Priestman wants Canadian players to stay true to themselves as they vie for Olympic spots


MONTREAL – Bev Priestman’s message to her team during the international break is clear: Just be yourself.

MONTREAL – Bev Priestman’s message to her team during the international break is clear: Just be yourself.

The coach of the Canadian women's national soccer team does not want her players to put themselves under additional pressure as they fight for a place in the squad for the two upcoming friendlies against Mexico before the Olympic Games.

The 9th-ranked Canadians will host the 31st-ranked Mexican team at Saputo Stadium in Montreal on Saturday afternoon before a return match at BMO Field in Toronto on Tuesday.

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

“Believe me, I've been racking my brains (about squad decisions) after every practice session, but at the end of the day I know I just have to put together the team that will help Canada get to the podium.”

Priestman named a 25-man squad for the two matches against Mexico and said she wanted to use every substitution to give everyone a chance. Only 18 players plus four substitutes will travel to Paris for the Summer Olympics.

Canada is scheduled to play more friendlies in Europe during the FIFA international window from July 8-16 before opening its Olympic tournament against New Zealand on July 25. Priestman expects to announce her squad in late June.

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

“I think those two things have to be met and every player puts himself in the right position to be selected and some of those things are out of his control.”

Priestman specifically invited eight forwards and one forward/midfielder to the training camp. One of the forwards looking to impress friends and family on Saturday is Evelyne Viens from L'Ancienne-Lorette, Que.

Viens led Italy's Serie A in scoring 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 scored just five goals in 29 international appearances, just seven of which were as a regular starter.

“I just returned from a pretty long season in Italy. I've had success both individually and with my club and I want to bring that offensive touch here,” Viens said. “My goal is to qualify for the Olympic team and aim for a medal.”

Priestman suggested that Viens could be an influential player as a reserve player for Canada.

“You have a No. 1 player here who says, 'I know my role, I'm ready, coach, bring me in and I'll score a goal,'” she said. “I know her super strength and that is: the game is more open, it needs a goal, a lot of crosses, and Eve comes in and generally creates chaos.”

Beyond determining roster spots, Canada is also eager to face a “dangerous” Mexican team.

The Canadian players and Priestman say Mexico has become a stronger team in recent years. Mexico already proved this when it surprised the mighty United States with a 2-0 win in the group stage of the Concacaf W Gold Cup in February.

“This is no small feat,” said Priestman. “They are much fitter, they can be dangerous, they can break through, they have a dangerous front line and we have to be prepared for that.”

“We have a good team in our ranks.”

Centre-back Vanessa Gilles believes Saturday and Tuesday's games will be good preparation for Colombia, against whom Canada will play its final group game at the Olympics on July 31.

“I think we'll focus on ourselves this Saturday and play against a good opponent,” Gilles said. “I think back to a team like Colombia, whose style of play is quite similar.”

“Preparing for the Olympics, playing against a team like that while managing playing time and having players at different stages of their season will be Bev's most important task as she tries to prepare tactically for the upcoming Olympics.”

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

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press