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Priestman wants Canadian players to be themselves while pushing for Olympic spots

MONTREAL — Bev Priestman’s message to her squad during the international window is clear: just be yourself.
Bev Priestman’s message to her players during the international window is clear: just be yourself. Priestman stands on the touchline during the Women's World Cup Group B soccer match between Canada and Ireland in Perth, Australia, Wednesday, July 26, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Gary Day

MONTREAL — Bev Priestman’s message to her squad during the international window is clear: just be yourself.

The Canadian women’s national soccer team coach doesn’t want her players to put additional pressure on themselves as they fight for roster spots in two upcoming pre-Olympic friendlies against Mexico.

The No. 9-ranked Canadians host No. 31 Mexico on Saturday afternoon at Montreal’s Saputo Stadium before a rematch on Tuesday at Toronto’s BMO Field.

“In these moments you can really tense up as a player, and I think that's the last thing I want,” Priestman said Friday. “The competition's there, you don't need to talk about it. It's real, I see it every day.

“Trust me, I've walked off every training session scratching my head (about roster decisions), but at the end of the day, I know I just have to pick the team that will help Canada get on that podium.”

Priestman named a 25-player squad for the two games against Mexico and said she plans to use every substitution to give everyone an opportunity. Only 18 players plus four alternates will travel to Paris for this summer’s Olympics.

Canada is expected to play more exhibitions in Europe during the July 8-16 FIFA international window before opening its Olympic tournament July 25 against New Zealand. Priestman expects to name her squad at the end of June.

“I just want to see players bring their own identity,” she said of the Mexico games. “I don't want to do anything different and I want them to work hard for the team.

“I think bringing those two things and every player's putting themselves in the right position to be selected and some of those things are out of their control.”

Priestman notably invited eight forwards and one forward/midfielder to camp. One of the attackers hoping to make her mark in front of friends and family Saturday is Evelyne Viens of L’Ancienne-Lorette, Que.

Viens led Italy’s Serie A with 13 goals in 24 games for Roma in her first season in the league. The 27-year-old played for Canada at the Tokyo Games and the 2023 World Cup, but has scored only five times in 29 showings internationally, albeit only seven as a starter.

"I just returned from a fairly long season in Italy, I experienced individual success and success with my club and I want to bring that offensive touch here,” Viens said. “My goal is to qualify for the Olympic team and to go for a medal."

Priestman hinted at Viens being an impact player for Canada as a substitute.

“You've got a No. 1 team player here who's like, 'I know my role, I'm ready coach, get me in and I'll get a goal,'” she said. “I know her super strength and that is: the game’s more open, need a goal, lots of crosses, and Eve comes on and generally causes havoc."

Beyond determining roster spots, Canada is also eager to measure itself against a “dangerous” Mexican side.

The Canadian players and Priestman say Mexico has become a stronger team in recent years. Mexico proved as much by stunning the juggernaut United States with a 2-0 victory in the group stages of the Concacaf W Gold Cup in February.

“That's no small feat,” Priestman said. “They're a lot fitter, they can be dangerous, they can break, got a dangerous front line and we've got to be ready for that.

"We've got a good team on our hands.”

Centre back Vanessa Gilles thinks the Saturday and Tuesday matches will serve as a good tune-up for Colombia, which Canada plays in its final Olympics group stage match on July 31.

“Playing this Saturday I think for us it's going to be focusing on ourselves against a good opponent,” Gilles said. “I think back to a team like Colombia, they're pretty similar in their playing style.

“So prepping for the Olympics, facing a team like that, while managing minutes as well and players being in different parts of their seasons, is going to be what Bev's gonna have on her mind while trying to prep tactically for these upcoming Olympics."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2024.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press

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