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Sinclair optimistic about labour progress ahead of World Cup kickoff

Canada’s roster set ahead of the 32-team tournament that opens July 20 in Australia and New Zealand.
Canada’s Christine Sinclair pleads for a penalty kick during the women’s soccer gold medal game against Sweden at the Tokyo Olympics in Yokohama, Japan on Friday, August 6, 2021. Canada Soccer is holding emergency talks with the women’s national team today in Florida in a bid to convince the players to return to the field. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Canada’s final roster for the Women’s World Cup is set and it appears some form of labour agreement may also get done ahead of the tournament.

“I think we’re pretty darn close and I think it will be done with by the time this tournament starts,” captain Christine Sinclair, one of the team’s player reps, told a virtual availability Monday from Australia. “I think we’re pretty good with where we’re at.”

Sinclair declined to provide specifics, saying she did not want to “negotiate over a media call.” She said the team wanted to settle the issue of tournament compensation before departing for Australia so it could focus on football at the World Cup, with longer-term details to be worked out later.

Canada coach Bev Priestman was also optimistic.

“The group is down to business, focused and I know they’re in the final stages of getting things across the line,” she said. “I know there has been every effort on both parties — both Canada Soccer and the (player) leadership group — to get that side of things sorted.”

In naming her 23-woman roster Sunday, Priestman acknowledged wins and losses on the injury front ahead of the 32-team tournament that opens July 20 in Australia and New Zealand.

Because of the health question-marks, Priestman waited until virtually the last minute to announce her squad, just ahead of FIFA’s Monday deadline.

The seventh-ranked Olympic champion Canadians are currently in camp on Australia’s scenic Gold Coast preparing for their tournament opener July 20 against No. 40 Nigeria in Melbourne. Canada will then head 2,700 kilometres west to Perth to face No. 22 Ireland on July 26 before returning to Melbourne to complete Group B play against No. 10 Australia on July 31.

The competition runs through Aug. 20 across nine host cities in Australia and New Zealand. The Canadians, who have been fighting off the field with Canada Soccer to secure a labour agreement, will wage their campaign entirely in Australia under the draw.

The two biggest question-marks were midfielder Desiree Scott and forward Nichelle Prince. Scott picked up a knee injury at the end of the 2022 season that required surgery while Prince has been recovering from an Achilles injury.

The 35-year-old Scott, a veteran of the 2011, 2015 and 2109 World Cups, did not make the roster. The hard-nosed defensive midfielder whose nickname is The Destroyer, has won 186 caps for Canada and captains the NWSL’s Kansas City Current.

“Heartbroken to know I will not be participating at the World Cup this summer, despite every effort and final push in my rehab process to make it so,” Scott said in a social media post. “I was so hopeful to make it back in time but sometimes the story just doesn’t get written how you’d want it to.

“This team has my heart and are my family and deserves the best version of Desiree Scott. Missing this tournament will be one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but if my rehab process has taught me anything, it’s that I still love this game so much and nothing worth having comes easy. I’ll continue to put in work to get back to being the Destroyer we all know.”

Priestman called Scott “a bit of the heartbeat of the team both on the pitch and off the pitch.”

“She’s just an incredible human being and I do think it (her absence) will be felt,” she added.

There was better news for the 28-year-old Prince, a speedy Houston Dash attacker with 90 caps who made the cut.

Defender Jade Rose, a rising star at just 20, was forced to withdraw from the pre-tournament camp due to injury.

Janine Beckie will also miss the World Cup after having knee surgery. The influential and versatile forward, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in March in a Portland Thorns pre-season game, has 36 goals in 101 appearances for Canada.

The injuries provided a reprieve for defender Gabby Carle, who was not originally invited to the pre-tournament camp. The 24-year-old Carle, who was part of the Canadian gold-medal team at the Tokyo Olympics, has won 24 caps.

Midfielder Marie-Yasmine Alidou and forward Clarissa Larisey, also invited to the camp, did not make the final roster.

Forward Deanne Rose makes the final roster despite a lengthy absence due to an Achilles injury, but saw brief action with Reading at the end of the English club season.

Defenders Shelina Zadorsky and Jayde Riviere also endured illness/injury issues this season but recovered in time to secure their roster spot.

The injuries have meant Priestman has not been able to field a consistent 11 ahead of the tournament. The Canadian women last played April 11, when they lost 2-1 to No. 5 France in Le Mans.

Canada plays a final tune-up game against No. 4 England on Friday behind closed doors. The two teams could meet again in the round of 16 at the tournament.

Sinclair will be taking part in her sixth World Cup, having made her debut at the soccer showcase in 2003. She has also played at four Olympics and two Pan American Games.

The 40-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., is the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer with 190 from 323 senior appearances, including 310 starts. Sinclair scored in each of her five previous World Cup appearances.

Other veterans include Sophie Schmidt (221 caps), Kadeisha Buchanan (131), Ashley Lawrence (117), Jessie Fleming (115), Allysha Chapman (96), Adriana Leon (96), Prince (90), Zadorsky (89) and Quinn (89), who goes by one name.

The 35-year-old Schmidt has said she will retire from international football after the tournament, her fifth World Cup.

Buchanan, Chapman, Fleming, Lawrence and Leon will each be appearing at their third World Cup.

Youngsters on the roster include 18-year-old midfielder Olivia Smith (two caps) and 19-year-old midfielder Simi Awujo (six caps).

Smith, a freshman at Penn State who plans to cut her collegiate career short to turn pro, was 12 when she made her debut in the Canadian youth program in 2017 under Priestman. Smith, a late addition to the pre-tournament camp as a training player, helped Canada qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup with a 5-3 win over Costa Rica in June.

Awujo, a sophomore at USC, represented the U.S. at the youth level before switching national associations to play for Canada. In December, she was named Canada Soccer Young Player of the Year.

Neither was born when Sinclair, in her second senior outing, scored her first goal for Canada in March 2000 in a 2-1 loss to Norway at the Algarve Cup.

The squad has an average age of 27 with a combined caps total of 1,745 (with Sinclair and Schmidt accounting for 544 of those). Goalkeeper Lysianne Proulx is the lone uncapped member of the squad.

Thirteen of the 23 play their club football in Europe with nine of those in England, including Chelsea’s Buchanan, Fleming and Lawrence and Arsenal’s Sabrina D’Angelo and Cloe Lacasse.

Sinclair, who captains Portland, is one of eight NWSL players.

Seventeen of the 23 were part of the 2019 World Cup roster, joined by Awujo, Lacasse, Smith, Proulx, defender Vanessa Gilles and forward Evelyne Viens. The Canadians exited in the round of 16 four years ago in France, beaten 1-0 by Sweden.

Canada avenged that loss by defeating the Swedes 3-2 in a penalty shootout in the Tokyo Olympic final.

Canada World Cup Roster

Goalkeepers: Sabrina D’Angelo, Welland, Ont., Arsenal (England); Lysianne Proulx, Boucherville, Que., SCU Torreense (Portugal); Kailen Sheridan, Whitby, Ont., San Diego Wave (NWSL)

Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Chelsea (England); Gabrielle Carle, Levis, Que., Washington Spirit (NWSL); Allysha Chapman, Courtice, Ont., Houston Dash (NWSL); Vanessa Gilles, Ottawa, Olympique Lyonnais (France); Ashley Lawrence, Caledon East, Ont., Chelsea (England); Jayde Riviere, Markham, Ont., Manchester United (England); Shelina Zadorsky, Kitchener and London, Ont., Tottenham Hotspur (England).

Midfielders: Simi Awujo, Atlanta, USC; Jessie Fleming, London, Ont., Chelsea (England); Julia Grosso, Vancouver, Juventus (Italy); Quinn, Toronto, OL Reign (NWSL); Sophie Schmidt, Abbotsford, B.C., Houston Dash (NWSL).

Midfielders/forwards: Christine Sinclair (capt.), Maple Ridge, B.C., Portland Thorns (NWSL); Olivia Smith, Whitby, Ont., Penn State.

Forwards: Jordyn Huitema, Chilliwack, B.C., OL Reign (NWSL); Cloe Lacasse, Sudbury, Ont., Arsenal (England); Adriana Leon, Maple and King City, Ont., Manchester United (England); Nichelle Prince, Ajax, Ont., Houston Dash (NWSL); Deanne Rose, Alliston, Ont., Reading (England); Evelyne Viens, L’Ancienne-Lorette, Que., Kristianstads DFF (Sweden).

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