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CANADA SOCCER: Women's team prepares for big year, Herdman staying on board with men

Toronto Sun logo Toronto Sun 2023-02-01 Derek Van Diest
Canada's Julia Grosso, left, celebrates scoring her second goal with Jordyn Huitema against Trinidad and Tobago at the Concacaf W Championship at the BBVA Stadium in Monterrey, Mexico, on July 5, 2022. © Provided by Toronto Sun Canada's Julia Grosso, left, celebrates scoring her second goal with Jordyn Huitema against Trinidad and Tobago at the Concacaf W Championship at the BBVA Stadium in Monterrey, Mexico, on July 5, 2022.

It’s going to be a big year for the Canadian women’s national soccer team.

The defending Olympic gold-medal champions are confident heading towards the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this summer, and the journey begins in two weeks when they take the field at the SheBelieves Cup in the United States.

In order to prepare for the tournament, Canada head coach Bev Priestman is holding a pre-tournament camp, giving North-American based players, who are currently out of season, an opportunity to shake off the rust.

“It’s a massive year,” Priestman said Wednesday. “I think even watching the men’s World Cup — the following and all the support that was given to that team — I’m super excited. It got me energized and ready to go again for this year.

“It’ll be the biggest and best Women’s World Cup there has ever been, I got that from being at the World Cup draw. They’ve moved games to bigger stadiums and we are playing the home nation, which is going to be an incredible match and there will probably be a lot on the line in that third game.”

The 2023 Women’s World Cup takes place July 20-Aug. 20 and is being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Canada was drawn into Group B of the tournament with the Republic of Ireland, Nigeria and Australia.

The tournament has been expanded from 24 teams to 32 and Canada is looking to improve on a second-round exit to Sweden four years ago in France.

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“It’s super exciting and I know the group will be motivated and ready to come in,” Priestman said. “I know in the back end of last year, it was the first time in my time here, that you saw a little bit more burnout. We had back-to-back-to-back summer tournament and you had congested calendars with Champions League and more injuries than before in the women’s game and more burnout.

“So, I think everybody needed that refresh period to be ready to come in and tackle this big year. I just can’t wait to come in and kick-off that tournament, but we still have some growth to do between now and then. We made massive strides last year and climbed some big parts of the mountain, but we now need to pick that up and keep climbing.”

Canada opens its 2023 international schedule against the United States at the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 16. It will play Brazil three days later in Nashville, Tenn., before concluding the tournament against Japan in Frisco, Tex., on Feb. 22.

Priestman invited 18 players to the pre-tournament camp and will name 23 players for the four-team event.

“It’s been a challenging time, even just trying to finalize this roster with players being released from their NWSL clubs and juggling different things,” Priestman said. “Essentially, the group that’s coming together are those that we believe could make the SheBelieves final roster and any player that didn’t have game on that weekend, going into the FIFA (international) window, hence why there are a couple of European players.

“This will be a balancing act of assessment and getting players ready who can afford that time away, either with them not having fixtures (games) or them not being in season.”

The SheBelieves Cup should give Priestman a solid base in terms of what players will be available this summer for the World Cup.

As is the case with most Canadian women’s team lists, it starts with Christine Sinclair, the all-time leading international goal scorer, and features a core of players who won gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

Following the SheBelieves Cup, Canada will have two more international windows before the World Cup.

“We want to climb the biggest mountain on the planet (World Cup champions), it’s a mountain we’ve never climbed,” Priestman said. “There is going to be pressure because we are Olympic champions, but absolutely, I think this team can push for a podium finish at this World Cup.”

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A story out of New Zealand published late Tuesday night, suggested Canadian men’s national team head coach John Herdman was on his way to coach its national team.

According to Andrew Gourdie of the New Zealand NewsHub, Herdman had agreed to terms to coach the men’s national team in New Zealand, nicknamed the All Whites.

Herdman and Canada Soccer were quick to react to the news, putting out a statement he was staying with the Canadian men on Wednesday afternoon.

“Success at this level will always invite opportunity. I’ve received several offers in recent months, all of which I have turned down, including an offer from New Zealand Football. To our Canadian players and our fans, I want to reiterate my commitment to Canada Soccer and the growing of this program. At the World Cup in Qatar, our men showed the world that they belong at that level. I’m not going anywhere. We still have a job to do, and the objective is to take this team to the next level in 2026,” Herdman said in his statement.

Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane added:

“John is under contract with the Men’s National Team through the FIFA 2026 World Cup co-hosted by Canada, USA and Mexico. There is no doubt how much passion and commitment John and his coaching staff have poured into our Men’s National Team program, taking our men from outsiders to our first World Cup in 36 years. Everyone in our organisation is committed to John and his coaching staff and he is the right person to take our country to new heights.”

Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis also weighed in on the story.

“The Canada Soccer Board of Directors has full confidence in John Herdman,” Bontis said. “John presented the Men’s National Team plan for 2023 at our Board meeting this past weekend and it was received favourably by the Directors. He also described longer-term plans for 2024 and 2025 for which we were all supportive. We all look forward to having John be our Men’s National Team Head Coach throughout the term of his contract.”


On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest


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