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Who’s in the mix? Predicting the Canadian women’s national team's best starting XI

With the announcement that Canada will indeed take part in the 2021 SheBelieves Cup in February, Benedict Rhodes takes a look at who’s in the mix to start for our Canadian women.

(Canada Soccer)

Canada appointed Bev Priestman as manager of the Women’s National Team back in October, and while she hasn’t had the chance to take control of a match yet, she’ll be busy looking at the players she has available ahead of the SheBelieves Cup in February, and Tokyo 2020 2021 Olympics in the summer.

With a growing player pool plying their trade in the best teams and leagues in the world, this is Canada’s “golden generation” up to this point, and the team below includes the best international goalscorer of all time, one of the most talented young midfielders in the game, and a few back-to-back Olympic bronze medalists.

For the rapidly approaching SheBelieves Cup, getting players in from Europe is a question mark, as those leagues are in full swing, while the NWSL will only be in preseason training, but if everyone is healthy and available, this is who I believe should start for Canada in 2021.

GK — Kailen Sheridan

Kailen Sheridan was already a top goalkeeper in the NWSL, but an impressive 2020 season sealed her spot as the best Canadian goalkeeper in my opinion.

She was the best goalie at the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup last summer as her Sky Blue FC side reached the semifinals. Starting all six of their games, she made 21 saves on her way to three clean sheets, and the tournament’s Golden Glove award.

Her athleticism is up there with the best in the league, and she pulls off flashy saves on a regular basis.

She faced 27 shots and made 21 saves for a save rate of 77.8 per cent, a number that remained fairly consistent in the NWSL Fall Series later in the year. In four matches then (three starts), she made 13 saves on 17 shots, for a rate of 76.5 per cent.

In nine appearances for the senior national team, eight of them starts, she has picked up six clean sheets.

Sheridan has some tough competition in goal, as she’ll be battling for playing time with long-time national team ‘keeper Stephanie Labbe. Labbe started all but one game at the Olympic qualifying tournament (Sheridan started the other), and while recent form will ultimately be the deciding factor, both goalies have a strong case to be the number one.

LB — Ashley Lawrence

Ashley Lawrence is an elite player, and her versatility is crucial for the national team. Able to play across the midfield and at both full back positions, picking her best position was tough, so I’ve placed her where Canada could probably use her most — at left back.

She has played there a lot with Paris Saint-Germain, and thinks she “can really add a lot to the fullback position and kind of reinvent it in different ways,” according to a story with the Canadian Press’ Neil Davidson in 2020.

Lawrence has mostly played in the midfield or on the right flank for Canada, with Allysha Chapman playing a lot of minutes at left back in recent years. With Canada having a deep pool of players in central midfield, and Jayde Riviere my first choice at right back (as you’ll see shortly), Lawrence needs to be in the team. For that reason, I think she takes the advantage over Chapman on the left because of her international experience and brilliant form in recent years, including playing at left back during Canada’s run at the 2016 Olympic Games.

If Priestman wants to start Chapman and move Lawrence elsewhere in the starting lineup, she definitely wouldn’t be incorrect, but playing Lawrence there allows her to get all the best players in the same team, and free up a midfield/right side spot for someone else.

Sweden v Canada: Round Of 16 - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
Ashley Lawrence runs with the ball against Sweden at the 2019 Women’s World Cup
Photo by Marcio Machado/Getty Images

CBs — Kadeisha Buchanan and Shelina Zadorsky

If there is any guaranteed starter in this Canada side, it’s at centre-back, and three-time Canadian Player of the Year Kadeisha Buchanan. The winner of the 2020 award after winning her fourth consecutive UEFA Women’s Champions League with the best team in the world, Olympique Lyonnais, Buchanan has been a regular starter for the national team since making her debut in 2013.

Buchanan was also named Canadian Player of the Year in 2015 and 2017, to go along with her Olympic bronze medal from 2016, FIFA Women’s World Cup Best Young Player award from 2015, and her Hermann Trophy as the NCAA’s best women’s player from 2016. That’s just (some of) her individual awards … now in her fifth season with with Olympique Lyonnais, she’s won no less than 11 team trophies, including two trebles in a row.

Not too shabby for someone who has just turned 25 years old...

VfL Wolfsburg Women’s v Olympique Lyonnais - UEFA Women’s Champions League Final
Kadeisha Buchanan with the UEFA Women’s Champions League trophy in 2020, her fourth in four years with Lyon.
Photo by Alejandro Rios/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Another long-time national team centre-back, and the regular partner for Buchanan in central defense is Shelina Zadorsky. Zadorsky, who recently made her loan from the Orlando Pride to Tottenham a permanent move, has started the majority of games during the major international tournaments over the past few years, including the 2016 Olympic Games, 2019 Women’s World Cup, and 2020 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.

With Tottenham this season she’s played all but one of the club’s 13 games in all competitions, including all three of their League Cup games. She scored a late equalizer in their game against Arsenal in that tournament, but Spurs would go on to lose on penalties.

RB — Jayde Riviere

Jayde Riviere is one of the best young talents in the Canadian women’s setup and doesn’t turn 20 until later this month. Currently playing at the University of Michigan, Riviere has already made 15 appearances for Canada, and was a crucial part of the team that saw Canada qualify for the Tokyo Olympics back in early 2020.

She’s a dynamic player on the right side, with an abundance of pace and the ability to find her teammates with passes and crosses. In her six appearances for the national team in 2020 she scored a goal and added two assists, and in my opinion, cemented herself a spot as Canada’s right back of the future.

She has also been known to score some incredible long-range goals, including her first international goal last year:

CDM — Sophie Schmidt

Sophie Schmidt had a year to remember in 2020. It began with her starting every game in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, as Canada went on to finish second and qualify for Tokyo. Between midfield and the backline, Schmidt was a crucial member of Kenneth Heiner-Møller’s side.

With the Houston Dash at the NWSL Challenge Cup, she would do one better, winning the tournament to bring home the Dash’s first trophy in club history. Schmidt scored the winning goal in the final, an early penalty that would put the Dash in the driver’s seat.

She’s a leader on the pitch, and can also drop back to play centre-back if need be, making her the ideal candidate for a deep midfield role. Being part of the Canada sides that won back-to-back Olympic bronze medals is also important; she’s been here before and knows what it takes to reach the podium.

She’s one international cap shy of 200 for her career, which would make her just the third player in Canadian history to reach that milestone, alongside Diana Matheson (206) and Christine Sinclair (296).

CMs — Jessie Fleming and Diana Matheson

One of the biggest questions after the NCAA soccer season ended was where up-and-coming star Jessie Fleming would end up. Deciding not to enter the NWSL draft, wanting to focus on finishing her degree at UCLA, the 22 year old would end up signing with reigning Women’s Super League winners Chelsea.

Fleming is one of the brightest young talents in the sport, and her composure on both sides of the ball is crucial to Canada’s midfield—and will be for years to come.

She puts the work in defensively to halt the opposition and start counter attacks, as she did on Christine Sinclair’s record-breaking goal last year, or can put the ball in the back of the net herself.

While she’s yet to score for Chelsea, she’s looked impressive on and off the ball in her nine appearances, and is scoring screamers in training.

Meanwhile, one of just two players in Canadian Women’s National Team history to play 200+ games for her country, Diana Matheson has been a consistent performer for nearly two decades.

Making her international debut back in 2003, she has racked up an aforementioned 206 caps, second only to Christine Sinclair. She was a part of the bronze-medal-winning side at London 2012, playing every minute and scoring the iconic late goal that secured Canada its first podium finish in the event. She followed it up four years later, also an important member of the side in Rio as Canada repeated their third-place performance.

She's also won two Pan American Games medals. Simply put, she's a national team legend.

Unfortunately, she's dealt with a few major injuries over her career, including a foot injury that forced her to miss the 2019 Women’s World Cup, but she was back to her best at the Tournoi de France in March 2020. She scored against Brazil in what would turn out to be Canada’s most recent international game because of the Covid-19 pandemic, way back on March 10.

She's also been playing well for the Utah Royals, and as has become clear over these three highlights, is lethal from inside the box.

LM — Janine Beckie

Manchester City’s Janine Beckie is having another brilliant year in the WSL, and including her in this team was a no-brainer. Making eight appearances in the league for The Citizens so far this campaign, she’s already found the back of the net twice. She’s played in 14 matches in all competitions, including starting the club’s two Champions League games.

In November, she also scored in the 2019-20 FA Cup final to seal the victory against Everton in what was technically the final match of the previous season. She took her chance brilliantly, something she has done often for Canada.

In 70 appearances for Canada since making her debut in 2015, Beckie has scored an impressive 31 goals. Included in those 31 international goals are a pair of hat tricks, like the one against Jamaica during the Olympic qualifying tournament last year:

Another WSL attacker, Adriana Leon of West Ham United, has had an impressive start to the season on the wings, and will be pushing Beckie (and the next player on this list) for playing time.

RM — Nichelle Prince

Battling a serious knee injury suffered at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, and the Covid-19 pandemic taking away the possibility of most international games from March 2020 onwards, Nichelle Prince hasn’t had a ton of opportunities to play for Canada over the past 18 or so months.

The lively attacker has only started once for her country in that span — the third game of the Olympic qualifying tournament last February. In the meantime, however, she’s re-established herself as a prominent winger in the NWSL. While she didn’t have the best season of her career statistically, she played 10 games for the Dash in 2020, and scored an impressive goal in the Fall Season.

She looked dangerous at times, using her pace and dribbling abilities to her advantage. With the NWSL returning to action in April, she’ll be able to get some more games under her belt, and look to get back into the national team as a regular starter.

Germany v Canada: Women’s Football - Olympics: Day 4
Nichelle Prince kicks the ball against Germany at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Photo by Steve Bardens-FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

ST — Christine Sinclair

After setting the all-time record for international goals last year, Christine Sinclair remains the first choice up top.

Four international caps shy of 300, Sinclair has continued to score at a good rate in the NWSL (six in ten games in 2020) since, and there is no reason to drop her for what could be her last Olympic Games.

She’s second all-time in women’s Olympic goalscoring, with 11 goals to Brazilian Cristiane’s 14, so with a deep run toward the podium, she could take that record as well in what will be her fourth Olympics. She scored six at London 2012 alone, so she is more than capable of adding that to her list of achievements.

Olympics Day 13 - Women’s Football Final - Match 26 - USA v Japan
Christine Sinclair celebrates her bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Still a top goalscorer when given the chance, and undoubtedly the greatest Canadian soccer player of all time, Sinclair is more than deserving of being the starter up top... especially considering she needs an entire Wikipedia page for all of her international goals alone.

PSG's Jordyn Huitema will also be in contention for regular minutes up top, as will Sky Blue FC (on loan at Paris FC) attacker Evelyne Viens, among others.

My Best Canadian Women’s National Team XI:

Photos: Canada Soccer, Graphics: Benedict Rhodes

Do you agree with my selections? Let us know who you think should start in the comment section below!