Veteran midfielder Diana Matheson looks to help lead Canadian women to World Cup

By The Canadian Press
October 3, 2018 - 10:00am

It's been more than 15 years since a teenage Diana Matheson made her senior debut for Canada, sent on in the 78th minute by then-coach Even Pellerud in a 1-0 loss to Norway at the 2003 Algarve Cup.

"I think Even was yelling instructions at me as I ran on the field. But I was too excited and did not hear a word," she recalled. "And then we lost the game so everyone was pretty subdued on the bus after. I can remember bring pretty happy and trying to keep that very contained as everyone else was pretty disappointed with the performance."

Now 34, the Utah Royals midfielder is four caps away from 200. Depending on squad rotation, she could reach the milestone at the CONCACAF Women's Championship, which serves as a World Cup qualifier for North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The tournament opens Thursday in Cary, N.C., where Trinidad & Tobago faces Panama and the top-ranked U.S. meets Mexico. Fifth-ranked Canada opens Friday against No. 64 Jamaica in Edinburg, Texas.

The Canadian women then play No. 88 Cuba on Monday and No. 34 Costa Rica on Oct. 11.

Matheson, who missed the 2017 NWSL season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee while training with Canada, is healthy and raring to go.

Matheson injured the same knee prior to the 2015 World Cup but still made the Canadian roster. She underwent surgery to repair torn cartilage in her right knee in late 2011. The recovery time was longer than expected but she made the 2012 Olympics, scoring the stoppage-time goal that beat France in the bronze-medal match.

She says the Canadian women are champing at the bit in Texas.

"I think we're just excited to play games at this point," said Matheson, a native of Oakville, Ont., who now calls Toronto home. "We've been in camp now for two weeks leading up to it. So it's kind of been our longest camp of the year since Algarve (Cup)."

The group winner will cross over to face the runner-up in the other group, meaning Canada will face Mexico if the rankings hold. The Canadians are 10-0-2 against No 24 Mexico since a 2-1 loss in 2004 that denied the Canadians a berth in the Athens Olympics.

The knockout stage, which wraps up Oct. 17, will take place in Frisco, Texas.

The top three finishers qualify automatically for the 2019 Women's World Cup in France while the fourth-place team will meet Argentina in a playoff to see who joins them.

The Canadian women have won all 12 meetings with Costa Rica, defeating the Central Americans 6-0 last time out in Toronto in June 2017. Canada is 6-0-0 against Jamaica and 1-0-0 against Cuba.

Canada has outscored those three teams 90-6.

"We know it's a reality, where these teams are in the rankings and that they're teams we should beat — we should beat by a few goals," said Matheson. "And we approach the game like that. We always have internal goals we want to reach. Sometimes scoreline, sometimes just performance."

And Matheson says while teams in the region continue to improve, they can be mystery packages.

"We don't always know what these teams are going to bring," she added. "We don't know them as well. But we know we need to do things to control the tempo and control possession more against these teams than other teams."

Canada is without midfielder Desiree Scott, a 135-cap veteran who suffered a foot injury in training, and defender Shannon Woeller, who broke her arm on the eve of the Sept. 2 friendly win over Brazil in Ottawa.

A late change saw goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan replacing the injured Erin McLeod.

Coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller's roster includes teenagers Jordyn Huitema (17), Emma Regan and Julia Grosso (both 18) and Gabrielle Carle and Deanne Rose (both 19). Carle, as an alternate, and Rose were members of Canada's 2016 Olympic bronze medallist squad and already have 42 caps between them.

With 269 caps, captain Christine Sinclair is one of four centurions along with Matheson (196), Sophie Schmidt (172) and Erin McLeod (116).

With 173 international goals, Sinclair is second only to retired American Abby Wambach, who scored 184. Sinclair, who wears No. 12, needs an even dozen more to set the world record for most international goals.

The Americans have won the regional championship seven times, with Canada emerging victorious twice (1998 and 2010).

Canada outscored its opposition 24-3 in finishing runner-up to the U.S. at the most recent CONCACAF women's tournament in 2016, which served as an Olympic qualifier. The Canadians outscored their opposition 21-0 in preliminary-round play.

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Canada Roster

Goalkeepers: Stephanie Labbe, Stony Plain, Alta., Lejonflocken Linkoping (Sweden); Kailen Sheridan, Whitby, Ont., Sky Blue FC (NWSL).

Defenders: Lindsay Agnew, Kingston, Ont., Houston Dash (NWSL); Allysha Chapman, Courtice, Ont., Houston Dash (NWSL); Ashley Lawrence, Caledon, Ont., Paris Saint-Germain (France); Emma Regan, Burnaby, B.C., University of Texas (NCAA); Kadeisha Buchanan, Brampton, Ont, Olympique Lyonnais (France); Shelina Zadorsky, London, Ont., Orlando Pride (NWSL).

Defender-Midfielder: Rebecca Quinn, Toronto, Washington Spirit (NWSL).

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

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

 

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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