MENU debate: Which CanWNT player will be the most important for the new era?

The Canadian women’s team has officially stepped into a new era, with coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller stepping down last week. The search for a new gaffer is, presumably, underway, with the Tokyo Olympics set to kick off about a year from now.

The Canadian squad, however, will be roughly the same to begin this new chapter. With certain legends of the past few years now getting on in age — Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt, and Diana Matheson, among others — the torch will soon be passed to a new, younger core to lead Canada into the next few international tournaments.

Who, though, will be the face of this team once the older generation has gone? Which player will be the keystone around which the new head coach will build their squad?’s John Molinaro, Marty Thompson, and Charlie O’Connor-Clarke put their heads together to discuss.

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O’Connor-Clarke: Jordyn Huitema

Concacaf Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship 7 February 2020 - Carson, CA, USA Canada Soccer by Mexsport Canada qualified for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Celebration (Christine Sinclair and Jordyn Huitema)
Christine Sinclair and Jordyn Huitema (Canada Soccer photo)

Although only 19 years old, Huitema is already one of the most recognizable names on the Canadian women’s team. Since making her senior debut at age 15, she’s earned 32 caps and scored 13 times, despite starting in only 12 of those appearances.

One of the national team’s biggest problems over the past year or so has been scoring, and Huitema could well be the solution there. She demonstrated her offensive ability with five goals in Canada’s lopsided win over Jamaica at the Concacaf Olympic Qualifiers this year, but she hasn’t quite received the opportunity to do the same against more difficult opponents.

Huitema has also begun to break out at a club level recently, having signed for Paris Saint-Germain in 2019. In a professional environment like that, she (along with Canadian teammate Ashley Lawrence) should continue to develop her talents and become a more polished player.

Many of the best teams are built from the defence outward, but having a marquee forward goes a very long way. Huitema has the ability to help solve Canada’s attacking woes once she gets consistent time starting against strong opponents.

THOMPSON: Jessie Fleming

With veteran midfielders Diana Matheson, Desiree Scott, and Sophie Schmidt approaching the end of their careers, it’s easy to see the opportunities grow for Jessie Fleming. That’s not to say Fleming is an underling to those midfielders – it’s just her star is about to shine a lot brighter for Canada.

At 22, Fleming will be Canada’s dominant midfielder for years to come if she continues to develop at her current rate. She famously debuted for the national team at 15, and has already played in three major tournaments. For me, it’s clear Fleming will be the star of this next generation because of her versatility and ability to gobble up minutes (after all, she’s made 77 appearances for Canada before turning 23).

Just as able in defence as going forward, Fleming is the easy choice in any midfield pivot – especially with such incredible stamina and physical acumen. Christine Sinclair saw the writing on the wall a few years ago, saying Fleming is “a world-class player” that “could be the best in the world.”

“She is one of a handful of players on our team where the potential is just limitless,” Sinclair concluded.

MOLINARO: Ashley Lawrence

Ashley Lawrence during a friendly on May 18, 2019. (Photo: Martin Bazyl/Canada Soccer).
Ashley Lawrence during a friendly on May 18, 2019. (Photo: Martin Bazyl/Canada Soccer).

Kenneth Heiner-Møller didn’t mince words when speaking about Ashley Lawrence at the Concacaf Olympic qualifiers earlier this year. “From my point of view, she’s the best fullback in the world, by far,” Heiner-Møller said. Canadian captain Christine Sinclair was just as enthusiastic in her praise of Lawrence, calling her teammate a “world class player.”

Lawrence, a 25-year-old native of Toronto, has established herself as a key player for Canada ever since making her international debut in 2013. She has earned 83 caps for Canada and scored five goals, and she’s one of the first names on the Canadian team sheet.

Voted Canadian player of the year in 2019, Lawrence is a fullback by trade, but she has routinely been deployed in midfield by Heiner-Møller. Her versatility is just one of her many attributes – she’s developed a deft touch on the ball and solid technical skills since signing with Paris Saint-Germain, one of the biggest pro clubs in the women’s game.

A lot has been made about Canada’s need to score more goals and be more clinical in front of the opposition’s net, and that’s a fair point. But to do that, you need a firm foundation in midfield. That’s where Lawrence comes in, as she’s a solid two-way player who uses her athleticism, intelligence and work ethic at both ends of the field to break up attacks and create scoring opportunities for her teammates.