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SportsCanadian women’s soccer team faces tough calls with World Cup roster deadline looming

14:55  16 may  2019
14:55  16 may  2019 Source:

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There will be some hard calls for Kenneth Heiner-Moller over the next week as the coach of the Canadian women’s soccer team whittles his roster down to the 23 players who will represent their country at next month’s Women’s World Cup.

A squad of 22 has assembled in Toronto to prepare for Canada’s final home match before that tournament, against Mexico at BMO Field on Saturday afternoon, but there are a few contenders — such as defender Kadeisha Buchanan and goalkeepers Erin McLeod and Sabrina D’Angelo — who remained with their clubs in Europe.

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Selecting three goalkeepers from four options — Stephanie Labbé and Kailen Sheridan are the others — is one decision Heiner-Moller is facing, as is the question of whether any young players are ready to make a surprise bid.

The coach plans to take a careful look at who is playing with club teams, who has match minutes and who has international expertise — something more than just experience playing in an international friendly — before he makes the selections by FIFA’s May 24 deadline. The goal is quite simply to bring the best players available, while assembling a group that can work well together until the end — which Heiner-Moller hopes will be in the July 7 final in France.

Arguably the biggest question mark is whether midfielder Diana Matheson will be healthy enough to be selected. The 35-year-old — a mainstay for 16 years, racking up 203 caps since her March 2003 debut — is dealing with a foot injury.

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“We need to find out how she’s doing,” Heiner-Moller said Wednesday, following a rainy training session at BMO Training Ground, Toronto FC’s practice complex. “She hasn’t had any game time with (the NWSL’s Utah Royals FC) . We need to find out if she’s actually ready to travel.

“She’s got so much experience being with this team. It’s something you need at a World Cup as well. We need to find out if she can actually be ready.”

Matheson was named to the camp roster, but wasn’t at practice Wednesday.

Canada faced a similar decision about Matheson four years ago, heading into the 2015 World Cup on home soil. The Mississauga player spent the months leading up to the tournament recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee and suffered a foot injury early in her recovery. Former coach John Herdman added her to the World Cup roster anyway, with Matheson eventually playing 63 minutes of Canada’s quarterfinal loss to England. It was her first game in more than eight months.

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Heiner-Moller said he would be open to using Matheson in a similar fashion this time around. With a roster of 23, Canada could afford to carry one or maybe two who wouldn’t be available until after the round robin — where the Canadians are set to face Cameroon, New Zealand and the Netherlands in Group D. Heiner-Moller would need some indication, though, that Matheson would be available right out of the group stage.

Losing Matheson, who scored the winner in the bronze-medal game against France at the 2012 London Olympics, would be a big blow to a Canadian side that isn’t used to playing a major event without her. They did get a taste of it in 2017, though, when she missed a year with another ACL tear.

If she’s out for France, Canada would look to veterans Sophie Schmidt, who could step into Matheson’s role as a playmaker, and Desiree Scott to ground the midfield. They have 323 caps between them.

Matheson’s shoes would be hard to fill, Schmidt said.

“She’s just a leader through and through,” Schmidt said. “On the pitch, off the pitch, she just exudes excellence all the time. As one of our leaders on the pitch she’s just calming. She just tells people where to go, what to do and she says the right things at the right times. She’s just that general on the field and when she’s not on the pitch we miss that, for sure.”

Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy

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