Canada Soccer to investigate having women play at home before World Cup

Canada is looking to squeeze in a home game before this summer's Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. But it may take some ingenuity to make it happen.

The sixth-ranked Canadian women, who wrap up play in the SheBelieves Cup against No. 11 Japan in Wednesday in Frisco, Texas, have just two FIFA windows before opening World Cup play July 21 against Nigeria in Melbourne.

On Tuesday, Canada Soccer announced an April 11 friendly against France in LeMans. Coach Bev Priestman says the Canadian women will just play one game in April, electing to spend the rest of the window in camp.

"The reason for that is we feel as a group we need some grass time, some actual training time to work on us," she told a virtual availability from Texas.

She said Canada Soccer is targeting two games in Australia prior to the World Cup and has already set up a closed-door game against a yet-to-be announced opponent.

"The conversation comes back to what does it look like if there's a sendoff (game in Canada) or not," Priestman said.

"I've yet to have discussions but I have a feeling that we'll be trying to do everything to make that happen," she added.

The Canadian players, currently embroiled in a labour dispute with Canada Soccer, have expressed unhappiness at the fact they're not playing at home prior to the World Cup.

There are few openings, however, with Priestman saying the team was originally scheduled to leave for the World Cup at the end of June, before the pre-tournament FIFA window opens in July.

"I think something we will explore is whether we can play a team before the July window, in June … before we leave," she said.

The April 11 game with fifth-ranked France is to take place at Marie-Marvingt Stadium.

The players' ongoing legal battle with Canada Soccer could figure into the April window.

The women refused to train in advance of the SheBelieves Cup, only to be forced back to the field by threats of legal action by Canada Soccer, which said they were not in a legal position to strike. That should not be the case come April.

They are playing the four-team SheBelieves Cup under protest.

The women want the same backing and preparation ahead of the World Cup as the men did before Qatar. Both women's and men's teams also want Canada Soccer to open its books and to explain why their programs are being cut in 2023.

Priestman says the France friendly has been in the works for some time. The game ticks several boxes as both a top-10 team and a European opponent.

"It fit from a tactical, from a coaching perspective," she said. "But as you know, the players would love to play at home before they go to the World Cup and that's something that I know is on the table for discussion at the minute around the players, Canada Soccer."

Canada has played France 15 times, with an all-time 5-7-3 record. The French won 1-0 the last time they met, in March 2020 in Calais just before the pandemic hit.

Canada has won just one of the last six meetings (1-4-1) since a 1-0 victory over the French in the bronze-medal game at the 2012 London Olympics. The Canadians downed France 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the 2106 Rio Olympics.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2023

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press