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Canada's showing at W Gold Cup complicating life for coach when it comes to selection

The CONCACAF W Gold Cup is not making Canada coach Bev Priestman's life any easier. Not that she is complaining.
Canada forward Adriana Leon (19) scores the first goal of the game against the Paraguay during the first half of the CONCACAF W Gold Cup match Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024 at Shell Energy Stadium in Houston. The 10th-ranked Canadian women prepare for a rematch with No. 43 Costa Rica, this time Saturday in Los Angeles in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF W Gold Cup. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP

The CONCACAF W Gold Cup is not making Canada coach Bev Priestman's life any easier.

Not that she is complaining. Olympic champion Canada is the top-seeded team going into the weekend quarterfinals in Los Angeles, having outscored its opposition 13-0 in three wins with a combined 51-5 edge in shots.

But her players are adding to the degree of difficulty in selecting an 18-player roster for this summer's Olympics.

"Definitely more difficult," Priestman told a media availability Friday in Los Angeles, where the 10th-ranked Canadians take on No. 43 Costa Rica in the knockout round Saturday in a repeat of the Group C matchup won 3-0 by Canada on Wednesday.

Priestman brought 23 players to the Gold Cup, with Sydney Collins and Nichelle Prince leaving early due to injury. Jayde Riviere, Janine Beckie and Desiree Scott are also spectators due to injury.

"There's at least four who aren't here that will be in contention, coming into this tournament" the coach said. "And then the performances of some young players, I think have really stepped up. And then there's been a level of consistency on the pitch, no matter who you put on the pitch. Every player has probably brought a little bit of their super-strength. So yes, definitely I walk away from this tournament with a lot to consider."

Canada still has the SheBelieves Cup in April with more friendlies expected ahead of the Olympics. 

Teenage attacker Olivia Smith has put up her hand, scoring her first goal and making her first start for the senior side. The 18-year-old, who plays for Portugal's Sporting CP, has two goals and two assists in the three group games.

And while Cloe Lacasse arrived at the tournament as a known quantity with 28 caps (nine starts), the Arsenal striker has impressed with a goal and three assists in two starts, not to mention her versatility on the field.

Defender Shelina Zadorsky, just three caps short of her century, offered a timely reminder of her skills with two headed goals off set pieces Wednesday. And 21-year-Jade Rose, one of the players who has kept Zadorsky out of the starting 11, continues to turn heads. At 21, with 15 caps to her credit, the Harvard co-captain continues to show her poise on the ball.

USC midfielder Simi Awujo, just 20, looks like a veteran every time she steps on the field, despite having just 11 caps.

Aston Villa striker Adriana Leon, meanwhile, is making her case to be one of the first names on Priestman's team sheet, leading the tournament with five goals.

Priestman's immediate concern is Costa Rica at BMO Stadium.

While Canada has won all 16 previous meetings with the Central Americans, with a combined 51-6 edge in goals, she is expecting a more difficult challenge when the teams run it back Saturday.

"It is unique and I think it's going to make it more of an interesting match," said Priestman. "Because in many ways we learned something from each other and it's who can dissect that game and apply (the learnings) going into the next game."

"For me personally as a coach, I think it's really important that we stay with the game that we're at, not getting too far ahead. But also knowing that Costa Rica, for sure, are going to bring a better version of themselves."

More difficult opponents await.

The Canada-Costa Rica winner will face either the second-ranked U.S. or No. 23 Colombia, who meet in the No. 4 versus No. 5 game Sunday.

The field was redrawn after the group stage with No. 1 taking on No 8, No. 2 versus No. 7 and so on.

While Canada finished as the top seed after group play, Costa Rica (1-2-0) had to survive a drawing of lots after finishing tied with Puerto Rico on points, goal difference, goals scored and red/yellow cards.

Canada earlier dispatched No. 104 El Salvador 6-0 and No. 50 Paraguay 4-0. Costa Rica lost 1-0 to Paraguay before defeating El Salvador 2-0.

Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan, midfielder Jessie Fleming and Leon were named to the tournament's team of the group phase by tournament organizers.

After the quarterfinals in Los Angeles, the tournament shifts to San Diego for the semifinals and final at Snapdragon Stadium on March 6 and 10, respectively.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2024

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press