“It’s been a long time coming”: The CanWNT/CanXNT is getting set for long-awaited BC return in April on next leg of celebration tour

As announced Wednesday, the CanWNT/CanXNT is set to come to BC in April for a pair of games, all coming as part of the next leg of their gold medal celebration tour. Here’s some of what stood out from that announcement. 

Almost 4 years later, they’re finally coming back. 

Them, of course, being the CanWNT/CanXNT, who as announced on Wednesday, are officially coming to British Columbia for the next leg of their Olympic gold medal celebration tour here in April, when they’ll take on Nigeria in a pair of games in Vancouver and Langford.

Also coming as part of their preparation in the lead-up to the CONCACAF Championships later this year, which serves as qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics, this is both a great chance for Canada to continue getting ready for those games, all while making a long-awaited return to a province they seemed to once call home.

And when we say it’s a long-awaited return, we mean it, as when Canada does take the field at BC Place on April 8th for their game against Nigeria, it’ll have been 1611 days since they last played there, when they took on the US on November 9th of 2017. 

Because of that, it’s hoped that BC can really welcome back this Canadian team in a big way here, as they make their first foray west since surprising onlookers and winning gold last summer. That, of course, is what sparked this tour in the first place, which began with matches in Ottawa and Montreal back in October of 2021, before pausing as Canada went abroad in November of last year and February to kick off this year.

So with all that, as well as with these being the first games in BC since the local hero, Burnaby’s Christine Sinclair, become the all-time leading international goal scorer back at the beginning of 2020, as well as the final matches of longtime goalkeeper, Stephanie Labbe, there is really going to be a *lot* to celebrate here. 

Therefore, while the focus will be on ensuring that they can win both games, as well as show growth as they continue preparations for the big games that lie ahead, these two games promise to be memorable for many reasons, and Canada is excited for that. 

“Yeah, it’s been a long-time coming,” Canadian head coach, and BC resident, Bev Priestman joked. 

“This team is cherished in this part of the country.”

And that’s a huge part of this tour. Of course, it’s nice for Canada to play games at home just for familiarity and comfort, but having played just 3 games at home since May of 2019, there is an especially big need for Canada to play at home right now, especially in light of their recent success. 

More people than ever are following this team, even as they’ve had to play most of their games abroad, but now, they’ll get a chance to see their heroes in person, finally allowing them to connect with them after their big triumph last summer. 

Along with the chance to introduce a new generation of fans who might have never seen this team play live, it’s only added to the occasion for Canada, who will look to make the most of it on April 8th and April 11th. 

Plus, knowing how badly this country needs a domestic league, of which they still don’t have for their top women’s players, too many of these fans don’t see these players often enough, and these sorts of games are important to change that. 

“I think to see this team live and hopefully put on an unbelievable show it’s only going to continue to inspire a whole group to come through and in the future hopefully go on and represent Canada on the world stage,” Priestman said. 

Canada’s Gabrielle Carle, Sophie Schmidt and Jordyn Huitema share a laugh during Canada’s last home game back in October (Canada Soccer/Martin Bayzl)

And speaking of inspiring that next generation, that’s why it’s so fitting that Labbe will be honoured in this camp, as she has certainly done her fair share of work in making young players fall in love with soccer with her play for Canada. 

After her iconic performances at the Olympics, where she made several key penalty stops in games and in the shootouts en route to gold, a lot of kids around the country started donning pink headbands and playing goalkeeper in her honour, showing the sort of models that these players are to the next generation.

So that she gets to play her last game of her 14 years National Team career at home is only right, as she’ll get to inspire these fans one last time, which for her, considering how much the fans have meant to her, is perfect. 

 “Yeah, it’s gonna be extremely special,” Labbe said of returning for this camp. “I’ve missed the girls the past two camps, for different circumstances. So it’ll be amazing just to get back with the team and get back in the environment, to feel that energy and it’s a really special environment that we’ve created. But also, I think, for me being from the West Coast, we’ve played so many games here in Vancouver that it really truly has felt like a second home to me on the field.”

“So to be able to come to Vancouver, I know I’m gonna have a few sections of family and friends coming out to support me. So it’s gonna be really exciting. And I think for me, it’s about being able to celebrate with my team with the coaches and the staff that have helped me get to where I am, but then also with the fans, the people that have supported me and been there for me through the past 15 years of my career, to be able to celebrate with everyone is going to be really special.”

But returning to the field, it’s going to be intriguing to see how Canada handles the challenge of playing Nigeria, the 41st ranked team in the world right now, as it won’t be a pair of easy games. 

A bit of an unknown side for most Canadians, they might not be a team of the calibre of England, Germany or Spain, say, the sides that Canada played at the Arnold Clark Cup back in February, but Nigeria is one of many teams currently making big strides in Africa. 

In fact, as the top-ranked team in the region right now, they’re expected to be at the World Cup next year, and fresh off of making it out of the group stages for just the second time in their history at the 2019 tournament, they’re hungry for more in 2023.

Because of that, Canada felt like this was the best way to test themselves right now, as they feel that this Nigeria side will be a little different from what they’re used to playing against. 

And considering that a lot of the top teams in the world right now are either in competitive matches or already booked for friendlies, narrowing down the list of teams, Canada did well to get two solid matchups with this Nigeria team, of which they’re now looking to make the most of. 

“My job is to keep moving this team forward and I think everything outside of that needs to be about putting in the hard work, we can’t underestimate the task that we’ve got ahead of us this summer,” Priestman said of the challenge. 

“So we are moving forward with climbing a new mountain and this too will absolutely allow us to do that, while celebrating the unbelievable achievement and the players that were a big part of that.”

Seeing that, expect a strong roster from Canada. Of course, they’ll call up as many of the players that won the gold medal as possible, as this is the celebration tour, but they’re also starting to experiment with tactics and new faces ahead of what lies ahead. 

We saw that at the Arnold Clark Cup, where they fared very well against 3 of the top teams of the world, so no reason why they’ll stop doing that now, continuing their preparations for the summer. 

As fun as winning the gold medal was, they’ve got much bigger goals, such as winning the World Cup, and the work towards that has already begun. 

So while some of that Olympic-winning team will be in that World Cup squad (if not all of it), they need to all earn their spot, and the work of that starts now. 

“I’ve got to probably see some faces, assess some players,” Priestman admitted. “Because I think the team that wins in 2023 and 2024 won’t be the same team that won in 2021. So I think we have to keep building but at the same time, respect and ignore that group of women who won in 2021 and brought us that moment.”

Overall, though, that’s why these games promise to be so exciting for this Canadian team. Not only are they getting a chance to celebrate some well-deserved achievements with their home fans, they’re also continuing to progress towards what lies ahead.

And based on what they’ve already done, as well as their long-term goals, big things are on the horizon, of which they now want to start putting the legwork in to make happen, continuing with these games. 

Up Next: Canada vs Nigeria, Friday, April 8th, 2022, TIME TBD (BC Place, Vancouver) 

Cover Photo via: Canada Soccer/Martin Bayzl

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