The fight for places on the Canadian women’s World Cup team is going to go down to the wire in some cases.
Canada coach Bev Priestman has chosen 25 players for a camp in Australia before next month’s tournament, including several players who have been racing to get fit.
The camp starts June 28 on the Gold Coast, with the sixth-ranked Canadians playing a final tune-up game against No. 4 England on July 14 behind closed doors.
The two teams could meet again in the round of 16 at the tournament.
Priestman will announce her final 23-player roster on July 9, one day before the FIFA deadline. Canada opens Group B play July 21 against No. 42 Nigeria in Melbourne before facing No. 22 Ireland on July 26 in Perth and No. 10 Australia on July 31 back in Melbourne.
“Listen, at this point if I could name 23, I definitely would have,” Priestman told a virtual media availability Thursday, saying the “more clutter” that can be shed before getting on the plane, the better.
But there are question-marks over midfielder Desiree Scott and forward Nichelle Prince, both of whom have been invited to camp. Prince has been recovering from an Achilles injury, while Scott picked up an injury at the end of the 2022 season that required surgery.
Priestman says the two “are the tightest to the timelines that we’re talking about here.” Scott, a hard-nosed defensive midfielder, has won 186 caps for Canada while Prince, a speedy attacker, has 90.
There is better news on forward Deanne Rose, who saw brief action recently with England’s Reading after a lengthy absence due to an Achilles injury.
“Fingers crossed, touch wood, that Deanne should and could and is able to push through,” said Priestman.
Midfielder Quinn, who goes by one name, is also back from a leg issue while veteran centre back Shelina Zadorsky has recovered from illness that kept her out of the last camp.
Priestman said barring injuries or positional needs, her roster will come from those at the camp. There is a standby list of players, if needed.
She has already had tough conversations with Gabby Carle and Bianca St-Georges, both of whom didn’t make the camp roster. The 24-year-old Carle, who was part of the Canadian gold-medal team at the Tokyo Olympics, has won 24 caps.
Priestman said Jade Rose’s versatility, plus the return of Zadorsky and Kadeisha Buchanan, played a big part in her decision.
Midfielder Marie-Yasmine Alidou-D’Anjou, who has one cap, is part of the pretournament camp.
“I just see huge potential in what [she] can bring. She’s athletic, she’s technical,” said Priestman. “You could say she has a little bit of Desiree Scott in her.”
The pretournament roster contains a wealth of experience, led by Christine Sinclair. The team’s talismanic captain, who turns 40 on Monday, is preparing for her sixth World Cup.
The world’s leading international goal-scorer with 190, Sinclair has made 323 appearances for Canada.
Other veterans include Buchanan (131 caps), Allysha Chapman (96), Jessie Fleming (115), Ashley Lawrence (117), Adriana Leon (96) and Sophie Schmidt (221).
Priestman hopes to use the camp to develop on-field relationships, something that has been hard to do recently because of the rash of injuries. She acknowledged that she has not been able to field a consistent 11 ahead of the tournament.
“Ultimately what I do know is the 23 players, whoever they are, can go on and do great things for this team and will give it our best shot,” she said. “But I think part of this preparation camp is going to be about partnerships and flow that we’ve lacked because we’ve wanted to see players and [we’ve] had injuries. We need to get that flow.”
Priestman also has to meld a squad with players in different parts of their season. Some European-based players are out of season while those in North America are still playing regularly.
The Canadian women last played April 11, when they lost 2-1 to No. 5 France in Le Mans.
Janine Beckie will miss the World Cup after undergoing knee surgery. The influential and versatile forward, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in March in a Portland Thorns preseason game, has 36 goals in 101 appearances for Canada.
The pretournament roster, which includes eight players yet to take part in a World Cup, has an average age of 27.
Priestman says mental health will be a priority at the World Cup, given the stress of the tournament and how long the team could be away from home. The staff includes mental-performance coach Mariah Bullock, a sport psychologist and former Stanford soccer player.
The pressure won’t end with the tournament. Canada is scheduled to play a home-and-away Olympic qualifier with Jamaica in September.
Forwards Clarissa Larisey and Evelyne Viens are both included on the camp roster although Canada Soccer says they won’t be released by their Swedish clubs until the July 10 start of the official FIFA international window.
Priestman said that means she will have to choose her final roster before the two can join the team.
“Essentially whether they get on the plane or not will depend on the selection on that date,” she said.
Priestman welcomed news that FIFA, delivering on a promise made in March, is increasing the payout to participants. More than half of FIFA’s total prize-money fund of US$110-million will go to the players.
Every player at the tournament will be paid at least US$30,000 by FIFA, with those on the champion team each getting US$270,000.
“I think it’s outstanding. I think it’s exactly what these players deserve,” said Priestman. “For some players this can be life-changing. When you work your whole career to get to a World Cup and then you go and do really well at it, I think you should be rewarded for it.”
Priestman’s team is also getting a helping hand from GE Appliances Canada, a Canada Soccer sponsor that has finalized an agreement to provide $100,000 to help the team’s World Cup preparations.
The World Cup features 32 countries playing 64 matches across nine host cities in Australia and New Zealand.