Veterans Diana Matheson, Erin McLeod back with Canada team for Algarve Cup

Veterans Diana Matheson and Erin McLeod return to the Canadian lineup for the Algarve Cup later this month.

Both players were not summoned for last month’s camp in Spain and friendly win over Norway as a precaution after rehabbing injuries. While both have suffered long-term knee injuries in the past, Matheson had been sidelined by a toe issue while McLeod was dealing with a foot problem.

Matheson, a 34-year-old midfielder from Oakville, Ont., has 201 caps for Canada. The 35-year-old McLeod, a goalkeeper from St. Albert, Alta., has 116 caps.

Matheson last played for Canada at the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament last October. McLeod’s last outing was at the 2018 Algarve Cup.

“The return of Matheson and McLeod is great for the team both on and off the pitch,” coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller said. “Both veterans are important people within our team and important players with tremendous experience on the international stage, so their return at this point is excellent news for the squad.”

Christine Sinclair captains the team. The 35-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., who has 275 caps, scored her 178th international goal in the recent 1-0 win over Norway. She is just six goals off retired American Abby Wambach’s world record of 184.

Eight members of the 23-women roster play their club football in Europe.

Canada, ranked fifth in the world, will open its Algarve Cup campaign against No. 22 Iceland on Feb. 27 before playing No. 20 Scotland on March 1. It will wrap up play with a ranking match March 6.

“Iceland and Scotland are very compact teams that are hard to unlock and they both have dangerous counter-attacks, so we know these are not going to be easy matches, or ones with a high scoreline,” said Heiner-Moller.

The Portugal event represents Canada’s final tournament in advance of the Women’s World Cup, which starts in June.

Heiner-Moller, a former assistant coach who took over the ream from John Herdman in January 2018, says he has a pretty good handle on the talent at his disposal.

“Without any doubt, I think I can put down 14, 15, potentially 16 names,” he said.

“Then there might be three, four players that are more or less always there,” he added. “Then there are players who on a given day impress you.”

He says he is looking at a pool of 27 or perhaps 28, from which he will choose 23 for the World Cup.

Players can still make their case.

“Going to the World Cup you need to pick players that are in-form,” he said. “So there’ll definitely be a slot or two for the ones who are going to impress me this spring.”

Canada’s Algarve Cup roster has an average age of 25.5 years old. There are five players with more than 100 international appearances for Canada: Sinclair (275), Matheson (201), Sophie Schmidt (177), Desiree Scott (136) and McLeod (116). Six other players have more than 50 caps.

Teenagers Julia Grosso, Jordyn Huitema and Deanne Rose, who turns 20 during the competition, are also part of the Algarve roster.

Other Algarve Cup participants headed to the World Cup are the seventh-ranked Netherlands, No. 9 Sweden, No. 12 Spain, No. 13 Norway, No. 15 China and No. 20 Scotland. The other five participating teams are No. 17 Denmark, No. 18 Switzerland, No. 22 Iceland, No. 32 Portugal and No. 34 Poland.

Canada finished fifth at last year’s tournament after beating Japan 2-0 in its final match. Canada, second to Sweden in Group B with a 2-1-0 record, was consigned to the fifth-place game after finishing as the second-best runner-up behind Portugal (2-0-1).

The championship game between Sweden, and the Netherlands was cancelled due to heavy rain. Both teams were awarded first place.

Canada was runner-up in 2017 and won the tournament in 2016.

The Canadian women also have a friendly against fourth-ranked England scheduled for April 5 in Manchester. Heiner-Moller hopes to get a second game in that international window, as well as another two or three matches before the World Cup.

Canada Algarve Cup Roster

Goalkeepers: Stephanie Labbe, Stony Plain, Alta., North Carolina Courage (NWSL); Erin McLeod, St. Albert, Alta., Vaxjo DFF (Sweden); Kailen Sheridan, Whitby, Ont., Sky Blue FC (NWSL).

Defenders: Allysha Chapman, Courtice, Ont., Houston Dash (NWSL); Kadeisha Buchanan, Brampton, Ont., Olympique Lyonnais (France); Shelina Zadorsky, London, Ont., Orlando Pride (NWSL); Ashley Lawrence, Caledon, Ont., Paris Saint Germain (France); Shannon Woeller, Vancouver, Eskilstuna United DFF (Sweden); Lindsay Agnew, Kingston, Ont., Houston Dash (NWSL).

Defender/Forward: Jenna Hellstrom, Sudbury, Ont., Vaxjo DFF (Sweden).

Midfielders: Rebecca Quinn, Toronto, Paris FC (France); Julia Grosso, University of Texas(NCAA); Diana Matheson, Oakville, Ont., Utah Royals FC (NWSL); Desiree Scott, Winnipeg, Utah Royals FC (NWSL); Sophie Schmidt, unattached, Abbotsford, B.C.; Gabrielle Carle, Levis, Que., Florida State (NCAA); Jessie Fleming, London, Ont., UCLA (NCAA).

Forwards: Deanne Rose, Alliston, Ont., University of Florida (NCAA); Jordyn Huitema, Chilliwack, B.C., Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite; Christine Sinclair (capt.), Burnaby, B.C., Portland Thorns (NWSL); Nichelle Prince, Ajax, Ont., Houston Dash (NWSL); Janine Beckie, Highlands Ranch, Colo., Manchester City (England); Adriana Leon, King City, Ont., West Ham United (England).

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