How the NWSL can give Canada an entry point into women's professional soccer

NWSL championship preview: Sinclair, Scott provide distinct Canadian flavor

This weekend’s NWSL championship game between the Portland Trail Blazers and current Kansas City Caps caps off a memorable year on the pitch for the league, which featured Canadian players prominently in the playoffs after an impressive regular season. .

All six clubs that qualified for the playoffs have at least one player from the Canadian women’s team on their rosters, meaning Saturday’s final at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. will be an all-Canadian affair. Portland features popular Canadian captain Christian Sinclair and fellow forward Janine Beckie, while Desiree Scott is a key figure in central midfield for Kansas City.

The NWSL regular season was a dramatic sprint from start to finish, with just seven points separating league leaders OL Ren and the sixth-place Chicago Red Stars. This led to the final weekend of the campaign where OL Ren beat Portland for first place, and Chicago finished just one point ahead of the North Carolina Braves to secure the sixth and final playoff berth.

The drama continued last weekend when Portland secured their place in the finals with an injury-time goal in a 2-1 win over San Diego Wave FC, led by Canadian Kilian Sheridan, who won Player of the Year. Was named Best NWSL Goalkeeper. In the other semifinal, Kansas City lost 2-0 against top-seeded OL Reign, which featured Canadian Quinn and Jordan Huytma.

Midfielder Sophie Schmidt, one of three Canadians in the Houston Dash’s first-round loss to Kansas City, suffered through the entirety of the regular season.

“It’s a shame in that we don’t know who’s going to make the playoffs, and who’s going to finish first. It comes down to the very last game. Every game, every team, you don’t know. That’s how the playoffs go. It’s so close,” Schmidt told SportsNet.

The fact that so many Canadians had strong campaigns and participated in NWSL games brought a smile to Canadian women’s coach Bev Priestman.

“I’m over the moon. I think what you’ve seen is some players on the NWSL roster having a fantastic season. It’s always nice to see players do what they do for their club and their country. It’s a pleasure,” Pressman said.

Getting involved in as many competitive games as possible is essential for the Canadians right now, what with the long NWSL season before the new campaign begins next spring, and the Olympic champions at the international games in November and February. Play friendly games. the window

There is also the small matter of the FIFA World Cup, to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, just nine months away. Canadians being involved in high-pressure games in the NWSL is exactly the kind of experience Priestman wants her players to have ahead of the World Cup.

“That’s what we want. Players where they have to win, where everything is on the line. That experience accumulates, and that’s really important. It adds to what we’re getting. It means is that they play football for a long time and therefore manage the off-season to the February window,” Priestman said.

At the same time that members of last summer’s gold medal team are supplying the NWSL playoffs, some of their Canadian teammates are making headlines overseas.

The 2022-23 UEFA Champions League had a distinctly Canadian flavor to it when it kicked off this month, as six Canadians competed in the prestigious competition that brings together the best clubs from Europe.

Kadeisha Buchanan and Jessie Fleming (Chelsea), Ashley Lawrence (Paris Saint-Germain), Julia Grosso (Juventus) and Cloé Lacasse (Benfica) all have Champions League experience, so this season’s tournament will not be new to them. The lone Champions League newcomer among the Canadians is defender Vanessa Gilles, who recently joined French club Olympique Lyonnais on loan from NWSL Angel City.

“It’s great. That’s something we have to celebrate, that a lot of our players have [reached that high]. You look at it … you’re going to see more of our players when they’re facing really tough games,” Priestman said.

Lacas is eager to test himself against Barcelona’s clubs, and hopes it will strengthen his position in the national team ahead of the World Cup. Lacasse has one goal in 13 games for Canada.

“Playing in the Champions League games against the best opponents in Europe is very important because we will face the best talent in Europe, in the world. Against Barcelona, ​​and they are some of the most unforgettable in the world. have talent. So, it’s great to go one-on-one with those kinds of opponents, especially before the World Cup. These are the types of players I want to play against,” Lacasse said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Priestman, who feels the participation of so many Canadians in the UEFA Champions League only strengthens her team’s chances for success at next summer’s World Cup.

“I think it’s important. [Those] Sometimes, the games they have to win, they get different levels from people. You see players under pressure against world class players. It’s games as a coach when you tune in that you’re really passionate about. You hope your players go on and go all the way and do well,” Priestman said.

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found over here.

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