This is a column by Shireen Ahmed, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
With the FIFA Women’s World Cup coming up quickly, the Canadian women’s team is gearing up for what is their biggest tournament since winning the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo in the summer of 2021.
They are a team that has pulled their greatest strengths together and combined them in the most effective way possible under the guidance of head coach Bev Priestman. In addition to the turbulent times with its governing body, Canada Soccer, the team was dealt some hard blows with injuries reducing the bench availability of some of its stalwarts.
The women’s team has been dealing with injuries that have not only sidelined Janine Beckie with an ACL tear, but forced Desiree Scott, Deanne Rose, Nichelle Prince and Kadeisha Buchanan to sit out during a friendly match against France in April.
Canada’s Shelina Zadorsky, who captains England’s Tottenham Hotspurs, was unwell for a few months leading up to that friendly, which Canada lost, 2-1. She tested positive for COVID twice in two months starting in December, then contracted glandular fever in February and was diagnosed as celiac, an autoimmune disease. She had an array of issues that included fatigue. Zadorsky opened up about her health challenges and how that affected her mental bandwidth.
In a social media post from a month ago, Zadorsky was smiling and went back to the pitch. She finished off the season with the Spurs in good form.
Since that match against France in April, Buchanan and Prince are also back in their respective team lineups.
Canadians are hoping to see the seasoned players are fully fit and named to the team shortly before the World Cup, which begins July 20 in Australia and New Zealand.
And although the injuries and the stresses have been immense, there have been major wins by Canadian players and the teams they play with.
Jessie Fleming and Kadeisha Buchanan came off the bench at Chelsea to help the team win its fourth title in the FA Women’s Super League with storied coach Emma Hayes.
Champions! 🏆<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CanWNT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#CanWNT</a>/<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CanXNT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#CanXNT</a> stars Jessie Fleming and Kadeisha Buchanan won the English <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/WSL?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#WSL</a> title with Chelsea <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CFCW?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#CFCW</a> on Saturday 🤩<br><br>But there was heartbreak for their 🇨🇦 teammate Deanne Rose in the same game 😢<br><br>Full story 👇<a href=”https://t.co/nUpiw7tUFD”>https://t.co/nUpiw7tUFD</a> <a href=”https://t.co/0ipdgb5sb5″>pic.twitter.com/0ipdgb5sb5</a>
Their win relegated Canadian teammate Deanne Rose’s Reading squad from the Super League, but Rose has just recovered from an Achilles injury and will have ample opportunity to impress at the World Cup.
In France, Vanessa Gilles won the French League championship with Olympique Lyonnais and announced her stay in France will be extended. Gilles was on loan from Angel City Football Club of the National Women’s Soccer League in the U.S.
And that’s a wrap 🏆✔️ <a href=”https://t.co/zBZmgnezEH”>pic.twitter.com/zBZmgnezEH</a>
In Portugal, Marie-Yasmine Alidou, who was invited to the national team camp in April ahead of the game in Le Mans, won the Portuguese women’s league with FC Famalicão Feminino.
And while there are only a few championships to go around, there are many Canadian women continuing to make an imprint on women’s soccer, including in Sweden and Italy.
An honour and forever grateful to represent this club, city, fans, and team!<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/DTFO?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#DTFO</a> <a href=”https://t.co/BrGrNBOMiI”>https://t.co/BrGrNBOMiI</a>
Meanwhile in Texas, Sophie Schmidt is captain of the Houston Dash and leads Canadian teammates Allysha Chapman and the recently returned Prince. At OL Reign, Jordyn Huitema and Quinn are making the Canadian presence well known. Quinn scored their first NWSL goal, punctuating the fact that the road to complete recovery is going well.
Quinn opens their NWSL account with a BANGER🎯<br><br>OL Reign had a big 4-1 win today, and Quinn scored their 1st NWSL goal to seal it off, as they had a GOLAZO to remember from distance<br><br>Good to see them back fit, and now chipping in the goals<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CanWNT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#CanWNT</a>/<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CanXNT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#CanXNT</a><a href=”https://t.co/QFnBYbt9Qn”>pic.twitter.com/QFnBYbt9Qn</a>
Scott, who plays for Kansas City Current, had knee surgery in January is working hard on her recovery to be in top form for the World Cup.
“When I got my surgery the goal was always to be back for another summer with the team if I made the roster,” Scott recently told the Winnipeg Free Press. “With my surgery, my timelines have me setting up to be there as long as my fitness levels and my knee responds well.
“I’ve had positive conversations with national team coach as I progress through this — just letting her know I’m keen — and I’m working on getting after it. I know she still thinks I will hold value within the squad.”
Of course, there is fearless leader Christine Sinclair, who has captained all three NWSL titles won by the Portland Thorns. She is the record holder in goals scored by an international footballer — that may increase this summer — and remains a major inspiration for girls and boys all around the world.
Canadian players spread out all over
Before tearing her ACL, Beckie played alongside Sinclair and is expected to return to the Thorns after her recovery. Joining Sinclair in Portland is forward Adriana Leon, on loan from Manchester United until the end of June. Portland Thorns general manager (and former national team goalkeeper) Karina Leblanc said in a statement: “She wants to be here and take advantage of the opportunity in a competitive environment ahead of the World Cup. Adriana has the ability to make an impact as we strengthen this special group with her talent to help continue to push us forward.”
In absence of sendoff matches before the World Cup, these players need to maximize opportunities to finesse their skills and confidence. It’s excellent to see Canadian players thriving and building some momentum ahead of the tournament.
The Canadian women’s team can only look onward and upward from here. This is team with grit and a group of people who love this game and have created undeniable excitement around soccer for girls in this country.
I, for one, wait eagerly to see what awaits them down under.