Canada's roster for the SheBelieves Cup has been ravaged by injuries and pandemic-related travel issues, with captain Christine Sinclair one of seven players to miss the four-country soccer tournament that starts next week in Florida.
Canada Soccer announced Saturday that Sinclair and midfielder Diana Matheson, who have 500 caps and 205 international goals between them, didn't make it to camp in Orlando because of injury. And that veteran goalkeeper Erin McLeod and uncapped defender Bianca St-Georges had both gone back to their clubs after picking up injuries at camp.
Adding to the roster woes is the fact that centre back Kadeisha Buchanan (Lyon), fullback Ashley Lawrence and forward Jordyn Huitema (both Paris Saint-Germain) were denied release by their French clubs.
Canada, tied for eighth with Brazil in the world rankings, opens play Thursday against the top-ranked Americans.
The 37-year-old Sinclair has been a constant for Canada. Since her senior debut in 2000, she has played in 296 of Canada’s 341 international matches (86.8 per cent). Since 2007, when she became full-time captain, Sinclair has missed just three camp call-ups.
Priestman, in her first camp at the Canadian helm, opted to see the glass half-full, saying the absences mean opportunity for other players and a chance to assess the depth of the program.
"You know what, I'm relatively comfortable," Priestman said in an interview. "I'm certainly not very comfortable but relatively comfortable in what this is now about. It's about assessments, seeing where they're at. And I know that any player who puts on a Canadian jersey particularly when they go out against the U.S., they're going to give it their absolute all.
"And that's probably what makes me the most comfortable because I've seen the character of the group so far, having been them with now for, I think, about seven days. I've been really impressed with their mindset and how receptive they've been to any sort of new ideas and things we've gone towards.
"So (it's) not perfect and certainly not what I imagined as my first camp, put it that way."
Canada's all-time record against the U.S. is 3-50-7. The Americans are riding a 34-game unbeaten streak.
After the U.S., Canada faces Brazil on Feb. 21 and No. 31 Argentina on Feb. 24. The Argentines were a late addition to the field after No. 10 Japan pulled out, citing the pandemic.
The tournament falls during an FIFA international window which would ordinarily requite clubs to release players for international duty.
But France recently imposed a seven-day quarantine for travellers due to COVID-19. FIFA, trying to limit player absences, is allowing clubs to keep players if they face a quarantine longer than five days.
"It's unfortunate for the players themselves. They're really disappointed in that sense, they want to be with the team," Priestman said. "But it's the reality we're in, I guess, in COVID. You can half-see it from the clubs' standpoint in the sense that they have to be back out of the FIFA international window and play games. But it is disappointing."
Canada has added fullback Lindsay Agnew (North Carolina Courage) and midfielders Victoria Pickett (Kansas City NWSL) and Sarah Stratigakis (University of Michigan) to the pre-tournament camp.
Priestman had summoned 29 players to camp with the intention of cutting the roster down to 23 ahead of the tournament's start. Thanks to the turnover, she is already down to 25.
Sinclair, Matheson, McLeod, Buchanan, Lawrence and Huitema have 845 caps and 220 international goals between them. Sinclair leads the soccer world with 186 international goals.
Agnew (14) and Stratigakas (2) have 16 caps between them while Pickett is uncapped.
Priestman declined to go into specifics on the injuries other than to say they were nothing that would rule them out long-term. But she said the team was giving the injured players the time needed.
The Canadians are slated to meet again in April ahead of an April 13 friendly with England.
"The most important thing is the Olympic Games … they definitely need this time to be ready," Priestman said. "Come April, all of those players should be available and so that's for me is more critical.
"Then it's a sprint to the Olympic Games rather than putting them at risk right now in such a big year."
Priestman said she will announce who will serve as captain in Sinclair's absence nearer the tournament kickoff. The 34-year-old English native took over the team last November after Kenneth Heiner-Moller took a coaching job in his native Denmark.
The Canadian women have not played since March 10, 2020, when they tied Brazil 2-2 at a tournament in France.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press