After being held to six goals in six games this year, the Canadian women's soccer team is looking to kick its offence into higher gear at the CONCACAF W Championship.
And there's plenty on the line as Canada, the defending Olympic champion currently ranked sixth in the world, open Tuesday night against No. 76 Trinidad and Tobago in Monterrrey, Mexico.
The eight-team tournament, which runs through July 18, serves as the qualifier in North and Central America and the Caribbean for both the 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Previously World Cup and Olympic qualifying were separate in the region.
The Canadian women are coming off a disappointing 0-0 draw with No. 18 South Korea on June 26 in Toronto. In February, Canada managed just three goals against elite opposition at the Arnold Clark Cup in England where Priestman's team tied No. 8 England 1-1, beat No. 5 Germany 1-0 and lost 1-0 to No. 7 Spain.
There was more firepower on display in April with a total of four goals in a win and tie with No. 39 Nigeria.
Canada relied on a stingy defence en route to Olympic gold last summer in Tokyo, outscoring the opposition 6-4 across six games with two of them finishing in penalty shootouts.
In the 10 games since the Olympics, Canada has scored more than one goal just three times while posting a 4-4-2 record.
"I know when it really matters this group can rise to anything," said Canada coach Bev Priestman.
"If we just do us better than any other team does them, I'm really comfortable that this team, on their day with the right mindset, the right approach, can go and do exactly what the talent in the group represents," she added. "And I think I've seen that over the last three days now. We feel ready. We can't wait for that ball to roll … The goals will come, I've got no doubt about it, with the right people on the pitch and the right partnerships."
Canada and Trinidad are playing in Pool B, along with No. 37 Costa Rica and No. 57 Panama. Group A is made up of the top-ranked U.S., No. 26 Mexico, No. 51 Jamaica and No. 60 Haiti.
The top two teams from each of the two groups move on to the semifinals, qualifying directly for the 2023 World Cup. The two third-place teams move on to a World Cup intercontinental playoff.
The CONCACAF W champion qualifies for both the 2024 Olympics and the inaugural CONCACAF W Gold Cup, also slated for 2024. The runner-up and third-place team will meet in a CONCACAF Olympic playoff, scheduled for September 2023, with the winner booking its ticket to 2024 Olympics and Gold Cup.
Priestman said 39-year-old captain Christine Sinclair, who did not play against South Korea, will be ready when needed
"It will just be a case of, over the course of the group stage, having Christine ready for when it really matters. I think that's the important part," she said.
"I'm pleased to say that people will see Christine in this first game," she added.
The Canadian women have won all eight meetings with Trinidad and Tobago, outscoring the Soca Warriors 34-0.
Canada won 6-0 the last time they met, at the 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship in Houston. That game saw Sinclair score her 159th international goal, moving her past Mia Hamm into second place on the world's all-time scoring list.
Trinidad coach Kenwyne Jones is expecting a tough challenge from the Canadians.
"It's no secret what their talents are and how good they are. But at the same time in order, to get to the goal that we want to get to, these are the teams that were going to have to play," said the former Trinidad international striker.
"For any team, for any player, these sort of challenges are one to relish," he added. "It's how you get to test yourselves … and to see how good you can stand the test and what you might need to do to get better. Football is won on the day, on the field. And anything can happen."
Trinidad won its way into the W Championship, topping qualifying Group F with a 3-0-1 record with fullback Liana Hinds (Hibernian, Scotland) and midfielders Karyn Forbes (Police FC, Trinidad), Chelcy Ralph (Ball State University) and Asha James (West Texas A&M University) leading the way.
It's a young team with 16 of the 23 players born in 1998 or later.
"The team itself needed to be refreshed. It needed to add new blood and continue to add new blood going forward," said Jones, who took over the squad last November after a short period as interim coach.
The 37-year-old Jones' club career included stints with England's Southampton, Sunderland, Stoke City and Major League Soccer's Atlanta United.
Canada has won the CONCACAF championship twice (1998 and 2010) and was runner-up five times (1991, 1994, 2002, 2006 and 2018). It has taken part in 10 CONCACAF tournaments, skipping the 2014 event since it was host of the 2015 World Cup. Canada's career record at the CONCACAF competition is 29-9-1.
Ten of Sinclair's world-record 189 international goals have come at the CONCACAF championship.
Trinidad and Tobago is the only team to have participated every CONCACAF W Championship. Its best finish was a third in 1991 with fourth-place performances in 1993, 1994 and 2014. Its career record at the tournament is 7-21-5.
Goalkeeper: Sabrina D'Angelo, Vittsjo GIK (Sweden); Lysianne Proulx, unattached; Kailen Sheridan, San Diego Wave (NWSL).
Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Chelsea (England); Allysha Chapman, Houston Dash (NWSL); Vanessa Gilles, Angel City FC (NWSL); Ashley Lawrence, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Jayde Riviere, AFC Ann Arbour (USL W League); Bianca St-Georges, Chicago Red Stars (NWSL); Shelina Zadorsky, Tottenham (England); Zoe Burns, University of Southern California (NCAA).
Midfielders: Jessie Fleming, Chelsea (England); Julia Grosso, Juventus (Italy); Quinn, OL Reign (NWSL); Sophie Schmidt, Houston Dash (NWSL); Desiree Scott, Kansas City Current (NWSL).
Forwards: Janine Beckie, Portland Thorns (NWSL); Jordyn Huitema, OL Reign (NWSL); Cloe Lacasse, Benfica (Portugal); Adriana Leon, West Ham (England); Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash (NWSL); Deanne Rose, Reading (England); Christine Sinclair (capt.), Portland Thorns (NWSL).
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 4, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press