Concacaf Gold Cup a chance for Jessie Fleming to keep evolving

In this 1-on-1 interview, Fleming discusses the Concacaf Gold Cup, Christine Sinclair's international retirement and much more.

Concacaf Gold Cup a chance for Jessie Fleming to keep evolving
TFC Republic is on a free trial this week, so please enjoy this story and many more that will come out from behind the paywall until Sunday, Feb. 25.

You can subscribe to TFC Republic by CLICKING HERE, or by clicking on the subscribe button on the home page. A monthly subscription costs just $8, while a yearly subscription is $50 (a savings of 48%).

For the first time in a very long time, the Canadian women's team is heading into a major international competition without Christine Sinclair. 

The Concacaf W Gold Cup, scheduled from Feb. 20 to March 10, will be the first competition for Canada since Sinclair announced her international retirement in December. As a result, it'll be up to the squad's core of veterans to step up and fill the leadership void left by the all-time top scorer in international soccer  

One such player is Jessie Fleming, the 25-year-old from London, Ont., who recently transferred from English league outfit Chelsea to the Portland Thorns of the NWSL. The dynamic midfielder has 19 goals in 123 caps since making her debut for Canada in 2023, and although nothing has been announced officially the expectation is she will succeed Sinclair as Canada's next captain. 

The Canadians will compete in Group C at the Gold Cup and will play all of its group stage matches in Houston. The reigning Olympic champions will face El Salvador on Feb. 22, Paraguay on Feb. 25 and Costa Rica on Feb. 28. The top two nations in each of the three round robin groups - as well as the two-best third place teams overall - advance to the knockout round. Canada is No. 10 in the current FIFA rankings, well ahead of Costa Rica (No. 43), Paraguay (No. 50) and El Salvador (No. 104), so the expectation is that it should easily qualify for the quarter-finals.  

In this one-on-one interview with TFC Republic, Fleming discusses the 2024 Concacaf Gold Cup, playing in different positions under coach Bev Priestman, the Canada-United States rivalry, Sinclair's international retirement and much more. 

This Q&A has been lightly edited and trimmed for brevity and clarity. 

How have you found participating in Canada's pre-camp ahead of the Gold Cup? 

It's been good. To be honest it's been really nice having a smaller group together. You get more time with each player and get to spend more time playing with teammates on the training pitch. Just to get the opportunity to work on some individual- and unit-specific work, it's been a nice little change.

I've been used to coming into camp and it being pretty quick before we play our first game, so this is a nice change of pace. Sometimes it's nice to have a bit more time to just train and focus on specific stuff for the team. 

How would you evaluate Canada's group? What are the team's expectations for this Gold Cup? 

When you look at the bigger tournament there's a lot of really good teams, especially with the South American countries involved. We're just excited for the Gold Cup as a whole. Our expectation is to win the group and we look at it as a good opportunity to get together and play some tough games leading into the Olympics this summer. 

Aside from the results on the pitch, what are some of the goals the team has set for itself at the Gold Cup? From a performance level, what things would you like to see from Canada at this tournament? 

When you look at the games that we've played since last summer's World Cup, I think we've taken some positive steps with a little bit of a different formation. We're still getting used to that and trying to find the right positions for each player. So, I think it's just about continuing to grow on that and creating a lot of quality attacking situations and really nailing down our defensive structures. All together this is a good rehearsal to try out a few things and try out different players before the Olympics. 

Bev Priestman has been pretty flexible in her tactics and formations over the past year. Your role changes depending on the system she deploys, whether playing higher up as part of the front three or deeper in the midfield. Is that hard for you to adapt? What do you see as your best position within this team? 

I don't know if I would say it's hard. It's definitely a challenge. Sometimes it can take a bit of time for any player to adapt to a new system. That's why I think this tournament is a good opportunity for our team to grow with a lot of players being in slightly different positions.

For me, I see myself as somewhere between a No. 10 and No. 6. I think I'm that player who is able to link the defence and the attack. Within different systems and depending who is on the pitch, it's about putting all the players on our team in the best positions relative to each other. I think it's just part of the sport that you have to be adaptable and able to play in slightly different positions. It's just a challenge and something that I want to keep growing on and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to continue to do that in this Gold Cup. 

If all goes according to form, Canada and the United States should meet in the final on March 10 in San Diego. For you, what has made it such an intriguing rivalry over the years? 

For me growing up, I watched Canada vs. USA in hockey on TV, so I think that's extended to our sport. When I look at this tournament, I also see Brazil and Colombia as unbelievably talented teams and two teams that are difficult to play against.

I think that's why this Gold Cup is so exciting because typically in a Concacaf tournament it is us eyeing the U.S. Whereas now it feels like there's a few more really good teams in the mix. When you look at the World Cup results that Jamaica had, Mexico has some good momentum right now with the success of their domestic league, so I don't think it's fair to say it's just us and the U.S.  

It's a new era for the Canadian women's team as this will be the side's first tournament since the retirement of Christine Sinclair late last year. What are your thoughts about Canada going into this Gold Cup minus its iconic captain? 

It's something that everyone is cognizant of, but it's been nice to have a bit of a slower start to camp to ease us into things and get used to things. I think it'll feel more real once the games start. But I also think we've known for a while that Christine was going to retire, so we've had the opportunity to prepare.

I fully trust the group of players we have here, and I think we have a lot of experience when you look at our team. There's a lot of leaders in this group so I don't think anyone is worried. Christine retiring was inevitable, so it's good that we've had enough time before a big tournament to adapt without her and adapt in terms of personalities and our leadership. 

You mentioned leadership. With Christine gone, some players are going to have to step up in a big way to provide this team with leadership. Do you see yourself as a leader? Is that a side of your game that is still developing? 

It's something I want to work on. It's another thing that is a challenge for me. I see myself as a leader in some regards. I'll always work very hard for my teammates and give my best on the pitch. But there are so many different parts of my game that I would like to continue to develop and that's definitely one of them. There are so many personalities in this team that we can lean on each other, so that's the strength of the group. 

(Top photo courtesy of Canada Soccer)

TFC Republic has a comments section! At the very bottom of every story, there is a feature where you can post your comments, so be sure to share your thoughts and views.