Canada coach Bev Priestman, caught in the middle of a bitter labour dispute between Canada Soccer and its players, found herself talking about her future with the program Wednesday.
The Guardian newspaper reported that Priestman was considering her options after this summer’s World Cup and is pondering a move to club football with a number of teams interested.
“Obviously post- (Olympic) gold medal there’s been regular opportunities put in front of me,” Priestman told a virtual availability when asked about the English report. “But I think that the biggest thing is I’m committed to this group of players and I’ve shared some incredible moments with them. And I want those moments to continue.
“It is a really difficult circumstance, we can’t hide from that. But my aim is to be with this group of players and to share more incredible moments.”
Men’s coach John Herdman was linked to a move to New Zealand earlier this month, prompting a brief period of uncertainty before he and Canada Soccer put out a statement pouring cold water on the report.
Despite the stress of the current labour situation — veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt said she is retiring from international football after this summer’s World Cup and had to be talked out of flying home on the weekend — Priestman said all her players will be available for Thursday’s opening game of the SheBelieves Cup against the top-ranked U.S. at Exploria Stadium.
But she admitted that her conversation with Schmidt, who has won 218 caps for Canada, was “a little bit soul-destroying for me.”
“To have Sophie talk about retirement in floods of tears, that for me, more importantly for me as a coach working with players, that was really really difficult,” she added. “I’m just so thankful that that’s been on hold. That’s the sort of emotional turmoil that’s in there.”
Priestman said she was “incredibly proud and honoured to represent the group of players I have in front of me … (and) what they stand for.”
She said her team is working to ensure the future of the next generation of players.
“What comes out loud and clear to me is this group, they’re not just fighting for themselves in the next six months,” she said.
The Canadian women came out to training at Exploria Stadium on Wednesday with their practice tops on inside-out, hiding the Canada Soccer logo.
The players are demanding the same backing ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as the men got ahead of their soccer showcase in Qatar. Both teams want a look at Canada Soccer’s books and an explanation for why both their programs are being cut this year.
Priestman made her personal position clear.
“If you’re asking me as a woman, do I believe in equality? Absolutely,” she said. “I have a little boy and I want him to know that I get the same opportunity as anybody else in this world to perform and do the things I need to do.”
Asked about the program cuts, Priestman had little to offer, saying she was in a difficult position representing both the players and Canada Soccer.
“I think that everything that’s documented is well-known and it’s a really difficult time.”
Priestman said she had reached out to Herdman about how best to navigate the difficult off-field circumstances. The Canadian men boycotted a friendly against Panama in Vancouver last June over the labour dispute.
“I’m not sure either of us are experts, I’m not sure a lot of coaches are out there … But what I do know is I’m not doing my job if I don’t prepare this group to go out and perform. And that’s everything I’ve tried to do.”
Canada and the U.S. last met in June 2022 when the U.S. won 1-0 in the final of the CONCACAF W Championship in Guadalupe, Mexico, on a 78th-minute Alex Morgan penalty.
That marked the first meeting between the two since Canada’s 1-0 semifinal triumph at the Tokyo Olympics in August 2021.
Priestman said her players will rise to the occasion Thursday.
“They’re elite high-performers who, when that whistle goes, will give everything they’ve got for the country. I know that,” said Priestman.
U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski, whose team has already waged and won its pay equity fight, also hopes the Canada Soccer strife ends soons.
“We know what the situation is and we genuinely hope that they resolve their problems,” he said in a separate availability Wednesday. “We were able to do it on our side and we’re in support of them resolving the problem on their side.”
Canada’s all-time record against the U.S. women is 4-52-7. The other Canada victories were in 1986 (2-1 in Blaine, Minn., in the Canadian women’s second-ever official outing), 2000 (3-1 in a friendly in Columbus, Ohio) and 2001 (3-0 at the Algarve Cup in Portugal).
Canada is 1-8-2 against the U.S. women — outscored 18-4 — since the controversial 4-3 after-extra-time loss in the semifinals of the 2012 London Olympics.
The sixth-ranked Canadians head for Nashville after Thursday’s contest to face No. 9 Brazil on Sunday. Then it’s on to Frisco, Texas, to take on No. 11 Japan on Feb. 22.
Canada last played in November, splitting a pair of matches (both 2-1) against Brazil in Santos and Sao Paulo. The Americans played in January, blanking No. 24 New Zealand 4-0 and 5-0 in and Wellington and Auckland.
The February international window is one of the few opportunities in advance of the World Cup for the Canadian women to get together. There is another window in early April and one in July immediately prior to the World Cup.
The Canadian team will be in legal position to strike come the April window and captain Christine Sinclair said Tuesday the team won’t participate then unless its grievances are met.
The U.S. are defending SheBelieves Cup champions and have won five of the seven editions of the tournament. France won in 2017 and England in 2019.
Canada placed third in 2021, its only previous visit to the event in Priestman’s debut as Canada coach.
Priestman is currently without the injured Nichelle Prince, Jayde Riviere, Deanne Rose and Desiree Scott.