The Canadian women’s team is gearing up for an incredibly important summer.
Next month’s Concacaf Championship W in Mexico serves as a 2023 FIFA World Cup qualifier with four berths up for grabs. Canada will compete in a group alongside Trinidad & Tobago, Panama and Costa Rica, and must finish in the top two to advance to the semifinals and earn their ticket to the World Cup.
The Concacaf W champion also automatically qualifies for the 2024 Paris Olympics, with the second- and third-place teams meeting in September for the region’s second Olympic berth.
Before that, however, the Canadians will play an international friendly against South Korea at Toronto’s BMO Field, their only warm-up game before Concacaf competition.
Here are four Canadian players to watch in Sunday’s game against the South Koreans.
There are five active players on the women’s team who have at least 100 caps to their name: captain Christine Sinclair (310), midfielders Sophie Schmidt (212) and Desiree Scott (175), plus defenders Kadeisha Buchanan (118). and Ashley Lawrence (105). Midfielder Jessie Fleming is expected to officially join that elite group when she makes her 100th appearance for Canada on Sunday.
Fleming, a 24-year-old from London, Ontario, has just finished a spectacular campaign at Chelsea in which she won her second English league championship and the FA Cup in just her second season as a professional.
Her excellent form at the club level did not escape the attention of Canadian women’s team coach Bev Priestman earlier this year. When Sinclair was unavailable for February’s Alan Clark Cup, a four-nation tournament held in England, Priestman turned to Fleming to serve as Canada’s captain in their first match against the host nation.
“I’ve seen the hunger and the desire, and she’s bounced back in the last year,” Priestman said.
This current Canadian team is without veteran goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé for the first time since 2008, following her retirement in April. Also absent is goalkeeper Erin McLeod (120 caps). With Labbé out of the picture, Kailen Sheridan has taken over the starting spot at the Canadian network.
“It’s pretty well documented that Kailen has been listed as No. 1, she’s had an amazing season and so has Sabrina. [D’Angelo]Priestman stated.
“I think going into this tournament, No. 1 would sit with Kailen, but at the same time, every player has to earn the right to start. I don’t want to close the door on anyone pushing Kailen, but Kailen has had an amazing season and has been very consistent in our environment.”
Indeed, Sheridan, a 26-year-old from Pickering, Ontario, is enjoying an outstanding NWSL campaign with the San Diego Wave, posting four shutouts as the expansion club sits in first place after 10 games.
Christine Sinclair has sat out the Portland Thorns’ last two NWSL games after sustaining a lower leg injury. But there was no question that Canada’s iconic captain would be included in Priestman’s 28-man roster for this game against South Korea.
Sinclair, 39, of Burnaby, BC, is the all-time leading scorer in international soccer (men’s and women’s) with 189 goals for Canada since making her debut as a 16-year-old in 2000. She scored in her previous appearance with Canada during the April international window, in which he made a rare cameo as a substitute off the bench.
“For me, if you look at the last international window, that window told everyone that this team needs Christine Sinclair,” Priestman said. “She comes as a [substitute]it was the first time as [substitute] for me, and you wonder how she will react to that role. She took three minutes and she goes and scores.”
What a year it has been for midfielder Julia Grosso. The 21-year-old Vancouver native scored the winner in Canada’s penalty shootout over Sweden in the gold medal match at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
After that, Grosso turned professional when he signed a short-term deal with Juventus last December and went on to help the Turin-based club win an Italian league championship and an Italian Cup. He also made his UEFA Champions League debut as Juventus reached the quarter-finals before falling to eventual champions Olympique Lyon.
Juventus was so impressed with Grosso that they have since signed Grosso to an extension, binding her to the club until 2024. It’s an incredible story of a player who a year ago was still playing NCAA soccer, and was once described by Christine Sinclair as someone who “can do whatever he wants in this game, he’s got that talent” while still at the University of Texas.
John Molinaro is one of Canada’s leading soccer journalists, covering the game for over 20 years for various media outlets including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to detailed coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.