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The Canadian women’s soccer team starts a new phase at the Gold Cup | CBC Sports

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Since the early 1990s, the governing body for soccer in the region encompassing North and Central American and the Caribbean has held, in no particular order, a CONCACAF Women’s Championship, a CONCACAF W Championship, a CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup and, now, the CONCACAF W Gold Cup.

All the revamping and rebranding makes it tough to trace the history of women’s soccer championships in the region. But CONCACAF recently cleared things up by introducing a new four-year calendar revolving around two major international tournaments. The CONCACAF W Championship, held in 2022, is the region’s primary qualifier for the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics. The CONCACAF W Gold Cup, now underway in the United States, will mirror the men’s Gold Cup in crowning a regional champion while serving as CONCACAF’s “flagship” women’s competition.

WATCH | Sinclair plays final match of international career:

Soccer legend Christine Sinclair plays last match as Canada’s captain

Canadian women’s national soccer team captain Christine Sinclair will play her final international game at a stadium — temporarily named after her — in Vancouver.

Here’s some more to know about the W Gold Cup and how Canada stacks up in its first tournament since the retirement of iconic captain Christine Sinclair:

The format is similar to the World Cup’s.

Twelve teams are competing in the W Gold Cup: eight from CONCACAF and four guests from the CONMEBOL (South America) confederation. They’re divided into three groups of four for round-robin play. The top two in each group along with the two best third-place teams advance to the knockout stage, which begins with the quarterfinals on March 2 and 3 near Los Angeles. The semifinals (March 6) and final (March 10) will all take place in San Diego.

Canada is the top team in what looks like the easiest group.

The reigning Olympic champions are in Group C, located in Houston. Canada, ranked 10th in the world, opens on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET vs. 104th-ranked El Salvador, which defeated Guatemala in a play-in match on Saturday. The Canadians then face 50th-ranked Paraguay (one of the South American guests) on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET before closing their group slate vs. 43rd-ranked Costa Rica on Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. ET. Canada’s matches are being shown domestically on the OneSoccer streaming service.

Group A, in the Los Angeles area, features the No. 2-ranked United States, No. 31 Argentina and No. 35 Mexico — that’s two of CONCACAF’s top three teams and the third-best in South America — along with the 107th-ranked Dominican Republic. Mexico and Argentina opened the tournament’s group stage last night by playing to a scoreless draw before the U.S. trounced the Dominican 5-0.

Group B, in San Diego, includes No. 11 Brazil and No. 23 Colombia (South America’s top two teams) plus No. 55 Panama and No. 103 Puerto Rico.

Canada has a lot to prove.

The Olympic champs flopped at the Women’s World Cup last summer in Australia, failing to advance out of their group after being shut out in two of their three matches. The Canadians rebounded to defeat a tough Jamaica team in a two-game playoff in September to qualify for the Olympics, but they’ll be going to Paris without Sinclair, who retired from the national team after a farewell match in Vancouver in December.

Thursday’s game against El Salvador will be Canada’s first since saying goodbye to its captain and international soccer’s all-time leading goal scorer, a fixture on the team since she joined it as a 16-year-old in the year 2000.

Sinclair, who turned 40 last June, was clearly not the same player over the last few years. She couldn’t handle more than a limited role at the World Cup and didn’t score a goal in her final year and a half with the national team. But she is irreplaceable, and her leadership and other intangibles will surely be missed.

Among those trying to fill the void are Jessie Fleming, who left England’s Chelsea to join Sinclair on the NWSL’s Portland Thorns for Sinclair’s final club season; and fellow Olympic champs Ashley Lawrence (Chelsea), Kadeisha Buchanan (Chelsea), Vanessa Gilles (France’s Lyon) and Julia Grosso (Italy’s Juventus), who remain in Europe.

Veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt also retired last year, while forward Janine Beckie (Canada’s co-leader in scoring at the 2021 Olympics) and midfielder Desiree Scott are still unavailable due to knee injuries that kept them out of the World Cup. Coach Bev Priestman had to make a late adjustment to her initial Gold Cup roster after defender Sydney Collins broke an ankle in training camp.

This is one of Canada’s last tuneups for the Paris Olympics.

After the Gold Cup, Canada will play in the SheBelieves Cup in April in the United States. The four-team mini-tournament gives the Canadians just two matches: they’ll face Brazil before meeting either the U.S. or eighth-ranked Japan.

Two more international windows are coming up before the Olympics, in late May/early June and mid-July, but Canada hasn’t scheduled any matches for those yet. The Olympic women’s tournament kicks off July 25.

Read more about the start of Canada’s post-Sinclair era in this Gold Cup preview by CBC Sports contributor Shireen Ahmed. Listen to Jessie Fleming on this week’s Player’s Own Voice podcast.


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