It’s about to get very serious for the Canadian women’s soccer team.
Canada has played nothing but friendlies and went on a mini-celebration tour after winning gold at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
But the upcoming Concacaf W Championship — which runs from July 4-18 in Monterrey, Mexico — will be Canada’s first serious test and competitive matches since its gold-medal victory.
The continental competition not only serves as the qualifiers for the 2023 FIFA World Cup, but also for the 2024 Paris Olympics and next summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup.
Here’s what you need to know about the inaugural Concacaf W Championship.
HOW THE TOURNAMENT WORKS
The eight-nation field is divided into two round-robin groups.
Canada, No. 6 in the current FIFA rankings, will compete in Group B against Costa Rica (No. 37), Panama (No. 57), and Trinidad and Tobago (No. 76).
Group A consists of the United States (No. 1), Mexico (No. 26), Jamaica (No. 51), and Haiti (No. 60).
The top two teams in each group not only advance to the tournament semifinals, they also earn automatic berths for the 2023 FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The two third-place nations will have a chance to qualify for the World Cup via the inter-continental playoffs that will be held from Feb. 17-23, 2023.
In addition, the winner of the 2022 Concacaf W Championship will automatically qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics and next summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup. The runner-up and winner of the third-place match will face each other in a playoff in September 2023 to determine who’ll claim Concacaf’s other Olympic berth. The winner of that playoff will also qualify for the 2024 Concacaf Gold Cup.
The Canadians open group stage play vs. Trinidad & Tobago on July 5, before taking on Panama on July 8, and wrap up the first round vs. Costa Rica on July 11.
As the reigning Olympic champion, Canada goes into the Concacaf W Championship as one of the tournament favourites. If history is any indication, it should cruise through the group stage and easily clinch one of the four World Cup berths on offer.
The Canadians have won all eight of their previous matches against Trinidad by a combined score of 34-0 dating back to their first meeting in 1991. Canada has faced Panama twice before, posting 6-0 and 7-0 wins. The Reds have a perfect 14-0 record against Costa Rica, including eight shutouts.
Canada is coming off a 0-0 draw against South Korea in an international friendly at Toronto’s BMO Field on June 26, its lone tune-up match for the Concacaf qualifiers. The South Koreans dropped back deep and defended in numbers, and coach Bev Priestman believes the game provided her Canadian team with a taste of what to expect from the group stage in Mexico.
“It was the perfect preparation because we’re going to be playing against a [defensive] block. There were many fouls in the game, many stoppages. That’s what we’re going to come up against. Even for the mentality of the group to experience that again before we go into Concacaf, I think that was really important,” Priestman said.
THE CANADIAN ROSTER
Priestman has assembled a 23-member squad for the Concacaf W Championship. Of those 23 players, 18 were on the gold-medal winning team in Tokyo.
Christine Sinclair, 39, is on the team, but she didn’t play against South Korea due to a lingering lower body injury. So, it’ll be interesting to see if the iconic Canadian captain is fully fit, and what kind of role she’ll play for the Reds in Mexico.
There are two new faces in camp for Canada’s following the team’s pair of friendlies in April: goalkeeper Lysianne Proulx, and fullback Bianca St-Georges. Of the two, only St-Georges (one cap) has previously played for Canada at the senior level.
There are also some notable omissions for Canada. Not making the cut was 25-year-old forward Evelyne Viens, who played in two games last summer in Tokyo. Also left off the squad were defender Gabrielle Carle (another member of the Olympic team) and midfielder Sarah Stratigakis.
This Canadian team is missing veteran goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé for the first time since 2008, following her retirement in April. Also absent is goalkeeper Erin McLeod (120 caps). With Labbé out of the picture, Kailen Sheridan has graduated from the role of backup to take over the starting job in net.
“Steph was an incredible leader and the way she looks at the game and reviews the game, works with players off the field was so impressive, and that’s the biggest thing I’ll take away from working with her,” Sheridan said.
WHAT ELSE TO LOOK OUT FOR IN MEXICO
The United States boasts an all-time record of 32-1-0 in World Cup qualifiers and 23-0-1 all-time in Olympic qualifiers. You have to go back to 2010, when Mexico upset the Americans in the semifinals in the Concacaf Women’s Championship, forcing them into a playoff match against Italy to qualify for the 2011 World Cup.
Mexico will have the benefit of home-field advantage throughout the tournament, and could give the U.S. a hard time in Group A. The Mexicans have climbed the FIFA world rankings over the years as continued investment in their domestic league has led to the improvement of the national team.
U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski hasn’t been shy about overlooking veterans, most notably two-time World Cup winner and two-time Olympic champion Tobin Heath, and calling in younger players into his squad. Questions remain about whether Andonovski has been too drastic with his youth movement, so it’ll be interesting to see how this American side will do on hostile territory down in Mexico.
John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.