Soccer

Married coaches Priestman, Humphries balance hectic work-life schedule in pursuit of World Cup

Coaching is a family affair for Emma Humphries and Bev Priestman, who are both trying to guide their respective Canadian women’s teams to World Cups. The women's national under-17 coach is a win away from qualifying for the 2022 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.

Each trying to guide a Canadian national team to ultimate prize in women's soccer

Emma Humphries, coach of Canada's women's under-17 team, will oversee her team's match against the United States on Friday, needing one more win to qualify for the 2022 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India. (Canada Soccer)

Coaching is a family affair for Emma Humphries and Bev Priestman, who are both trying to guide their respective Canadian women's teams to World Cups.

After winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics, Priestman's senior team will compete in this summer's CONCACAF championship in Mexico, which serves as the qualifiers for next year's FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Not to be outdone is her wife, Humphries, who coaches Canada's under-17 side, which is a victory away from qualifying for the 2022 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India. Canada is through to semifinals of its CONCACAF championship going on in the Dominican Republic after defeating Honduras and Costa Rica in the knockout round.

A semifinal with the United States looms on Friday. If the Canadians beat the Americans, who have won all six of their games by a combined score of 53-0, they will punch their ticket for India. A loss wouldn't kill off Canada's hopes, as a win in Sunday's third-place match would also clinch a World Cup berth.

"The U.S. are phenomenal on the ball as a team. We expect them to try to dominate possession. But I also don't think they have been tested yet at this tournament. That's something we've committed to as a team; we're going to test them," Humphries told CBC Sports.

When Humphries' Canadian team takes on the U.S. in Santo Domingo, Priestman will be in B.C., watching the game with their four-year-old son Jack.

It's a major role reversal for the married couple — Priestman took Canada to the top of the medal podium in Tokyo while Humphries was back home watching and caring for their son.

"It's hilarious to see the other side of it, and how she has to juggle stuff with Jack. She told me, 'I don't know how you managed it' in Tokyo. I was like, 'yeah, I don't know either,'" Humphries said.

Time together has been fleeting in recent weeks. Priestman had her hands full when Canada played a pair of friendlies against Nigeria in Vancouver and Victoria. Soon after, Humphries flew to the Dominican Republic.

"It's been crazy in our house. We've been like two ships passing in the night. She was busy with Canada's recent games, and I think we saw each other for a day before I came out here," said Humphries, a native of New Zealand. "But it's what we love doing. We have high standards as a family when it comes to football."

A former midfielder who earned 12 caps for her country, Humphries met Priestman when she was a technical director for Football New Zealand from 2009 to 2013. After maintaining a long-distance relationship, they reunited in Canada after Humphries landed a job with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Priestman was already in Canada, serving as an assistant to John Herdman when he coached the women's team.

Bev Priestman, right, guided Canada's senior women's team to a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/The Associated Press)

Unfinished business

Shortly before Humphries was due to give birth to their son, Priestman was offered a job as England's assistant coach. All three headed to England, where Priestman is originally from, and Humphries ended up getting a job with Liverpool's women's team. But the family returned in 2019 when Priestman took over as Canada's senior team coach. The couple and their son settled in B.C., where Humphries was hired as director of women's football development for the Whitecaps.

"In our line of work, you follow your career where it takes you, but we felt like we had some unfinished business. When the opportunity came up for Bev, it was an absolute no-brainer to come back," Humphries said. "This is the most exciting time there's been for women's football in Canada."

Humphries, right, was named Canada's under-17 coach last September. (Canada Soccer)

Humphries was named Canada's under-17 coach last September, but she doesn't have a lot of official contact with Priestman.

"On a day-to-day basis, luckily, we don't work together … I don't think I would have taken the job had she been my boss," Humphries said with a laugh.

Humphries confirmed there hasn't been any discussion about her joining Priestman's staff on the senior team.

"We feel quite strongly that as much as possible we have to build our own careers. It's nice to be aligned [under Canada Soccer], but to be in each other's space for 24 hours, I mean, what would we talk about when we go home? We don't have any interest in working together," Humphries said.

Not wanting to let soccer completely take over their lives as they raise their son, the couple follow strict rules about bringing their work home.

"We try not to talk too much football at home because it would drive us insane. Bev is much better than me — when she switches off, that's it. If we're at home and I try to have a football conversation with her, she says no," Humphries said.

"The work-home balance can be pretty crazy. As long as you're passionate about what you're doing, and you switch off at the right times, you can make it work."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Molinaro

Freelance contributor

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for a number of media outlets, including CBC Sports, Sportsnet and Sun Media. During his time at CBC Sports, John travelled to South Africa to cover the 2010 FIFA World Cup for CBCSports.ca. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of the Canadian game.

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