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Game Preview: USWNT hosts Canada in SheBelieves Cup opener

Colorado’s Lindsey Horan, Sophia Smith, and Jaelin Howell are available tonight

FBL-WOMEN-FRIENDLY-NED-US Photo by PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) will kick-off a three-game tournament this evening against their northern rivals: FIFA 6th and Concacaf 2nd-ranked Team Canada.

As a continuum of the annual SheBelieves Cup, the Lady Yanks will also host Brazil (FIFA 8th) and Argentina (FIFA 31st) during the seven-day event that is being held at NWSL/MLS Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

The opening of the tournament comes after the USWNT concluded their fourth of six planned player evaluation camps ahead of 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Included in the camp’s official invitation list were Rush Colorado’s midfielder, Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), and Real Colorado’s striker Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns). Also invited to train with the rostered players were Real Colorado alumni Mallory Pugh and Jaelin Howell.

Soon into the start of camp, Howell, a 21-year old defensive midfielder, was elevated to full roster status after Samantha Mewis was unable to join due to an ankle injury from their match against Colombia in January. Mewis is a member of the Women’s Super League Manchester City side. She is currently in England completing her rehabilitation.

Mallory Pugh trained with the U.S. team for a week, then reported to her new NWSL team, the Chicago Red Stars, for the start of their preseason camp.

USA vs Canada

Tonight’s game will be the 61st meeting between the Concacaf neighbors. Canada and the U.S women’s national teams have been playing one another since 1986. Many of Canada’s players are members of the NWSL or play with teams based in the United Kingdom and Europe. Canada last beat Team USA in 2001.

Canada’s senior team is led by a new head coach Bev Priestman. She was brought on in October 2020 and tonight’s game will be her debut. Most recently, she served as England’s U-17 WNT head coach. The 34-year-old has Olympic experience under her belt when she supported Team Canada’s efforts to win a bronze medal in 2016 with then-head coach, John Herdman.

Canada will be without the services of the team captain Christine Sinclair, Bianca St. Georges, Diana Matheson, and Erin McLeod who are all recovering from injuries. While the talented defender Kadeisha Buchanan, Jordyn Huitema, and Ashley Lawrence are unavailable for call-up because their professional teams would not release them for this tournament.

However, Priestman has a deep roster and will turn to veterans Sophie Schmidt and Desiree Scott to lead five highly respected, up-and-coming players including forward Evelyne Viens, midfielders Samantha Chang and Jordyn Listro, defender Jade Rose, and goaltender Rylee Foster.

During a media conference call earlier this week, USWNT head Coach Vlatko Andonovski was made aware of the fact that the U.S has not lost to Canada in 20 years. The straight-faced skipper volleyed back a quick response, saying in so many words that he intended to keep it that way.

He discussed the challenge of preparing his team to play against a new coach with a new style of play, plus all the uncapped players. “They have such a talented roster. I am pretty sure that they will present different challenges for us,” he admitted. “Our mentality or approach is not changing. But our strategy may change in how we are going to defend that Sinclair is not there, and how we will attack since Buchanan is not there. So there are certain tweaks that we have in our strategy, but our approach will not change from the mental standpoint.”

Canada losing Sinclair is painful. “Christine Sinclair is an unbelievable player, the greatest goal scorer of all time, and missing her will create issues for the Canada National Team,” said Andonovski.

“You can bet [a] United States/Canada [match] will be intense. Canada comes in with so much determination and battle when they play USWNT, that I don’t think it is matched like any other team that we have faced before,” the head coach added. “We will expect their intensity and battle as a starting point ... But also, Canada has so many young incredible players that will create problems, issues for us. We know Janine Beckie, Nichelle, and Jessie Fleming — they are all players that play on good teams. They have such great qualities that we have been studying them for a couple of weeks, and we are hoping to stop in any way possible.”

Three games in seven days favors the Coloradoans

In early 2020, the USWNT qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. They have two more camps and several more friendlies to evaluate the player pool and prepare for the rescheduled Summer Games. Included in that formula for success are Coloradoans Lindsey Horan, Sophia Smith, Jaelin Howell, and Mallory Pugh. Three matches in seven days for the SheBelieves Cup will give Andonovski and staff the opportunity to better evaluate this roster against more formidable opponents than they’ve previously played.

“In terms of our approach to the tournament, it will be a mixed [evaluation] approach. We will try to figure out the consistency with certain players or a certain group of players individually, and evaluate players individually in connection with other players, and also evaluate players in different spots [on the field],” Andonovski said during the virtual press conference. All 23 players will dress for the games.

This approach should afford newcomers Smith and Howell plenty of playing time and opportunity to showcase their team and individual play. Horan is currently a hands-down shoo-in to make the Olympic Team roster. Pugh, however, remains on the bubble. She will need to win invitations to the next camps, and then, impress beyond the norm. She certainly has the potential to do so.

Team USA is currently on a 50-game home unbeaten streak. They have outscored the opposition 179-27, including a margin of 46-1 during its last 11 matches. Head coach Vlatko Andonovski is running the table with a perfect 13-0-0 record in his tenure as head coach of the USWNT.

Fasten your seat belts. Tonight’s face-off should be entertaining to watch.

How to Watch: USWNT vs. Canada

Match Date/Time: Thursday, February 18 at 5 p.m. MT

Venue: Exploria Stadium — Orlando, Florida

TV Information: FS1 and TUDN

Follow along on Twitter @USWNT or Instagram @USWNT or Facebook

USWNT ROSTER, BY POSITION, CLUB, AND CAPS:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash; 4), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage; 0), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 65)

DEFENDERS (8): Abby Dahlkemper (Manchester City, ENG; 63/0), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars; 27/1), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC; 107/24), Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars; 32/0), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit; 133/2), Margaret Purce (Sky Blue FC; 4/1), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC; 179/0), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit; 48/0)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars; 105/20), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC; 88/20), Jaelin Howell (Florida State; 1/0), Rose Lavelle (Manchester City, ENG; 48/13), Catarina Macario (Olympique Lyonnais, FRA; 2/1), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash; 18/3)

FORWARDS (6): Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC; 296/123), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride; 170/107), Christen Press (Manchester United, ENG; 139/58), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign; 170/54), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC; 1/0), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage; 31/10)

CANADA’S NATIONAL TEAM ROSTER, BY POSITION AND CLUB:

GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Stephanie Labbé (FC Rosengård, SWE), 12-Rylee Foster (Liverpool FC, ENG), 18-Kailen Sheridan (Sky Blue FC, USA)

DEFENDERS (9): 2-Allysha Chapman (Houston Dash, USA), 3-Jade Rose (Unionville Milliken SC), 4-Shelina Zadorsky (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG), 5-Quinn (OL Reign, USA), 14-Gabrielle Carle (Florida State Univ., USA), 20-Jayde Riviere (Univ. of Michigan, USA), 21-Jordyn Listro (Orlando Pride, USA), 22-Lindsay Agnew (NC Courage, USA), 23-Vanessa Gilles (FC Girondins de Bordeaux, FRA)

MIDFIELDERS (6): 7-Julia Grosso (Univ. of Texas, USA), 8-Samantha Chang (Univ. of South Carolina, USA), 10-Sarah Stratigakis (Oakville Blue Devils FC), 11-Desiree Scott (Kansas City NWSL, USA), 13-Sophie Schmidt (Houston Dash, USA), 17-Jessie Fleming (Chelsea, ENG)

FORWARDS (5): 6-Deanne Rose (Univ. of Florida, USA), 9-Evelyne Viens (Paris FC, FRA), 15-Nichelle Prince (Houston Dash, USA), 16-Janine Beckie (Manchester City, ENG), 19-Adriana Leon (West HamUnited, ENG)