Canada heads to the Women's World Cup with unsettled contract back home
Two years after winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics, Canada will be one of the teams to beat at the Women's World Cup.
But there's on-going drama surrounding the team and the federation back home.
The Canadian players are seeking equal pay to the men's team and have been negotiating a new contract with Canada Soccer for more than a year. At the same time, the team said it was told that funding issues meant players wouldn't have any send-off matches in Canada ahead of the tournament.
The animosity between the two sides was on display earlier this year when the players threatened to boycott the SheBelieves Cup in the United States. Canada Soccer threatened legal action and the players acquiesced but wore purple T-shirts during pregame ceremonies that read “Enough is Enough."
Despite the turmoil, Canada cannot be counted out as one of the top teams headed to the World Cup, which kicks off July 20 in Australia and New Zealand. The team is currently ranked No. 7 in the world.
“I know that we have a very resilient group, a very gritty group and that group of people — no matter what is happening off the field — will make sure the job gets done on the field," Canada goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan said. "So I’m not really worried in that sense, but I also don’t want to dismiss what’s going on either.”
Canada also has the steadying presence of captain Christine Sinclair, who is international soccer's all-time leading scorer — among men or women. She has 190 career goals and is arguably the best Canadian player ever.
Now 40, Sinclair has won a pair of Olympic bronze medals and the gold in Tokyo. She has two NCAA tournament titles and three National Women's Soccer League championships with the Portland Thorns. But a World Cup trophy has eluded her.
Sinclair led a dramatic evolution for Canadian women's soccer over the past decade. It started in the run-up to the 2015 Women's World Cup, held in Canada, when John Herdman was hired as head coach.
Herdman, now coach of the Canadian men's team, led Canada to the bronze medal at the London Olympics. Canada made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup on home soil, then won a second Olympic bronze medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Bev Priestman took over as coach in 2020, ahead of Canada's gold in Tokyo. She has had to walk a thin line between the players and Canada Soccer amid the dispute.
In March, Canada Soccer and the team struck an interim funding agreement to compensate players for the previous year after players complained they went unpaid.
The players have also said they’ve had to cut training camp days and full camp windows, as well as trim the number of players and staff invited into camps. They were told there'd be no home games scheduled before the World Cup.
Players say progress has been made in talks with the federation, but a hoped-for interim pay agreement before the team went abroad didn't materialize. Canada has a behind-closed-doors exhibition against England in Australia before the World Cup.
The players believe they can shut out the noise while abroad. Canada, making its eighth World Cup appearance, is in Group B with co-host Australia, Ireland and Nigeria. Considered the favorite as the highest-ranked team in the group, Canada opens against Nigeria on July 21 in Melbourne.
They'll be without one of the team's key players, forward Janine Beckie, who tore her ACL while playing in a preseason match for the Thorns earlier this year. But they have a solid defense, anchored by Sheridan in goal and defenders Kadeisha Buchanan and Vanessa Gilles. Priestman has choices up front, with Jordyn Huitema, Adriana Leon and Evelyne Viens all vying for a starting place.
Canada's best finish at the World Cup was fourth in 2003. At the 2019 tournament, Canada was eliminated in the round of 16 by Sweden.
Sheridan said it was most important now for the players and staff to channel all their focus into being the best team they can be on the field.
"There’s definitely been a lot more work that we’ve had to do, kind of making it a bit more of a challenge for us. We aren’t happy with the current situation and we are not happy as a group with the lack of home games or less games than anybody else heading into a World Cup,” Sheridan said. “But at the same time, we also know that there’s an opportunity to take control of what we can.”
AP coverage of the Women’s World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports