Canada’s first match at the 2023 Women’s World Cup is just four months away, and time is running out before Bev Priestman’s team makes the long trip to Australia and New Zealand in search of another triumph on the international stage.
Over the coming weeks and months, Priestman and her staff will have a handful of friendlies to analyze her player pool and trim her roster down to a final 23 players. The ability and recent form of some players make some selections a no-brainer, but some positions are deeper than others and will require some hard decisions.
Here’s CanPL.ca’s prediction for Canada’s final roster for this summer’s tournament.
This trio, barring any unforeseen circumstances, is almost a lock to go to the World Cup, and has been Bev Priestman’s goalkeeping unit for every squad going back to last summer.
Since Stephanie Labbé retired early last year, Kailen Sheridan has taken her long-awaited opportunity to be the Canada number one, and has established herself as one of the top goalkeepers in the world. Athletic, and sometimes match-saving, stops have become a norm for the San Diego Wave starter, who won the NWSL’s Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2022.
She will be between the sticks for Canada in Australia and New Zealand, and is one of Canada’s most important players.
Pushing Sheridan for minutes will be Arsenal’s Sabrina D’Angelo. She left Canada’s last match, a 3-0 SheBelieves Cup loss to Japan at the end of February, with an injury and hasn’t played since, but has been on the bench for the Gunners, and is apparently good to go when head coach Jonas Eidevall is ready to bring her back into the fold. D’Angelo was pushing Manuela Zinsberger for the starter’s job before she got hurt, and could be the long-term option in goal for Arsenal, which could improve her chances of winning the Canada job from Sheridan as well.
Lysianne Proulx is yet to see the pitch with the senior national team, but the 23-year-old SCU Torreense goalkeeper has been a constant in women’s national team camps since receiving her first call-up last June. Priestman clearly thinks highly of Proulx, selecting her consistently for camps, but it may be wise to get her onto the pitch in one of the friendlies in the lead-up to the tournament — so if she is called upon, she isn’t making her international debut on the biggest stage, with all of the pressures that come along with that.
Canada has historically had good goalkeeping, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon.
Bev Priestman is blessed to have three elite centre-backs at her disposal, with Kadeisha Buchanan, Vanessa Gilles, and Shelina Zadorsky. No matter which duo Priestman selects (Buchanan with Gilles seems to be the preferred option when available) she can be confident that in most cases that Canada’s backline is secure. They won an Olympic gold medal by being defensively sound, and while improving the attack is also being worked on, the centre-backs will be absolutely crucial to whatever success Canada has in Australia and New Zealand.
Ashley Lawrence having the ability to play at a world-class level in either fullback position, in midfield, or in attack is also an asset for Canada, but recently she’s primarily been a fullback with the national team. If Jayde Riviere is fit and firing on all cylinders, she will likely be the starter at right back, and Lawrence would play on the left. Veteran left back Allysha Chapman could also slot in on that left side, moving Lawrence to the right and Riviere to the bench, or Lawrence could start elsewhere on the pitch as mentioned. Lawrence’s versatility is crucial, and her elite control on the ball and ability to make things happen out wide will make her one of Canada’s most important players this summer.
For depth, Canada will likely bring another player with versatility, and that spot could be down to either Jade Rose or Gabrielle Carle. Carle offers another strong fullback option, while Rose has played both centre-back and right-back for Canada of late. Rose gets the nod here as she can play in the middle of the backline, but don’t be shocked if Carle, or even Bianca St-Georges, finds a spot on this team instead.
Simi Awujo, Jessie Fleming, Julia Grosso, Quinn, Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott, Christine Sinclair
Going into her sixth, and likely final, World Cup, Christine Sinclair has been transitioning into a different role with the national team. Once Canada’s striker up top, relied upon to score a significant portion of Canada’s goals, Sinclair has recently been dropped back into midfield. Playing as the number 10, almost as a second striker, Sinclair’s role has changed, but her importance has not. She will still need to be one of the providers of Canada’s goals, either setting them up or scoring them herself.
Quinn, while they haven’t been on the pitch as much as some followers of the national team will have liked, provides a passing range and defensive stability in a team that can sometimes lack both in the heart of the midfield. Priestman has recently opted for a double pivot of Julia Grosso and Jessie Fleming, but both tend to be more attack-minded. Fleming has established herself as one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, while Grosso tied for the tournament lead in goals at last summer’s Concacaf W Championship with her midfield partner.
That will likely be Priestman’s preferred duo going into the Word Cup, with Sinclair in front of them in a midfield triangle. Also expect to see Grosso and one of Awujo/Schmidt/Quinn/Scott at the base of midfield, with Fleming higher up in the number ten role at times when Sinclair isn’t on the pitch.
Simi Awujo has shown flashes of excellence playing both in central midfield and higher up the pitch as a number 10, offering more flexibility for Priestman, likely off the bench. Also expected to rotate in at the base of midfield are veterans Desiree Scott and Sophie Schmidt, who announced recently that she will be retiring from international duty following the World Cup.
Jordyn Huitema, Cloé Lacasse, Clarissa Larisey, Adriana Leon, Deanne Rose, Evelyne Viens
With Christine Sinclair transitioning into the aforementioned midfield role, the starting job up top is up for grabs. There are three main contenders for that job — Jordyn Huitema, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens. They each started one game at the SheBelieves Cup in February — Huitema against the United States, Leon against Brazil and Viens against Japan.
None of them put up a performance to really win the job outright, and teammates getting service into the box for them was an issue across the three matches, so expect that competition to come down the wire, with Bev Priestman trying all of them again in the pre-tournament friendlies. Leon has played out wide quite a bit for Canada in recent months, so her flexibility may mean Huitema or Viens get the nod up top, but Leon is also one of Canada’s most lethal finishers, so playing her up top may be the decision Priestman opts for. The Manchester United forward could also be used as Canada’s first substitute off the bench — while it takes some players some time to build into the match, Leon is often ready and firing from the second she steps onto the pitch.
Two other players who have been mostly used off the bench in their international careers thus far, but have proven to be game-changers, are Cloé Lacasse and Clarissa Larisey. Lacasse scores for fun in Portugal with Benfica, and while that hasn’t necessarily translated to her time with the national team, her hard work on and off the ball and ability to create scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates has been an asset.
Cloe Lacasse makes it TWO for the #CanWNT vs. Argentina!
Lacasse gets her first for the national team with a tap-in finish ✨
Larisey has had the same effect, albeit in a smaller sample size. She’s one of the quickest players on the team, and a fearless runner not afraid to charge at defenders and get in behind the backline. Her ability to make a difference off the bench, like Leon’s, is noticeable and would be a defender’s worst nightmare after 60-70 minutes.
There are a couple of members of Canada’s attacking unit whose appearance at the World Cup will be contingent on how well they recover from major injuries. Deanne Rose, who ruptured her Achilles in Reading’s season-opening match in September, has only recently returned to training in the past week or so, but likely has enough time in the coming months to work her way back to full fitness. When healthy, she too can make a difference out wide, and has experience in producing on the big occasion — she scored Canada’s first goal in the bronze medal match at the 2016 Olympics, and added an assist for Christine Sinclair on the winning goal.
Nichelle Prince also ruptured her Achilles in November, and while Priestman has said she’s hopeful for both players, Prince’s status remains unclear, and she is a few months behind Rose in the recovery process. Prince has been unlucky with injuries during the World Cup before, tearing her meniscus at the 2019 tournament.
If she’s able to go to Australia and New Zealand she likely will, potentially at the expense of Larisey, but whether or not she recovers in time remains to be seen.
The notable omission from this group is Janine Beckie. The Portland Thorns attacker tore her ACL in a preseason match last week, and as a result will miss the World Cup and the entire 2023 season — a major blow for both teams, and a heartbreaking injury, as Beckie said in a statement following the announcement.
On the bubble
As mentioned above, there will be several battles for spots on the roster, some of which will likely come right down to the wire. Many national team head coaches pushed FIFA to give them 26-player rosters instead of 23, like the men’s World Cup had in December, but their request was denied. That leaves Bev Priestman with some tough decisions to make as she whittles down her deep pool of players.
Gabrielle Carle has been on the fringes of the national team for a couple of major tournaments before. While she went to the 2019 Women’s World Cup, she was an alternate for the Rio 2016 Olympics. She was also an alternate for the Tokyo 2020 Games, but ended up making the roster after they were expanded in the lead-up to the tournament. She could be one of the players battling for the final spots again this summer, as she’s a reliable option, but likely wouldn’t be a starter for Priestman’s team.
Also competing for a spot with Carle will be Chicago Red Stars right-back Bianca St-Georges. Like Carle, she is a solid option, but not first choice, and probably not even second choice at the position. Canada’s depth is strong in defence, but unfortunately for St-Georges, Priestman has some tough decisions to make to shed the squad down to 23 players, and she might be one of the players to miss out.
Young defender Zoe Burns has also been a bright prospect for Canada, impressing at the youth level before making her senior international debut last year. She has been involved in several national team camps of late, last called up for a pair of friendlies in October, but like the others listed here, might miss out as a result of her position down the depth chart. She’s one to watch for the future, however, with the 2027 World Cup a more likely target as the national team’s current older generation starts to get transitioned out over the next year or two.
As mentioned, if Nichelle Prince recovers from her injury in time to go to the World Cup, she likely will be going. Priestman has remained optimistic that she might have recovered in time from a ruptured Achilles in November, but with the NWSL season starting soon, Prince will need to recover and get back onto the pitch sooner rather than later.