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Priestman’s lineup juggling brings mixed results in Canada’s send-off match

Bev Priestman

TORONTO – Canada closed out their 2024 Olympic send-off series with a disappointing 1-1 draw against Mexico. A crowd of 18,805 was on hand at BMO Field as Mexico frustrated Canada throughout the match with their physical style of play. 

While Canada was able to generate scoring opportunities, they struggled to convert in the final third. Kadeisha Buchanan opened the scoring in front of family and friends in the 47th minute before Mexican striker Jacqueline Ovalle scored a cracker in the 70th minute. 

Canada’s performance against Mexico was disjointed as Bev Priestman shuffled her lineup, mixing and matching players. Kailen Sheridan, Vanessa Gilles, Julia Grosso, and Clarissa Larisey did not play. Nichelle Prince and Deanne Rose did not play due to precaution. 

Finding balance

Canada’s 3-5-2 formation helped them dominate with 64% possession in the first half. Despite being in control, and having six corners, Canada mustered one shot on target in the first half. The red and white were unable to do much of anything with the ball going forward.

While Priestman continues to tinker with her squad in preparation for the Olympics, there hasn’t been an opportunity for Canada’s best starting 11 to feature in a match. 

Whether it’s injuries, restrictions on player minutes, or juggling who is fresh, fit and ready to go. Canada hasn’t found that formula that brings a consistent winning lineup. 

With one FIFA window remaining before the Olympics, is there enough time for Canada to solidify who fits where and what specific role players are best suited to play in?

“The amount of rotations in this camp in the 11 v 11 training sessions, you’re switching and changing players,” Priestman said postgame. “With 18 players and plus four alternates, then rotations don’t happen. You put the best combination together based on the opponent that you’ve got. You’re not thinking about what you’ve got to do which is picking that 18. Yes there is enough time because the squad is narrowed down and I’m picking a team with a very clear identity. I think time, partnerships, being really really specific and not rotating people in and out I think that’s a reflection of these last two games.”

Defense first

Canada’s structure is built through their defensive system and that starts with a core group of central defenders. Buchanan and Gilles are the lockdown duo that Canada will depend upon at the Olympics. If Priestman decides to stick with a back three, Harvard University defender Jade Rose will likely step in and be that third starting center back for Canada. 

On her 100th appearance for Canada, Shelina Zadorsky was honored before kickoff. Zadorsky’s cross into Mexico’s box earned her an assist on Buchanan’s goal. 

The emergence of Gilles and Rose has pushed Zadorsky into more of a reserve role. 

While Zadorsky isn’t playing the minutes she was accustomed to earlier in her career, she has found other ways to contribute and they haven’t gone unnoticed by Priestman. 

“I think Shelina is an incredible human being,” Priestman said. “She’s had a challenge in the sense because her starting lineup spot hasn’t necessarily been there for her in a lot of games. When she has stepped in, she’s done incredibly well. Scored goals and kept some clean sheets. She brings a real with the ball, left-footed center back that gives you a different feeling to a team. A team-first player, great values, great human, always smiling. They’re the sort of players you want on your team.”

No matter what her Olympic journey brings, Zadorsky knows that Canada’s depth at center back will have to stand up to the test that is the Olympic gauntlet of matches. It’s not always who starts the opening match at a major tournament but who can stand the attrition and be there at the end. Having quality depth at such a vital position plays to Canada’s strength.  

“I’m so honored to play alongside and learn from all the center backs and the whole defensive unit that we have,” Zadorsky said postgame. “We have such talent and experience as well. Being a part of that and knowing our strengths and pushing each other to get the best out of each other is so important and we’re all so supportive of each other. Ultimately it is about keeping clean sheets so we have to get back to that.”

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Canada can ill afford any further injuries with the Olympics around the corner. Canada’s depth at the World Cup was tested when they were without Janine Beckie. Canada was a completely different team without Beckie last summer. The difference with Beckie in the lineup and part of the Canadian environment is night and day. She is irreplaceable. 

Having a fully healthy Nichelle Prince and Deanne Rose would bring two scoring threats and two athletes who can burn up the pitch with their pace. Being able to bring on Prince or Rose late in a match when the opposition is struggling to keep fit has an immense impact. 

The health of Jordyn Huitema and Quinn is something to keep an eye on. The Seattle Reign midfielder has been out indefinitely with a knee injury while Huitema recently returned to the Seattle lineup after injuring her back at the 2024 SheBelieves Cup final against U.S. Soccer. 

The 23-year-old Huitema was the recipient of a reckless challenge from Mexico’s Karen Luna in the second half. Mexico coach Pedro Lopez said he was sorry for what happened. 

While Lopez did not see the challenge, Priestman had a front-row view of what happened.

“You want to protect your players from dangerous (tackles) and that was dangerous,” Priestman said. “What worried me was it looked to be the same (back) injury. To be fair to Jordyn, we probably didn’t expect to see her in this window. I think that’s credit to the work that she’s done between both windows. I think she’s fine, I hope she’s fine.”

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