SheBelievesCup a key test for coach Priestman and Canada's women's soccer team

The hope is that by testing itself next month against strong opponents such as the U.S., Brazil and Japan that Canada will set itself up for a sustained run at this summer's women's World Cup.

February tournament provides strong competition ahead of women's World Cup

A Canadian women's player, Vanessa Gilles, dressed in a red uniform is seen during a match.
Vanessa Gilles emerged as a key member of Canada's women's soccer team at the 2021 SheBelievesCup. (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

After years of flying under the radar in international soccer, the Canadian women's team has become a side to fear due to its exploits at the last three Olympics. 

Back-to-back bronze medals at London 2012 and Rio 2016 only wet the appetite, as capturing gold in Tokyo in 2021 cemented Canada's status as an elite nation in the women's game. 

But for all of the Canadians' accomplishments at the Olympics, success at the FIFA World Cup has eluded them. A semifinal appearance at the 2003 tournament gave way to a string of forgettable showings, including a humbling last-place finish in 2011 and a disappointing quarterfinal exit on home soil four years later.

Coach Bev Priestman's team will be aiming to capitalize on its gold medal run in Tokyo and finally shed its reputation as World Cup underachievers at this summer's tournament July 20-Aug. 19, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. 

Before that, the Canadians have some important business to take care of, all with an aim toward becoming World Cup champions. Ranked No. 6 in the world, Canada will compete at the SheBelieves Cup in the United States where it will take on the top-ranked Americans, Brazil (No. 9) and Japan (No. 11). The tournament runs Feb. 16-23.

WATCH | Bev Priestman on Canada's preparation for women's World Cup:

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The Canadians are no strangers to the SheBelieves Cup, having competed at the 2021 event in the buildup to that summer's Tokyo Olympics. That year's four-nations tournament marked Priestman's debut as Canadian coach, and while the Reds underwhelmed with a pair of losses (to the U.S. and Brazil) and a skin-of-their-teeth win (over Argentina), they gained valuable experience playing against some of the world's top nations. 

It was also at the 2021 SheBelieves Cup that defender Vanessa Gilles earned only her third cap (and second start) in a standout performance in the opening match at the U.S., paving the way for her to become one of Canada's key starters, starting in Tokyo where she displaced veteran Shelina Zadorsky. 

The hope is that by testing itself next month against the U.S. (the two-time reigning World Cup winners), Brazil (who split a two-game series against Canada in November) and Japan (one of the most technically proficient teams in the world) that Canada will set itself up for a sustained run at the World Cup where it will compete in a first-round group with Australia, the Republic of Ireland and Ivory Coast. 

"When we came back from the [Tokyo] Olympics we sort of researched what it takes to win a World Cup. We know there's different styles, different tiers of opposition," Priestman said. "It's critical, it's important. You always learn new lessons."

After the SheBelieves Cup, Canada is expected to play two friendlies at home during the FIFA international window from April 3-11, and another pair of tune-up matches in the July window preceding the World Cup. Priestman has to make the most of these windows of opportunity, as they'll be her only chances to work with her players before the World Cup. She also has to deal with some major injury concerns. 

Forwards Deanne Rose and Nichelle Prince are still sidelined after they both ruptured their Achilles tendons in 2022, putting their participation at the World Cup in doubt. Fullback Jayde Riviere, who signed with Manchester United this week, is nursing a lower-body injury after having surgery last September. As a result, Priestman will likely use the next three international windows, in part, to give the team's crop of youngsters more opportunities to cut their teeth. 

Trying to improve the team's overall depth going into the World Cup isn't the worst idea, especially with the Paris Olympics looming. Canada has yet to qualify for next summer's event, and in order to defend its Olympic gold medal it must face Jamaica in a two-legged, home-and-away playoff in September. 

WATCH | Bev Priestman on Canada's preparation for women's World Cup:

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Canada defeated Argentina and Morocco, who both qualified for this summer's World Cup, in a pair of exhibition matches last October despite missing six members of the gold-medal team from Tokyo, including captain Christine Sinclair and Ashley Lawrence. In their absences, it was players such as midfielder Simi Awujo and defender Jade Rose (both 19) who stepped up in big ways. 

"It's getting more and more exciting as a coach when you look down your bench — whoever starts, whoever finishes, you know that the whole team has a contribution towards the win," Priestman said after the victory against Morocco. 

Winning tough games without so many stalwarts in the starting lineup would have been inconceivable for Canada as little as three years ago. But Priestman has effectively turned to her young players in times of need, all for the sake of the long-term health of the program. 

In one of the recent games against Brazil, 17-year-old forward Amanda Allen came off the bench in the 71st minute and gave a decent account of herself in her senior team debut. 

"What you did see was [Allen's] ability to get in behind [Brazil's defence], her work rate, her technical ability. It was a natural debut for a player who's young," Priestman said.

"I'm committed, whether it's this series or in the future, to give young players the opportunity and experience."

Veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt, one of only three Canadian players with more than 200 caps, credits Priestman and her unwavering belief in young players for the progress that the team has made since her appointment in late 2020. 

"As a whole and a collective and as a team we can perform. But then within that team there's also some amazing individuals that just have moments of brilliance in a game that can carry us," Schmidt told CBC Sports. 

"It's so exciting for Canadian soccer, both in the immediate future and in the long-term."


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 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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