Chalk up another honour for Jessie Fleming.
In the absence of Christine Sinclair, the 23-year-old midfielder from London, Ont., will captain Canada against host England on Thursday at the Arnold Clark Cup. The 38-year-old Sinclair, the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer, is not with the team due to the recent death of her mother.
“Jesse’s very similar to Christine in her leadership,” Canada coach Bev Priestman told a virtual availability Wednesday. “She leads by example. She’ll be the hardest-working player on that pitch.”
Thursday’s match sees the sixth-ranked Canadians face No. 8 England. No. 3 Germany meets No. 9 Spain to kick off the doubleheader at Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough.
While it marks the first time Fleming serves as skipper with the senior side, she captained Canada at the 2013 CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Championship and 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup under Priestman.
Fleming has already won 94 caps for Canada and helped England’s Chelsea fill its trophy cabinet.
“It’s a huge honour for Jessie, I know, to represent her country” said Priestman. “So I’m really proud of her and where she’s been and where she’s going.”
Canada Soccer says Fleming will lead the team out Thursday, with captain duties for the next two matches to be announced later. Sophie Schmidt (209 caps), Desiree Scott (171 caps), Erin McLeod (119 caps), Janine Beckie (83 caps), Shelina Zadorsky (77 caps) and Quinn (73 caps) — who goes by one name — are other veteran options.
Fleming, along with Sinclair, and fellow Canadian Ashley Lawrence, was on the 20-woman short list for the 2021 Ballon d’Or but did not make the five finalists. Awarded by France Football magazine, the Ballon d’Or is presented annually to the world’s top soccer player.
Fleming was named the Barclays FA Women’s Super League player of the month for November. And she won Canada Soccer’s Player of the Month honours for October, along with Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies.
After England, the Canadians face No. 3 Germany on Sunday in Norwich and No. 9 Spain next Wednesday in Wolverhampton.
Priestman calls the four-team tournament “the start of a new journey” for her Olympic champion side.
The Canadians are gearing up for CONCACAF’s W Championship, set for July in Monterrey, Mexico. That will serve as a qualifier for the 2023 Women’s World Cup with the winner also earning an automatic berth in the 2024 Olympics in France.
Priestman says her team is up to the new challenge.
“Every player, I can feel that hunger and desire,” she said. “But I think secondly we’ve definitely addressed, I guess, the new vision — where we’re heading. And probably more importantly what it’s going to take to get there.
“We climbed an unbelievable mountain in the Olympic Games. But what we have to do now is come off that mountain. We can’t stand still. We have to go and climb a completely different mountain that’s going to take new things, potentially new players or new versions of the players that we have.
“So it’s been really a sort of get-to-work camp. And I think you’ll see that and feel that on the pitch.”
First time call-ups include midfielder Marie-Yasmine Alidou (SK Sturm Graz, Austria), forward Tanya Boychuk (University of Memphis) and goalkeeper Devon Kerr (Washington Spirit, NWSL). Forward Cloe Lacasse (Benfica, Portugal) and midfielder Victoria Pickett (Kansas City Current, NWSL) have been called up for the second time.
Sinclair was missing through injury in February 2021 at the SheBelieves Cup, when Priestman made her coaching debut with Canada. Priestman says the Tokyo Olympics proved that the talismanic captain didn’t have to have “the game of her life” and could just focus on her job because she had a talented supporting cast around her.