Canada returns to the pitch on Sunday night to take on a familiar acquaintance in Brazil. After an emotionally draining 2-0 loss against the United States on Thursday, it’s anyone’s guess what type of Canadian team will show up to play in Nashville at GEODIS Park.
Ahead of their match against the Brazilians, Bev Priestman’s squad held their lone training session at Vanderbilt University on Saturday. Priestman admits she’s not entirely sure what to expect from her team as they continue to play under protest and fight budget cuts.
“It’s really difficult to say,” Priestman said. “The group is still dealing with what they’re dealing with, but I do feel the group is lighter. Once that ball rolls, I think it does help distract the group, but the reality is that it’s there. I just hope that what I want to see on the pitch, I see.”
Canada’s Kailen Sheridan was one of a few players that stood out and had a strong performance in Canada’s opening SheBelieves Cup game. Canada’s no.1 keeper kept her team within striking distance after the U.S. came out firing. If not for Sheridan’s timely saves, Canada could have ended up on the wrong side of a lopsided score.
When Canada takes on Brazil, simply being on the pitch for 90 minutes provides an emotional escape for some of Canada’s players. While it’s still in the back of their minds, at the end of the day, they want to play football, the game they grew up loving.
But it’s just not as easy as flipping a switch. Players want a better playing future for the next generation, so they don’t have to go through the challenges and cuts the current team is facing.
“It’s definitely not that easy,” Sheridan explained to The Equalizer following training. “I think we’re all still thinking about it a little bit. Ultimately this is our outlet, this is what we love to do. We want to come out here everyday, and we want to play. We want to represent our country and we want to be proud. It’s something that we look forward to, but at the end of the day we also get off the field and we kind of go back to having our player reps working their asses off, working on a solution.”
The Canadian Soccer Players Association (CSPA) has received tremendous support during their ongoing labor dispute with the Canadian Soccer Association. Whether it’s from rival national teams, fans back home in Canada, or American supporters in Florida. The united solidarity across women’s soccer has been appreciated by the CSPA.
“The support has been incredible,” Sheridan said. “We can’t thank everybody enough for everything they’ve said and done in the media and the fans. Even the American fans, we came out there in Orlando, I don’t think we’ve ever had a warmer welcome in the U.S. That was pretty cool to see, that there’s a bigger picture other than just being out there, playing a game. It’s bigger than just that. It’s good to see the kids are recognizing it. They’re seeing it as their future and what we’re doing now is going to change for them.”
While the sport continues to grow and expand across the globe, it’s still a tight knit community. Players on different national teams have grown up competing against one another at various levels, and competed together on the same club teams. Just like the U.S. had Canada’s back, Brazil is ready to show that they’re equally behind Canada in their labor battle.
“We’re talking about one of the best teams in the world,” Debinha said. “They just won the Olympic games and they’re in this position. I think it’s not good. Of course, you’re always going to stand with them. They need respect, they’re one of the best teams in the world. It’s a shame what is happening. If they need us, for sure we’re always going to stand with them.”
“We are together,” Marta said. “Women’s soccer has worked so hard to be at this level. We can’t retreat and take a step back. We need to fight for everybody. This is not acceptable.”
Conversations between both Canada and Brazil continue to take place this weekend as they look to find a meaningful way to protest.
“I don’t think we’ve come to a consensus just yet,” Sheridan said. “Obviously nothing is off the table. We want to make sure that we’re all prepared for the game as well. This is what we like to do. We want to make sure that it’s still competitive, that’s the number one thing on our minds, but there’s still going to be conversations about what’s going to make the most impact.”
This will be the third match between the two sides in the span of four months, as the teams split a pair of 2-1 scores when they met in South America in November 2022. But this time, Brazil will have an added attacking threat, as Marta made her return last week from her ACL injury suffered 11 months ago. She immediately made an impact coming off the bench against Japan, as she picked up an assist.
Preparing to stop Marta and Debinha on the same pitch at the same time could be a daunting task for a Canadian team that just wasn’t as focused as they wanted to be against the Americans.
“She’s got the quality,” Priestman said as she talked about Marta. “Her and Debinha particularly link up really well. She just brings that element of surprise and unpredictability and things we’re probably not used to playing against so much. I think she’s got that quality, that technical ability to do little things that’s crafty and hard to defend against.”
A motivated and healthy Marta will also be celebrating her 37th birthday on Sunday.
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