until July 3 to name an 18-player roster plus four alternates. Priestman has said she expects to announce her roster by the end of June, so everyone knows what's what when the team heads to Europe where it is expected to play its final warm-ups during the July 8-16 FIFA international window just prior to the Olympic tournament.

The ninth-ranked Canadian women open defence of their Olympic title on July 25 against No. 26 New Zealand in Saint-Etienne before completing Group A play against No. 5 France on July 28 in Saint-Etienne and No. 25 Colombia on July 31 in Nice.

There are decisions to be made, both on form and health.

Midfielder Quinn (knee) and defender/wingback Sydney Collins (fractured ankle) did not make this camp. And Canada has a surfeit of forwards.

"Tell me about it," Priestman said.

While Priestman has tried to take the pressure off players in camp, saying one performance won't make or break their chances, the Olympic roster decisions still loom large.

"I feel like there's been a bit of nerves," said forward Adriana Leon, whose passage to Paris is assured as the third-leading scorer among Canadian women all-time with 40 goals. "I think that's expected with what's around the corner and it being the last camp heading into Paris. So there's been a bit of nerves and a bit of extra energy, excitement as well. Everyone's always happy to play at home."

Priestman's young son Jack added to the energy Monday, playing goalkeeper on the pitch.

"Does Jack know what Mummy does? Yes," Priestman said in response to a question. "I think we've scarred him with penalties. He keeps asking me 'Is it going to go to penalties?' when it's a draw every time we watch a game. So that now is a thing from the last two tournaments.

"In the (Tokyo) Olympics he didn't have a clue. So yes, he does know and he asks me if we're going to win a gold medal. So hopefully I can bring another one home. He might understand what it means this time."

Canada defeated Mexico 2-0 Saturday at Montreal's Saputo Stadium on goals by Leon (73rd minute) and Cloe Lacasse (86th minute) before an announced crowd of 15,319. Mexico is ranked 31st, good for third in CONCACAF after Canada and the fourth-ranked Americans.

Priestman fielded a strong roster in Montreal that included 19-year-old forward Olivia Smith, who won her ninth cap in her second start. The coach says she will make some changes to her roster Tuesday "but not wholesale changes."

Nichelle Prince was kept out of training Monday and will not be available Tuesday in what is described as a precautionary move. The Kansas City Current forward suffered a calf injury at the CONCACAF W Gold Cup in February.

Prince is no stranger to injury, having ruptured her Achilles in a friendly against Brazil in November 2022. She recovered in time to make Canada's roster for last summer's World Cup but only saw brief action off the bench.

Canada is 23-2-3 all-time against Mexico but was winless in its last two meetings (0-1-1) before the weekend Montreal meeting.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2024