Some early analysis from the latest CanWNT/CanXNT roster drop ahead of the Arnold Clark Cup
The CanWNT/CanXNT released their first squad of 2022 on Monday, as they slowly get set for the Clark Arnold Cup later this month. Here's some early analysis from that reveal.
After a 2021 to remember, they’re hoping to keep the good times rolling in 2022.
And for the CanWNT/CanXNT, they get a chance to do so with a bang here, as they get set to tackle the Arnold Clark Cup in just under 10 days now, kicking off what is supposed to be a busy 2022 calendar for them.
Coming off of a year where they shocked onlookers en route to a massive gold medal at the Summer Olympics, expectations are high in the program now heading into 2022, and rightfully so, leaving many to wonder what the next step is for them.
And that, of course, would be a World Cup, the next of which comes in Australia/New Zealand in 2023, and as the defending gold medallists, Canada is now expected to do some damage Down Under.
But to get there now, they must build off of what they started at the Olympics in Tokyo. There, despite being less than a year into the tenure of new head coach, Bev Priestman, they managed to grind their way towards becoming champions, showing incredible resolve in tough moments.
With Priestman having had a full year of being Canada’s head coach under her belt now, though, you can only wonder what she’ll have up her sleeve for act II, so in a sense, it feels like the canvas is still quite empty for this team, leaving them plenty of room to paint all over it.
Despite having accomplished what they have in such a short time, it still feels like the project that Canada is trying to build is still far from fully getting off the ground, which is exciting, especially considering where they’re at already in their journey.
So now, they will continue to progress in that plan with their latest challenge, and it might just be their stiffest one yet - the Arnold Clark Cup. It might not be the grind that the Olympics was, where Canada played some really good opponents en route to what was a 2-week, 6-game grind towards a gold medal, but make no mistake, it’s a very strong challenge in its own way.
Across 3 games, this friendly invitational tournament will see 6th-ranked Canada take on 3rd-ranked Germany, 8th-ranked England and 9th-ranked Spain over a span of 6 days, which should make for some must-watch TV.
Because of that, it’s going to be very interesting to see how Canada tackles this mountain that lies ahead of them. It won’t be easy, and they know that, but backed by the belief that they showed at the Olympics, they’ll fancy themselves against anyone.
With their 25-player squad now announced, filled by a group of hungry players eager to step out there and represent their country once again, all that’s left now is for the games to begin on January 17th.
Ahead of then, however, here is a look at what stood out from Canada’s squad announcement and subsequent press conference, as they kicked off the final sprint towards this tournament on a high note to kick off this week.
Player pool continues to grow:
And to start, there’s no better place to begin than with the squad, which as mentioned, is 25 players deep.
They’re missing some key players from that, including Christine Sinclair, who is missing this tournament for personal reasons after the passing of her mother, and Adriana Leon, who is recovering from an injury, but even despite those absences, this is a strong pool of talent.
Canada Soccer's Women's National Team @CANWNT#CANWNT squad: Christine Sinclair will miss the tournament after her mother Sandi passed away after a 40-year battle with Multiple Sclerosis.
From in goal, where Canada has called in 4 players to fight for minutes after the retirement of Stephanie Labbe, to up front, where the competition is as fierce as ever even with no Sinclair or Leon, and everything else in between, this Canadian squad has a strong mix of talent and depth.
And that’s not a surprise, either.
At the Olympics, it was their depth that shone through in the biggest moments, as Canada wasn’t just a team that relied on their stars, but also on unheralded contributors, too, especially those coming off the bench, and that spirit isn’t going away anytime soon.
Even without Sinclair or Leon, as well as a handful of other players who could’ve gotten a nod for this camp, but didn’t, it’s still a very deep and talented squad, as there were plenty of capable replacements for those who weren’t able to make it.
So although it’ll be unfortunate to see Canada without some of the names that have become ingrained in the Canadian fabric over the years, that just means a chance for some of the depth pieces from last year's squad, as well as some newcomers who are yet to get in the fold, to step up.
As Bev Priestman noted in her media availability on Monday, every game that Canada plays from now on will be focused on the 2023 World Cup, so every person who gets to see the field will be doing so with that in mind.
“I think the team needed in 2023, might be different to the team that was needed in 2021,” Priestman said. “And I think that’s the exciting part now, where every player coming into camp is fighting for a spot for both the qualification and the World Cup.”
And speaking of some newcomers, Canada has called upon an intriguing group of new faces to round out the roster in this camp.
Canada Soccer's Women's National Team @CANWNTCanada announces squad for the 2022 Arnold Clark Cup #CANWNT 🍁 https://t.co/p3Zr8xUEqE https://t.co/k3cA214ppi
Beyond someone like Sura Yekka, who is back in the squad after only returning to the Canadian fold for the first time in half-decade back in November, Priestman also called in 3 newcomers that are yet to earn any senior caps for Canada in Devon Kerr, Marie-Yasmine Alidou D’Anjou and Tanya Boychuk.
By doing that, rounding out her team’s depth in goal (Kerr), midfield (Alidou D’Anjou) and at forward (Boychuk), Priestman is kickstarting that competition with a bang, too, knowing that the new faces will come in hungry and eager to impress.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the depth of Canadian players finding themselves at a high level right now, showing how much this team has been growing as of late.
So while Kerr, Alidou D’Anjou and Boychuk might’ve gotten the call this time, there are a lot of Canadians plying their trade in North America and Europe right now who are also primed for an opportunity, and Priestman noted that it’s only going to make her team selection tougher from now on.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on a whole load of Canadian players playing in Europe and around the world, we’re continually assessing them and the faces you’re seeing are (the result) of that assessment, and there’s more on the radar.”
Otherwise, it’s worth noting that there was just one other thing that had an impact on this squad selection - the upcoming U20 CONCACAF Championships at the end of this month, which serve as qualifiers for the U20 World Cup
For Canada, who last participated in the U20 World Cup back in 2016, making it back is a priority for them right now, so they’re ensuring that they’re able to send as strong of a team as possible to the Dominican Republic for qualifiers.
That doesn’t rob Canada of too many players that might’ve played significant minutes in this camp, which is nice, but that still means that it removed the likes of Jade Rose and Nikayla Small from getting a chance to make it into this squad, which limited Priestman’s options slightly.
Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic @AlexGangueRuzic#CanWNT/#CanXNT HC, Bev Priestman, admits the upcoming U20 WC qualifiers had an impact on squad selection: "It's a tough balance, because there's a group of players in the U20s competing to qualify to the World Cup, so I've opted to leave those players"
So while it would’ve been nice to see the likes of Small or Rose (among others) get a chance to continue to gel with this squad, as they’ll be key parts of the program long-term, it just didn’t make sense to do so now, as they pivot their attention towards helping the U20s contend for glory.
“It was a really difficult balance,” Priestman explained. “Because there’s also a group of players in the U20s who are competing to qualify for a World Cup, so I’ve opted to leave those players.”
Canada looks on during a celebration tour match in Montreal back in October (Claude-André Fortin/Canada Soccer)
A stiff test:
But returning to those that will be in Canada’s squad for this camp, what sort of challenge should they expect in this camp?
It’s a question many will be wondering, no doubt, but the answer is simple - one of their toughest yet.
Obviously, as seen by the FIFA Rankings, Canada is going to be playing three strong tier 1 teams, but even beyond those numbers, there’s no doubt that these are 3 teams in a really good spot right now.
England has been cruising through World Cup qualifiers, while Germany has been in a similar run of form, and Spain is currently one of the hottest teams in the world, backed by some groundbreaking movement at the domestic club level.
So while only 1 of them, England, were able to qualify for the past Olympics (where they competed under the Great Britain flag), don’t be fooled by that, as the European qualification for that tournament is notoriously difficult, only using the top 3 European teams from the last World Cup as the bar.
Therefore, the fact that neither Germany or Spain were at the Olympics isn’t a sign of where they’re at right now, and instead more of a reflection of where they were at almost 2.5 years ago.
Because of that, when Canada got the chance to compete in a tournament with those three teams, especially considering where they’re at in the world soccer scene right now, there was almost no hesitation. They understand that they could be in tough over the three games, but these are the sorts of teams they’ll have to beat if they’re to achieve their next goal, which is to win the World Cup, so this is a good opportunity to test themselves against that calibre of opposition.
“Yeah, look, if you really want to put yourself out there, you went to this tournament,” Priestman said bluntly. “I think that’s the reality of it. We want to be competing with the best continuously.”
“The safe thing would be to play some weaker opposition, but we want to keep moving forward, to be honest, this camp and beyond is the start of a new journey, so the messaging is that we’ve climbed one mountain, and we’re going to have to climb a completely different mountain in the qualifiers and the World Cup.”
Plus, it’s worth noting that this is a good chance for Canada to get up to speed against European opposition. Usually, they might not play too many European teams, but with the next World Cup holding a minimum of 11 UEFA teams, Canada is certainly going to have to go through a few of them if they’re to make a run in that competition, especially when you remember that 7 of the 8 quarter-finalists at the 2019 edition came from Europe.
Also, Canada has historically struggled against European opposition, too, so although they’ve turned it around under Priestman, who is yet to lose to a European side (after a winless run of 5 games before she was hired), this is also a good chance to continue their quest to try and continue their battle to change that, as she also made sure to admit in her availability.
“We have to get the experience of playing European teams,” Priestman admitted. “Because historically, it’s been a bit of a sticking point for us in big moments, so it’s a great opportunity on our new journey to be tested.”
Because of all that, it just made too much sense for Canada to commit to this. Even if they could’ve maybe played closer to home with She Believes Cup, or resumed their gold medal Celebration Tour in Canada, they knew that they wanted to test themselves against opponents of this calibre, and now, they’ll get that chance to do so.
“Do I think we’ll turn up and absolutely blow this tournament out of the water? Absolutely not,” Priestman said. “Because you’ve got three unbelievable teams, and you’ve got a team coming in with some players out of season, but what you’ve got is a team that will give everything to try and win this tournament at the same time.”
Arnold Clark Cup @ArnoldClarkCup🌎 Wondering where in the world you can watch the #ArnoldClarkCup? 🌎 Several new broadcast partners will see the tournament reach more than 100 million households across the globe this February. Read more ⬇️
An evolving identity:
But for all of the talk of what to expect from Canada’s opponents in this tournament, it’s worth noting that no one knows what to expect from Canada, either, as they’ve got an aura of mystery around them right now.
Of course, everyone saw how they made a run at the Olympics, which was off the back of some incredible defending, lots of hard work off the ball and some timely finishing, but that’s not how Canada wants to play long-term.
Because of that, there was actually a German journalist who asked Priestman at the availability to describe Canada’s identity, saying that many in Germany aren’t sure what to expect from these Canadians.
And after she had a second to think, Priestman had no hesitation in explaining where she believes that this team can evolve from what they showed at the Olympics, outlining the areas where she wants her team to be better at.
“We’ll work harder than anyone we play, and we’re very front footed,” Priestman explained. “But where I think we need to move to is also being a big threat at the other end, so we can be world-class in our own box, which we are, but also move towards being much better in the opposition’s box, too.”
So seeing that, the formula is clear - keep defending at an elite level, but start to translate that to the other end of the pitch, too.
From more chance creation, to better finishing, Canada wants to be a team that can put the team to the sword in both boxes, especially the opponents.
And speaking of that, one area that they want to really focus on for that is off of set pieces, which was an area they really struggled on in 2021.
Because of that, when they brought in some new coaches this offseason, one specific area that they made sure to target was set pieces, which is where Jen Hurst comes in. Hired as a goalkeeper coach and set-piece specialist, the former Wales goalkeeper coach is also known for her work on set plays, and should help Canada become better in that area.
And that’s an intriguing move for Canada. With noted set-piece weapons on their team such as Kadeisha Buchanan, Vanessa Gilles and Shelina Zadorksy, it feels like they’ve got a lot of untapped potential from dead balls, and this move obviously confirms that.
So having last scored from a set-piece on the 21st of February last year against Argentina, when Sarah Stratigakis bundled home their lone goal via that route all year (not including penalties, of course), Canada will hope to be a lot more profitable from those kinds of situations going forward now.
“Jen Hurst is a set play specialist, which is something I think we can improve on,” Priestman said of the newest member of her staff.
A return home on the horizon:
But once through this tournament, what’s going to be next for Canada? With World Cup qualifiers slated to begin in the summer, it’s a good question, too, as that leaves Canada with 2-match windows in both April and June to prepare for that tournament.
And the good news is, after playing just 2 games in Canada since May of 2019, it looks like Les Rouges will add to that tally in April, as Priestman confirmed that her side is close to finalizing a friendly game (or two) at home for that window.
“Yeah, we’re planning for a home game in Canada in April,” Priestman admitted. “We’re just finalizing the details of that. But yeah, we obviously want to bring the team home and give our fans, young girls and young boys who want to see the team on home ground the chance to see them in April.”
So now, the speculation for the venue(s?) will begin in earnest. Having played in Ottawa and Montreal as part of the first leg of the celebration tour, it’s unlikely they head to either of those locales, but that still leaves a lot of cities in contention for this game.
Could it be Toronto? Winnipeg? Edmonton? Certainly, you’d have to imagine they’d all be in contention for this game.
But while they’re all solid options, one city quickly emerges as a favourite to host, and that’s Vancouver, who was supposed to get a game in November before an opponent pulled out because of COVID.
Known as a key hub for the National Team, they haven’t hosted a CanWNT/CanXNT game since 2017, so they’re overdue for this sort of game, as well.
Because of that, it’s going to be hard to imagine this game being anywhere other than there, especially after Priestman dropped a cheeky comment when asked if her team might visit Vancouver in 2 months.
“I can’t confirm, but that’s sort of my hometown, so I’d love for it to be there,” Priestman said with a smile. “We’re working on plans at the minute to have it all finalized.”
Canada’s squad looks on during their last home game in Canada, back in October in Montreal (Claude-André Fortin/Canada Soccer)
But long before they can even dream of returning to Canada, they’ve still got the Arnold Clark Cup to focus on, as it’s coming up quickly here.
And with their squad now out, all that’s left is for camp to kick off next week, paving the way for the games to begin not long after.
So now, it’ll be interesting to see how they do at this tournament. As they showed last year, they can compete with anyone on their day, but with the difficulty of the competition here, and their promised tactical changes, it’s hard to imagine that the games will look like what they did in 2021.
And that’s exciting. This Canadian team is on a good path, and this tournament is another great chance to prove that, so there is no reason why they can’t come out and prove that with three strong performances.
So even if they don’t leave home with any silverware, this is a great chance to give a taste of what’s to come in 2022, as they look to build off of what they showed in 2021, one that will forever live on in the memories of Canadians, and for good reason.
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