It’s getting down to the short strokes for selecting the Canadian women’s Olympic soccer team.
With just 18 places available, plus four alternates, it’s a particularly tough nut to crack. The Women’s World Cup, in contrast, allows for a 23-player roster.
Coach Bev Priestman has summoned 28 players for friendlies next month against the Czech Republic and Brazil.
The eighth-ranked Canadian women will face the 27th-ranked Czechs on June 11 and No. 7 Brazil on June 14 as part of their preparations for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. Both games will take place at Estadio Cartagonova in Cartagena, Spain.
Priestman expects to name her Olympic roster within 10 days of the June camp’s conclusion. And given her first camp as head coach was in January, she has had limited time to see the talent available.
“That 18-player roster’s definitely keeping me awake at night, not making it easy for me,” said the 35-year-old English native. “Which is a good problem to have, I guess.”
On the plus side, goalkeepers Kailen Sheridan and Sabrina D’Angelo, fullback Bianca St. Georges and forward Adriana Leon have won their injury battle and will be in camp.
But veteran midfielder Diana Matheson, who has been dealing with an avulsion fracture in her toe that was causing considerable nerve pain, remains sidelined.
“It’s still not where it needs to be unfortunately, so it is looking really unlikely for Tokyo for Diana,” Priestman told reporters.
“A great loss for Canada and for this particular tournament,” she added.
With 206 caps to her credit, the 37-year-old Matheson is a big part of the team, although she has been sidelined more often than not of late.
OL Reign midfielder Quinn, who goes by one name, has been summoned despite an Achilles injury. Priestman is not sure whether Quinn will be ready to see action against the Czechs, but is confident Quinn will be ready when needed.
Canada, 3-2-0 this year, is coming off wins over Wales (3-0) and England (2-0) in April.
Restored to health, Sheridan, D’Angelo, St. Georges and Leon are back in the mix. Star defender Kadeisha Buchanan, who has won 101 caps, also returns to the fold after missing the SheBelieves Cup in February and the April friendlies.
Sheridan (thigh), Leon (foot) and St. Georges (knee) were injured at the SheBelieves Cup or the camp that preceded it. D’Angelo is returning from knee surgery.
“It’s great to have the players back,” said Priestman. “Knowing where they’re at in their injury rehab, I think [the] June [camp] will be quite telling and it’s a critical piece for me in helping me decide the roster, because that will happen pretty quickly after the June camp, so I needed to get these players in.”
Priestman will be using the camp to try players out in other positions, knowing she needs versatility with such a small roster.
Players such as Quinn, Ashley Lawrence, Janine Beckie and Sophie Schmidt are among those who have already shown they can be slotted in different positions. Add a tight Olympic schedule to the small roster and there’s no room for passengers.
“You ask yourself as a coach if this player got injured and I had to play against a Tier 1 team, could this player then replace them and would I be comfortable,” Priestman said.
She says there are “shirts up for grabs” across the roster.
“I don’t have like 16 players dead-cert on this sheet. I could say I maybe have two-thirds of the group,” she said.
The Canadian women, bronze medalists at the previous two Olympics, will face No. 11 Japan, Britain (FIFA ranks England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland separately) and No. 37 Chile in Group E at the Olympics.
Canada opens July 21 against host Japan at the Sapporo Dome. Canada will then face Chile on July 24, also at the Sapporo Dome, and Britain on July 27 at Kashima Stadium.
Buchanan, a three-time winner of the Canadian Player of the Year award, was not released by French club Lyon for the SheBelieves Cup because of pandemic-related travel reasons. She missed out in April for undisclosed medical reasons.
Canada has never played the Czech Republic at the international “A” level. The Canadian women are 8-9-7 all-time against the Brazilians, a record that includes a 2-1 Canada win in the bronze medal match at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Canada lost 2-0 to Brazil last time out at the SheBelieves Cup.
Priestman’s camp roster includes 11 players based in Europe, 11 from the NSWL, five from the NCAA ranks and one from Ontario’s development squad.
St. Georges and forward Cloé Lacasse, who plays in Portugal for Benfica, could make their senior debut in the June matches.
Veterans include captain Christine Sinclair (297 caps), midfielders, Schmidt (203 caps) Desiree Scott (160 caps) and goalkeeper Erin McLeod (118 caps). The 37-year-old Sinclair is the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer, among men and women, with 186,
The Olympic soccer tournament runs July 21 to Aug. 7 in Tokyo, Sapporo, Miyagi, Kashima, Saitama and Yokohama. The Canadian women will take part in a preparation camp ahead of the Games.
Goalkeepers: Sabrina D’Angelo, Vittsjo GIK (Sweden); Stephanie Labbé, FC Rosengard (Sweden); Erin McLeod, Orlando Pride (NWSL); Kailen Sheridan, NJ/NY Gotham FC (NWSL)
Centre Backs: Kadeisha Buchanan, Olympique Lyonnais (France); Vanessa Gilles, FC Girondins de Bordeaux (France); Jade Rose, Super REX Ontario; Shelina Zadorsky, Tottenham (England).
Fullbacks: Gabrielle Carle, Florida State University; Allysha Chapman, Houston Dash (NWSL); FB- Ashley Lawrence, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Jayde Riviere, University of Michigan; Bianca St. Georges, Chicago Red Stars (NWSL).
Midfielders: Jessie Fleming, Chelsea (England); Julia Grosso, University of Texas at Austin; Jordyn Listro, Kansas City (NWSL); Quinn, OL Reign (NWSL); Sophie Schmidt, Houston Dash (NWSL); Desiree Scott, Kansas City (NWSL); Sarah Stratigakis, University of Michigan.
Forwards: Janine Beckie, Manchester City (England); Jordyn Huitema, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Cloé Lacasse, Benfica (Portugal); Adriana Leon, West Ham (England); Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash (NWSL); Deanne Rose, University of Florida; Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns (NWSL); Evelyne Viens, NJ/NY Gotham FC (NWSL),