New CanWNT leaders need to fill void left by departing veterans
A new chapter is set to begin for Canada’s women soccer team.
Not only is the iconic Christine Sinclair retiring from international soccer, with her last game scheduled for Dec. 5 in Vancouver, but many of the other veterans on the team have either already moved on or have uncertain futures.
During her media conference last week, Sinclair spoke about a veterans’ group on the team that won gold at the Tokyo Olympics that consisted of herself, goalkeepers Stephanie Labbé and Erin McLeod, midfielders Sophie Schmidt and Desiree Scott, and fullback Allysha Chapman.
That group share more than an on-field bond, with Sinclair revealing the six teammates got matching “V” tattoos the last time they were in Montreal together (“Yeah, great decisions,” she deadpanned).
But that sextet has all but dispersed. Labbé played her last match for Canada in April 2022, while McLeod officially left the international game earlier this year. Schmidt, whose 224 caps are the second-most all-time for Canada, retired from the national team after this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Chapman, 34, announced her pregnancy earlier this month, although head coach Bev Priestman said the defender is aiming to make a bid for next year’s Olympic roster. Scott, 36, has the second-most caps among active players with 186, but she has not played at all this year as she continues to rehab a knee injury.
Those veteran absences are opening the door for a new group of players to step into leadership roles.
“I definitely think it's been an interesting transition for our team,” midfielder Quinn, 28, said. “I think we've talked about it for a long time, how some of the younger players – I’m going to use quotes there – need to step up and be the leaders on this team. But now we're seeing that some of the older players not coming into camp – it really has changed the dynamic around the team.”
On the surface, it does mark a massive change for Canada. Sinclair has captained this team since 2006, when she took over from veteran Charmaine Hooper.
But the transition process has already begun. Priestman has given midfielder Jessie Fleming the captain’s armband in several games this year, including both Olympic qualifiers against Jamaica last month, and during the World Cup in the group-stage match against the Republic of Ireland.
Fleming is only 25 but already brings a wealth of experience, including 120 caps (with 106 of those being starts) and appearances in three World Cups and two Olympics.
While Priestman said she doesn’t want to put pressure on any one player, she also sees Fleming possessing many of Sinclair’s qualities.
“I see similarities between those two players in terms of humility, let the work on the pitch do the talking. And Jessie’s flourished in that role, too,” she told the media last week.
Quinn also sees parallels between the two quieter players and what Fleming brings as a captain.
“I think she's been gathering experience for 10 years now on the team, and you can see that in what she sees both on and off the field,” they said. “I think she's using her opportunity now to speak when the time is right, and people are obviously really listening to that.”
While Fleming and Sinclair are more lead-by-example, there is also a group of players stepping up to be vocal leaders, such as defenders Vanessa Gilles and Kadeisha Buchanan, who wore the captain’s armband on the field during Saturday’s match against Brazil after Fleming left due to a migraine.
“I think this team has, honestly, ample leaders,” forward Cloe Lacasse said. “We’ve had the chance to see Kadeisha step up, Vanessa – being centre backs, it's extremely important to have those voices coming from behind.”
Lacasse also points to another defender, Jade Rose, who at just the age of 20 brings her own leadership pedigree, having captained Canada’s under-20 team.
“We have young players coming in like Jade Rose… players that are leading the charge for the younger generation coming in,” Lacasse said. “So, there's plenty of players that, having the opportunity to see what Sinc has done and how she’s led, they're looking forward to having that chance to also do so in the future.”
Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan is also embracing her new leadership role. The 28-year-old took over from Labbé as Canada’s starter and now leads the players’ pregame huddle, a duty also formerly held by Labbé.
“It’s definitely a role that I want to take on,” Sheridan said when asked about stepping up as a leader. “I think I have the opportunity and the presence for it. I'm going to push this team to be better every single day.”
After the match, Priestman praised Sheridan’s leadership skills, pointing out that the goalkeeper is constantly organizing the team in front of her and also looking towards the bench to see if there’s anything that needs communicating.
“I think it just brings confidence into your players in front of you,” Sheridan said. “You have that belief in yourself and belief in your team. It helps everybody else to have that belief as well… It’s something I'm excited about. We have an incredible group of people. We're full of leaders.”
As for Sinclair, she has three games remaining in her illustrious international career. Canada wraps up its two-game series against Brazil on Tuesday in Halifax. The Canadians will then play Australia in a pair of friendlies in B.C. in December, including Sinclair’s swan song in Vancouver on Dec. 5.
While her time in Canadian red is quickly coming to a close, Sinclair continues to lead by example.
“It's little things like, we’ve got two new players in, and at the end of a session the other day the greatest player of all time is doing extra fitness,” Priestman said.
The coach added that she and Sinclair have had conversations about what it means to become the captain of a national team.
“I've heard her say the team is in safe hands. I think she's very much done that in everything that she does,” Priestman said.
“She comes into a meeting with a notepad every time, makes so many notes. There’s high-performance habits that the captain has led by example, and it’s never changed. It’s the same this camp, no matter if she knows she's on her way out… Everybody follows [her] lead.”