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SheBelieves: Scouting USA vs Canada

Ah, our old friends whom we kinda sorta hate but not really anymore?

Chelsea Women v Brighton & Hove Albion Women - Barclays FA Women’s Super League Photo by Harriet Lander - Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Something something rivalry. That’s the USA-Canada narrative, right? At least from the Canadian side; it’s my general impression that while US fans enjoy the USWNT beating our northern neighbors, there’s not really a burning need to bring the hammer down, not the way there might have been five or 10 years ago. That’ll happen when you have as lopsided a W-L record against your “rival” as the USWNT does against the Canada WNT. And that’s good, because this is not the Canada WNT of old.

This is a Canada that will be without a lot of senior leadership - Canada Soccer announced that Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson, and Erin McLeod are all injured and out. Bianca St-Georges is out too. And key players Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence, and Jordyn Huitema are all still with their clubs in France, as Lyon and PSG declined to release these players for the tournament. So here’s their SheBelieves roster:

GOALKEEPERS: Stephanie Labbé (FC Rosengård), Rylee Foster (Liverpool), Kailen Sheridan (Sky Blue FC)

DEFENDERS: Allysha Chapman (Houston Dash), Jade Rose (Super REX Ontario), Shelina Zadorsky (Tottenham Hotspur), Quinn (OL Reign), Gabrielle Carle (Florida State), Jayde Riviere (Michigan), Lindsay Agnew (NC Courage), Vanessa Gilles (FC Girondins de Bordeaux)

MIDFIELDERS: Julia Grosso (UT Austin), Samantha Chang (South Carolina), Sarah Stratigakis (Michigan), Desiree Scott (Kansas City), Sophie Schmidt (Houston Dash), Jessie Fleming (Chelsea), Jordyn Listro (Orlando Pride)

FORWARDS: Deanne Rose (Florida), Evelyne Viens (Sky Blue FC), Nichelle Prince (Houston Dash), Janine Beckie (Manchester City), Adriana Leon (West Ham United)

For sure, there’s still lots of veteran talent on here. Steph Labbé and Kailen Sheridan are pretty well-known GK quantities for them, Allysha Chapman and Shelina Zadorsky are longtime defenders, Desi Scott and Sophie Schmidt have 356 caps between them, and all of their forwards are pretty well versed in the international game. It’s just a testament to the centrality of Christine Sinclair to this team that losing her from the roster feels almost equivalent to all the veteran talent they still have on it. And it’s also a testament to the fact that there are still a lot of question marks around that forward group; Rose has some of that “next big thing” aura around her but hasn’t made good on it yet (9 goals in 48 appearances), Leon is a hard worker but has a middling record as a striker, Prince and Beckie are both fairly reliable but not prolific, and Viens is uncapped.

Canada also has some young stars of their own, Jessie Fleming chief among them. But she hasn’t exactly had a breakout time at Chelsea. Jayde Riviere is an extremely exciting fullback to watch, but she’s also 20 years old with 15 caps and still sometimes prone to defensive lapses in judgment.

On a media call, new Canada head coach Bev Priestman called her first tournament as head coach with the first game against the United States a “baptism of fire.” And she talked a lot about “bravery” with this group of players. It’s something she’s echoed more than once now since her takeover in October 2020. She told press:

I believe in these moments, actually, you find out a lot about people. I’ve asked individuals to be brave, the team to be brave, and it’s going to take that, I think, to beat the US, for us to get past that hurdle. I think we need to be braver. I’ve talked about bravery. What is it? It’s okay to have fear. But the best players in the best teams act in spite of fear. They rise to that occasion. And I think any player coming in who is on cap who is new to the environment blended with a group of players who’ve been in the environment and have known what it takes to win for Canada, that could be a recipe for success.

Priestman also talked about taking this opportunity to assess new players, and the possibility that players who have normally been pushed to the fringes by starters like Buchanan and Lawrence may now get the chance to show her why they deserve to make the Olympic roster. She and Canada Soccer are of course aware that their time with Sinclair is rapidly dwindling as well, and pointed particularly to Rose as someone she’s watched try to step up and fill the goalscoring role. Of her own coaching, she said they would need to be “smart and adaptable” to deal with the high-pressing, high-forced-turnover style that Vlatko Andonovski has been using lately, once again emphasizing the need for the team to be brave.

Bravery is all well and good, but we’ll see if the tactics are there too. Canada has a potentially solid midfield unit that they could build out with Scott and Schmidt as your defensive stop/ballwinners, releasing Fleming and Grosso to distribute up through central and wide channels. The question is can they execute under pressure or are they going to spend all their energy attempting to contain Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, and Catarina Macario?

USA vs Canada
Feburary 18, 7 PM ET / 4 PM PT
Live on FS1 and TUDN