Olympic hopes on the line as Canada’s women’s soccer team faces Jamaica | CBC Sports

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Crashing out of the group stage of this past summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup wasn’t the result the Canadian national soccer team imagined for themselves.

Now, less than two months later, the Canadians must mend their heartbreak and turn their attention to territory they’ve had much more success with — the Olympics. 

But first, the three-time Olympic medallists and reigning champions need to qualify for Paris 2024 and it won’t be a walk in the park.

Canada, ranked No. 10 in the world, begins a two-game aggregate series against Jamaica (No. 37) with the winner earning a berth to next summer’s Olympics in France. The first match is Friday at Independence Park in Kingston, Jamaica, while the second leg is Sept. 26 at a sold-out BMO Field in Toronto.

Soul searching

In a virtual media call earlier this month, head coach Bev Priestman said there’s been a lot of soul searching in the team’s post-mortem from Australia as they look ahead to the pivotal series with Jamaica.  

“We’re motivated because obviously we want to put the wrong right and motivated because we know how dear the Olympic Games are to this group’s heart. 

“Post-World Cup, I’ve had some really, really good individual conversations with every single player. We had a player reset meeting,” Priestman said, adding that “one million per cent” of that was addressing the mental performance piece.

“That last game [4-0 loss against Australia] is probably the bit that hurts the most in terms of how that game unfolded.”

WATCH | Goalkeeper Steph Labbé reflects on Canada’s World Cup exit:

Steph Labbé reflects on a ‘disjointed’ Canadian performance

Former national team goalkeeper, Steph Labbé breaks down Canada’s lopsided defeat to Australia, their surprising defensive struggles and Sophie Schmidt’s retirement.

In terms of overall team play, there are still question marks about the lack of goal scoring, but perhaps more concerning is the recent shakiness in the team’s seemingly impenetrable defence. 

In seven matches so far in 2023, Canada has two wins, one draw and four losses, scoring just five goals while giving up a whopping 12. 

As a comparison, during their gold-medal run in Tokyo, Canada scored six and gave up four in six games. 

“Canada doesn’t concede [goals] but 2023 was the year of conceding,” Priestman said. “…Ultimately we need to get back to the values and the things that are associated with this team for sure.”

‘Not the same Jamaica’

On paper, Canada is the clear favourite in this home-and-away series with Jamaica. In the past nine meetings, Canada won every match with a combined score of 60-1. Their last meeting was at the CONCACAF W Championship semifinals where Canada won 3-0. 

However, the Reggae Girlz are coming off a confident run at the World Cup, where they finished second in Group F, posting scoreless draws against top 10 nations France and Brazil plus a 1-0 victory over Panama before losing 1-0 to Colombia in the Round of 16. It was the first time they advanced to the knockout phase in two World Cup appearances. 

It was even more remarkable given they had to crowdfund their way to Australia/New Zealand because of an ongoing pay dispute with the Jamaican Football Federation.

Jamaica, led by Khadija (Bunny) Shaw, the 2022 CONCACAF Women’s Player of the Year and a finalist for this year’s Ballon d’Or, will have history on its mind as it tries to become the first Caribbean nation to qualify for the Olympic Games.

“This is not the same Jamaica we faced last year or prior years,” Priestman said. “We have to respect what they did during the World Cup. 

“I expect a difficult game.”

Two Jamaica female soccer players celebrate after the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between Jamaica and Brazil in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023.
Jamaica’s Khadija Shaw, right, pictured celebrating after a Women’s World Cup match against Brazil in August, was part of a team which made a stunning impact in the tournament. (Hamish Blair/The Associated Press)

Short-handed roster

Priestman will have 19 of the 23 players who were part of her roster for the World Cup, including captain Christine Sinclair and a trio of Chelsea players — workhorse midfielder Jessie Fleming and defenders Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence.

Notable absences from that group are veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt (retired from national team duty) and fullback Allysha Chapman (personal reasons). Fullback Jayde Riviere and forward Deanne Rose were originally named to the roster, but will miss the qualifiers due to injuries.

Jade Rose, who missed the World Cup with a late injury, returns to the side. 

Also coming back into the national fold are Bianca St-Georges and Sydney Collins, both defenders, midfielder Marie-Yasmine Alidou D’Anjou and uncapped 16-year-old forward Annabelle Chukwu. 

Veteran midfielder Desiree Scott and standout winger Janine Beckie, both members of the Olympic championship squad, continue to rehab their way back from injury.  

Four of the 12 teams for the 2024 Paris Olympic tournament have already been decided. 

The United States qualified thanks to its 1-0 win over Canada in the CONCACAF W Championship final a year ago, while hosts France, Brazil and Colombia have also secured berths.

Along with a second country from CONCACAF (Canada or Jamaica), two European and Asian teams will be chosen in February, one from Oceania in March and two African nations in April.

Canada roster

Goalkeepers:

  • Sabrina D’Angelo, Arsenal (England)
  • Lysianne Proulx, S.C.U. Torreense (Portugal)
  • Kailen Sheridan, San Diego Wave (NWSL)

Defenders:

  • Kadeisha Buchanan, Chelsea (England)
  • Gabrielle Carle, Washington Spirit (NSWL)
  • Sydney Collins, North Carolina Courage (NWSL)
  • Vanessa Gilles, Olympique Lyonnais (France)
  • Ashley Lawrence, Chelsea (England)
  • Bianca St-Georges, Chicago Red Stars (NWSL)
  • Jade Rose, Harvard University
  • Shelina Zadorsky, Tottenham (England)

Midfielders:

  • Marie-Yasmine Alidou D’Anjou, Benfica (Portugal)
  • Simi Awujo, USC
  • Jessie Fleming, Chelsea (England)
  • Julia Grosso, Juventus (Italy)
  • Quinn, OL Reign (NSWL)

Midfielder-Forward:

  • Olivia Smith, Sporting CP (Portugal)

Forwards:

  • Jordyn Huitema, OL Reign (NWSL)
  • Cloe Lacasse, Arsenal (England)
  • Adriana Leon, Aston Villa (England)
  • Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash (NWSL)
  • Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns (NWSL)
  • Evelyne Viens, AS Roma (Italy)

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