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Canadian women's soccer kicks off a busy stretch for club and country

CBC Sports' daily newsletter examines the road ahead for Canada's women's soccer program from a club and country level ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

National program ramps up its preparations ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Canada celebrates a goal by Evelyn Viens in today's friendly vs. Wales. (Warren Little/Getty Images)

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The Canadian women's soccer team is kicking up its Olympic prep

This summer in Tokyo, the team will play for its third consecutive Olympic medal after winning the bronze matches in 2012 and '16. On April 21 — exactly three months from the start of the tournament — Canada will learn its path to another podium when the draw to assign teams their opponents for the group stage is held.

In the meantime, many of Canada's players are kicking off a busy stretch for both club and country. Here's what happening:

Club

The U.S.-based National Women's Soccer League returns today with the second installment of the Challenge Cup. The month-long tournament was born last summer as an alternative to trying to pull off a conventional regular season and playoffs during a pandemic. It went well enough that the NWSL decided to keep the Challenge Cup and use it to kick off the 2021 season. The tournament runs through May 8 and will be followed by a 24-match (for each team) regular season from May 15-Oct. 30. The NWSL playoffs open Nov. 6 and culminate with the championship game on Nov. 20.

A few things are different about this year's Challenge Cup. It won't be played in a bubble, like last year's in Salt Lake City. Matches will take place in teams' home stadiums, with some fans in attendance where allowed. There are 10 teams this time, not eight. The Orlando Pride are back after missing the 2020 tournament because of an outbreak, while Racing Louisville FC joins as an expansion team. Also, New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC was rebranded as NJ/NY Gotham FC.

More than a dozen Canadians play in the NWSL, including four on the defending Challenge Cup champion Houston Dash. Canadian national-team captain and all-time international goals leader Christine Sinclair is still with Portland Thorns FC. Get a full breakdown of the Challenge Cup — including details on each team and their key players — by reading this piece by CBC Sports' Signa Butler.

While the top women's pro soccer league in North America is just kicking off, Europe's top club competition is nearing an end. Three of the four spots in the UEFA Women's Champions League semifinals are filled, and the last will be decided April 18. That's when French powerhouse Lyon, which is going for its sixth consecutive title, plays the second leg of its quarter-final matchup vs. Paris Saint-Germain. Lyon won the opener 1-0 on the road before the second leg was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team.

Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan plays for Lyon, and fellow national-team members Jordyn Huitema and Ashley Lawrence are on PSG. There's one Canadian on the three teams who have already made the semis: Chelsea midfielder Jessie Fleming.

Country

The Canadian women's national team played its first match since February's SheBelieves Cup tournament today in Wales. Canada, ranked eighth in the world, won the friendly 3-0 over the 31st-ranked Welsh. There was some bad news, though, as Sinclair left in the first half with an apparent foot or ankle injury. The extent of the injury was unclear at our publish time. Next up is a friendly vs. No. 6 England on Tuesday.

Buchanan was left off Canada's roster for the friendlies as her club deals with its outbreak, and veteran midfielder Diana Matheson was also among the players listed as out for "medical reasons." But just about every other key player is there in the UK as rookie coach Bev Priestman ramps up preparations for the Olympics. Sinclair and several other NWSL players are missing the start of the Challenge Cup for these matches. For more on the pair of friendlies and why they're important for Canada, read this story by Signa Butler.

Deanne Rose scores game-winner as Canada blanks Wales in international friendly

Sports

2 months ago
1:07
Deanne Rose opened the scoring in the first half, as Canada went on to beat Wales 3-0 in an international friendly in Cardiff in the United Kingdom. 1:07

Quickly...

Canada scraped into the playoffs at the men's curling world championship. Last night's clutch 6-4 win over Norway clinched a spot in the six-team playoffs and also guaranteed Canada an entry in the 2022 Olympic men's tournament. Both were in doubt after Brendan Bottcher's rink lost back-to-back tough matchups vs. Russia and defending champion Sweden on Wednesday. The pressure is off a bit now, but the Canadians are still in a tough spot. After beating Germany today to finish the round robin with a 9-4 record, they're going to wind up either third or fourth in the standings. That means having to win an elimination game tonight at 9 p.m. ET in order to join Russia, Sweden and the winner of the other elimination game in the semifinals. At our publish time, Canada's opponent was still unknown. But you can follow CBC Sports curling reporter Devin Heroux's Twitter feed for up-to-the-second updates. You can also join Devin and Colleen Jones for That Curling Show tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on the CBC Sports YouTube channel. They'll be setting up Canada's game and the rest of the playoffs.

Justin Rose stayed atop the Masters. The 2016 Olympic gold medallist shot a 7-under first round yesterday to open up a four-shot lead. Some of that evaporated today as Rose meandered to an even-par second round, but he still led by two strokes at our publish time. Canadian Mackenzie Hughes will easily make the cut after shooting a pair of even-par rounds, and Corey Conners is looking good too. Just before our publish time, he eagled the par-5 13th to move to 2-under. Former champ Mike Weir, who's no longer a serious contender, shot 1-under today but will miss the cut as he's still 5-over for the tournament. See the updated leaderboard here.

Chris Boucher had the night of his life. Making just the seventh start of his NBA career, the 28-year-old big man from Montreal put up career highs in points (38) and rebounds (19) in last night's 122-113 Raptors loss to Chicago. With Toronto down to eight available players due to injuries, health-and-safety protocol and a suspension, Boucher also played a career-high 36 minutes. Read more about the game and watch Boucher's highlights here.

This weekend on CBC Sports

Olympic Games Replay: The theme of this week's show is "jaw-dropping Winter Olympic moments." It includes the wild women's snowboard cross final from the 2006 Games in Turin, the exciting men's slopestyle events from 2014 and '18, and of course the classic 2014 women's hockey final that Canada rallied to win over the U.S. Watch the show Saturday from 3-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

Women's hockey: The latest stop on the Dream Gap Tour is in St. Louis, in partnership with the Blues. Watch Sunday's game live at 6 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

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