Canadians to play big role in historic NWSL season


Christine Sinclair, middle, in action for Canada. (Pat Sullivan/AP)

Five matches highlight the National Women’s Soccer League’s opening weekend, which will feature 11 Canadian players in action.

This fourth season marks a historic one for the NWSL, as it has surpassed both of its predecessors, the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) and Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS). Both pro leagues existed for just three seasons.

Here’s a closer look at the NWSL match ups on Saturday and Sunday:

Washington Spirit vs. Boston Breakers
April 16 – Maureen Hendricks Field Maryland SoccerPlex
Canadians: Diana Matheson, Shelina Zadorsky, Stephanie Labbe

You can expect Matheson to play important minutes throughout the season and Zadorsky will likely see a lot of time in the centre-back position alongside American Megan Oyster. Zadorsky and Oyster have a lot in common, including having previously played in Australia, and both are 23. At times, U.S. international Ali Krieger has lined up as a centre back for Washington, but she is best used as a fullback. Being part of a back line with Krieger will only help Zadorsky’s game in her first NWSL season and will, in turn, benefit her national team career.

Labbe will need time to get acclimated to the pace of the NWSL after five years in Sweden’s Damallsvenskan. There’s a good chance she’ll be in net for Saturday’s meeting. With a long-term injury to Erin McLeod, the more playing time Labbe gets, the better for Canada.

Washington finished fourth last season and qualified for the playoffs. Boston was at the bottom of the standings, ninth out of nine teams. They struggled to score goals and keep them out of their net.

Houston Dash vs. Chicago Red Stars
April 16 – BBVA Compass Stadium
Canadians: Janine Beckie, Allysha Chapman

Chapman is expected to be a starter in the left fullback spot, while Beckie—who had a tremendous pre-season—will provide secondary scoring for a Dash squad that features young Brazilian international Andressa up top and 2015 FIFA Player of the Year, Carli Lloyd.

The Dash are in search of their first post-season appearance. Chicago finished second in 2015 and lost in the playoffs to the eventual champions, FC Kansas City.

FC Kansas City vs. Western New York Flash
April 16 – Children’s Mercy Park
Canadians: Desiree Scott, Sabrina D’Angelo, Adriana Leon

Scott returns to the Kansas City fold after time overseas with Notts County in England. She adds further defensive prowess in the middle of the park for the two-time defending champions.

This marks D’Angelo’s sophomore professional season and the 22-year-old will play the bulk of games for the Flash, that is, when she’s not on international duty. Much like Labbe with Washington, the more minutes D’Angelo gets, the better for Canada.

Seattle Reign FC vs. Sky Blue FC
April 17 – Memorial Stadium
Canadians: None.

While no Canadians are suiting up for either side, the Seattle Reign are two-time first place regular season finishers. Head coach and general manager Laura Harvey has always put together an exciting roster to watch and this year will be no different. Scottish international midfielder Kim Little is slated to have another impressive showing.

Portland Thorns FC vs. Orlando Pride
April 17 – Providence Park
Canadians: Christine Sinclair, Josee Belanger, Kaylyn Kyle

Sunday’s match marks the first-ever meeting between Orlando and Portland and the first of two games between the clubs during the 2016 regular season.

Keep your eye out on captain Sinclair, who has been assigned a playmaking role by new Portland coach Mark Parsons. If pre-season was any indication, she’ll be racking up assists.

The Pride are a wildcard going into their inaugural season. Coach Tom Sermanni is familiar with Kyle and Bélanger from his time working with Canada’s John Herdman as an assistant coach and technical director. During exhibition action, Bélanger was used as an attacking fullback, similar to her role with the national team.

NOTES: The EXCELeration camp is under way in Burnaby, B.C., for seven national team players who aren’t members of professional clubs: Kadeisha Buchanan, Gabrielle Carle, Jessie Fleming, Nichelle Prince, Rebecca Quinn, Deanne Rose and Rhian Wilkinson. On a recent call with the media, coach John Herdman confirmed there would be two of these 12-day camps, the current one and another in May.

“We worked across a four-year plan in the lead up to an Olympic games and we recognized that years two and three of that plan had centralized development for a lot of players,” Herdman explained.

“We thought this year, coming into the pinnacle event, the Olympics and the end of the quad [cycle], we would do things a bit differently and how we would approach this year was to ensure our senior players were in a playing environment, a top playing environment, where they were preparing like players who play every week.”

The seven will be working on individual focus plans and individualize the support they get from the physical, mental and technical staff.

One player missing from that list is Ashley Lawrence. Herdman explained she is back in Toronto for routine medical reasons and isn’t injured. She’ll join the group for the next 12-day camp.

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