Canada coach Bev Priestman anxiously awaits injury updates as World Cup looms
Already dealing with labour uncertainty surrounding her team, Canada coach Bev Priestman now finds herself anxiously waiting on the health of several players ahead of this summer's World Cup.
Priestman, who is holding an April camp in France ahead of a friendly with the fifth-ranked French, has already lost the influential and versatile Janine Beckie, a veteran of 101 caps who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee earlier this month playing for the Portland Thorns.
"That's a huge loss and it is hard to replace," said Priestman. "I can sit here and say 'Yeah, we've got the answer (as to who can replace Beckie).' We don't, that's the reality. But I think what we do have to do is utilize the best players on the team across the pitch and that's what I'm working through right now. I'll get to have a look at it in France."
Priestman is still waiting on the status of Deanne Rose, Nichelle Prince and Desiree Scott ahead of the July 20 start of 32-team World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Like Beckie, Rose and Prince have served as first-choice wingers for Canada. Priestman also has decisions to make at fullback.
"We have been a little bit injury-plagued, you could say," lamented the coach, who hopes to get Beckie an off-field role with the team at the World Cup.
Prince, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in a loss to Brazil is November, will be "very, very tight" to make it back in time for the tournament, said Priestman.
"I'm going to wait as long as I can. And I've assured Nichelle of the same. She's doing everything she can," the coach added.
Rose is also dealing with an Achilles injury, suffered played for England's Reading in September. Priestman says she too will be a close call, in terms of whether she can recover in time for the World Cup.
Scott, a defensive midfielder who has 186 caps for Canada, picked up an injury at the end of the 2022 season that required surgery. Her return date will be "pretty close" to the World Cup selection.
"At the end of the day, as a coach I've got to prepare with them (and) without those players," Priestman told a virtual availability Wednesday. "My hope and my wish, particularly with the players that we're talking about, is that they're at this World Cup. We need them.
"What I would say is will they be 100 percent? Probably not, some of them. But the question I've got to ask them myself is does the player who's not at 100 percent still (have) bigger things to offer to this team?"
Veteran centre back Shelina Zadorsky is dealing with an illness, with Priestman opting not to call her into camp ahead of the April 11 game with France.
Priestman said several members of her 25-player camp roster have also been going through concussion protocols.
On the plus side, Priestman has been able to call in Jayde Riviere, who is poised to make her debut with Manchester United after an injury layoff.
"I'm over the moon … She's an incredible fullback," said Priestman.
Riviere and fellow Red Devil Adriana Leon join captain Christine Sinclair and fellow stalwarts Sophie Schmidt, Jessie Fleming, Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence, Kailen Sheridan, Allysha Chapman and Quinn, who goes by one name, for the April camp.
Sixth-ranked Canada takes on France in Le Mans at Marie-Marvingt Stadium in the penultimate FIFA window before the World Cup. The Canadians, who will hold their camp outside Le Mans, elected to play just one game in the April window to allow time to assess fitness "to help make some decisions" and also make some lineup adjustments in case the injured players cannot get back in time.
Canada has been drawn in Group B at the World Cup with No. 10 Australia, No. 22 Ireland and No. 42 Nigeria.
Priestman says her goal for the Olympic champion Canadians is to make the podium at the World Cup.
"Now there's some curveballs around all of that as to what's gone on this year (with the labour dispute) and the injuries, but on our day I believe in every ounce of this team that we can go and be successful at this World Cup," she said. "And that will be our aim. We'll give it everything we can.
"Do I think it will it be easy? No ... There's some tough obstacles in our way if you look at our path. But at the end of the day, on our day, I believe this team can beat anybody."
Priestman also said she does not believe it will be possible to stage a home game before the World Cup, with the NWSL not releasing players until June 26. The Canadian squad will then head to Australia where it hopes to hold two closed-door matches ahead of the tournament.
Riviere signed with Manchester United in January but, recovering from injury, did not make the matchday squad until Saturday when she dressed for a 4-0 win over West Ham.
The 22-year-old from Markham, Ont., who has won 36 caps for Canada, announced in September that she had played her last game for the University of Michigan and was taking time to recover from an injury. Riviere last played for Canada in July at the CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico.
Other young talent in camp includes 19-year-old midfielder Simi Awujo (who has five senior caps), 18-year-old forward Amanda Allen (one senior cap) and uncapped defender Sydney Collins, a 23-year-old who was a first-round pick by the North Carolina Courage in the January NWSL draft.
Priestman said this close to the World Cup, anyone invited in camp has a chance to make the tournament roster.
The French women's program has experienced turmoil of its own in recent days.
Coach Corinne Diacre, who led France to the quarterfinals of the 2019 World Cup, was fired March 9 after several players expressed their discontent.
At recent parliament hearings, Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane said the governing body had erred in making budget cuts to the women's program this year and was in talks to ensure Priestman had what she needed to prepare for the World Cup.
Priestman said her resubmitted budget had been approved.
"I hope that means that we're back to what we were before those budget cuts happened," she said. "I've been reassured that. And I think the players will receive the same reassurance on the short-term asks. But I think obviously the players are also pushing for the wider program beyond that, as well as the youth program."
Priestman confirmed that forward Jenna Hellstrom has retired and is looking to get into coaching. The 27-year-old won six caps for Canada.
The Canadian women are 5-7-3 all-time against France and are 1-4-1 since beating the French 1-0 in the bronze medal game at the 2012 London Olympics. The one win over that period came at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
France has won the last two meetings, both by 1-0 scores, in Calais in March 2020 and Rennes in April 2018.
Goalkeepers: Sabrina D’Angelo, Arsenal (England); Lysianne Proulx, SCU Torreense (Portugal); Kailen Sheridan, San Diego Wave (NWSL).
Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Chelsea (England); Gabrielle Carle, Washington Spirit (NWSL); Allysha Chapman, Houston Dash (NWSL); Vanessa Gilles, Olympique Lyonnais (France); Sydney Collins, North Carolina Courage (NWSL); Ashley Lawrence, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Jayde Riviere, Manchester United (England); Jade Rose, Harvard University (NCAA); Bianca St-Georges, Chicago Red Stars (NWSL); Sura Yekka, Le Havre AC (France).
Midfielders: Simi Awujo, USC (NCAA); Jessie Fleming, Chelsea (England); Julia Grosso, Juventus (Italy); Quinn, OL Reign (NWSL); Sophie Schmidt, Houston Dash (NWSL).
Forwards Amanda Allen, NDC-CDN Ontario; Jordyn Huitema, OL Reign (NWSL); Cloe Lacasse, Benfica (Portugal); Clarissa Larisey, BK Hacken FF (Sweden); Adriana Leon, Manchester United (England); Christine Sinclair (capt.), Portland Thorns (NWSL); Evelyne Viens, Kristianstads DFF (Sweden).
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press