HALIFAX — Soccer fans at the Wanderers Grounds will get a chance to see Canadian soccer legend Christine Sinclair take the pitch against Brazil before the captain packs up her cleats, women’s national team head coach Bev Priestman promised Monday, a day before the two international rivals match up for the second of two friendlies.
“Halifax will definitely get to see Christine,” Priestman told reporters after the women’s national team held its late afternoon training session on muddy turf under rainy skies in the heart of Halifax.
Sinclair and her teammates will be out for revenge Tuesday after falling 1-0 to Brazil on Saturday at a sold-out Saputo Stadium in Montreal.
In that match, Brazilian forward Debinha scored the lone goal off a double deflection despite the best efforts of Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, who made eight saves. The Canadians managed only three shots on Brazilian netminder Letícia.
“We’re very much focused on fixing some of the things that we’ve seen the other day in the game,” Priestman said of strategy heading into Tuesday’s rematch. “We just need to come out and really be on the front foot and ready to take the game to them.”
But for Priestman and her team, it’s not just about beating Brazil in a friendly match.
“The bigger picture in mind as a coach (is that) I have to look at what Paris 2024 is about and that (means) solving some of the problems that they gave us.”
Brazil and Canada are currently neck and neck in the FIFA women’s world ranking, with the former taking the ninth spot and the latter red and white squad in 10th place. In total, 12 teams including host country France qualify for the 2024 Olympic Summer Games in Paris.
“I think it’s going to be a blend, right,” Priestman said of her lineup plans for Tuesday. “It’s going to be, how do I see players across the two games and trying to get a bit of … balance and flow, because I think we lack that, but there’ll definitely be some changes.
“We didn’t possess the ball anywhere near as much as we would have liked. We really struggled to connect from back to front.”
Chelsea midfielder Jessie Fleming, who exited Saturday’s game in the 22nd minute, trained Monday at the Wanderers Grounds, but there’s no guarantee how much or how little she will play Tuesday, Priestman said.
“We need to assess post-today’s training, and ultimately from there, it will be guidance from the medical team on how Jessie’s feeling,” Priestman said, adding there aren’t any other current injury concerns on the Canadian roster.
Defender Emma Regan, 23, called Brazil “quality opposition” but said that’s exactly what Canada needs in order to prepare for what’s ahead on the road to Paris 2024. Regan was called up to the senior squad for the friendlies after last competing with the national team in 2018.
“I’m just really excited for the opportunity to get the chance to play at home in Canada,” the B.C. native said.
As for how the Canadian team’s leadership will shift with Sinclair’s pending departure from international play, Priestman said she can already feel a shift in composition.
“The players have been more and more vocal, asking questions,” Priestman said, adding “I don’t think this team’s ever been about one leader. The baton will start to be handed over to some of these younger players.
"No matter what the future looks like, I don’t think it’s going to be one voice; it probably never has been and that’s the nature of this team.”
Sinclair, the world’s all-time leading scorer with 190 goals through 328 senior appearances, has only three more matches left in her international career — including Tuesday in Halifax.
Canada Soccer confirmed last week that Sinclair will take her international bow in British Columbia in a two-match series against 11th-ranked Australia, the first match set for Dec. 1 in Langford on Vancouver Island, and the second scheduled for Dec. 5 in Vancouver, which conveniently nestles Sinclair’s hometown of Burnaby.
“I think for us to get that run of home games is pretty special and we’ll enjoy every minute,” Priestman said.
Sinclair’s teammates are embracing the 40-year-old forward’s retirement from the national team.
“You know, it feels really warm,” Priestman said, and “that’s actually born out of Sinc, and how she’s come in; it doesn’t feel heavy.
“She’s out there doing a whole lot of signing autographs and I think she’s taking in every moment,” the head coach said. “I think we should enjoy it and celebrate.”
Priestman added, “Sinc’s taking it in and contributing on the pitch, but I think the team, we’re just working on building and growing, and I think we have to know it’s OK that that’s the phase we’re in right now.”
Forward Evelyne Viens, 26, agreed she and her teammates are embracing “every moment you have the chance to be with her and learn from the best.”
Despite late October chills, Priestman said she and her squad are also soaking up every moment of their time in Halifax.
“I love it; I absolutely love it,” the native of Consett, England, said of Nova Scotia’s capital city. “We went for a wander as a staff in the afternoon and yeah, I really, really like the place.
“I’ve been here before but not downtown and yeah, it seems like a lovely place to live, to be honest,” Priestman said. “A bit cold though.”
That may give the Canadians a bit of an advantage on the pitch Tuesday. “We’re used to it, maybe a bit more than Brazilians,” Priestman said.
Quebec native Viens said she’s looking to the “fun atmosphere” of the Halifax venue but added “the field is going to be a little tricky to play on (because of) the rain today and the weather.”
“So, we just need to be careful and take care of the ball,” Viens said.
“The ball’s going to move quickly,” Priestman agreed. “I think we’ve just got to go out and play our game and adapt a little bit based on the pitch,” Priestman said, “but we’re excited to get going.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2023.
Kristin Lipscombe, The Canadian Press