Canada vs. Paraguay at Concacaf Gold Cup: What you need to know

The Canadian women's team will be shooting for its second straight Gold Cup win on Sunday vs. Paraguay in Houston.

Canada vs. Paraguay at Concacaf Gold Cup: What you need to know
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The Canadian women's team aims to keep its momentum going this weekend when it plays its second Group C game of the Concacaf W Gold Cup. 

Canada put the hammer down with a 6-0 victory over El Salvador on Thursday in its opening match of the competition, highlighted by Cloé Lacasse's star performance that saw her score and record a trio of assists. 

"For me, you walk off frustrated, and you actually need to enjoy winning more," Canada coach Bev Priestman told reporters after the game. "Because I think we have another level in us, and I need to be patient with that in terms of growing through the tournament — late arrivals and just getting some rhythm and things. 

"But to get a clean sheet and have goals come across five players, we've got to be happy." 

Here’s what you need to know about Sunday's match between Canada and Paraguay at Houston's Shell Energy Stadium (5:00 p.m. ET/OneSoccer). 

Canada can clinch spot in quarter-finals

The 12-team field at the Gold Cup has been divided into three round robin groups and features eight of the best teams from the Concacaf region. Four of the top nations from South America have also been invited to the tournament: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay.

The Canadians are competing in Group C and are playing all of its first-round matches in Houston. Canada and Paraguay currently top the group with three points each. Paraguay defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in its opening Group C match.

Group A consists of the United States, Argentina, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Group B features Brazil, Panama, Colombia and Puerto Rico. 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. The quarter-finals run from March 2-3 in Los Angeles. San Diego will host the semifinals and final from March 6-10.

The Canadians can book a spot in the quarter-finals with a win over Paraguay.

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 cruise through the group stage.

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Nichelle Prince out of the Gold Cup

Canada Soccer confirmed on Saturday that forward Nichelle Prince has been ruled out for the rest of the Gold Cup due to a calf injury and that she has returned to her NWSL club, the Kansas City Current, to begin her rehabilitation.

Prince, a 29-year-old from Ajax, Ont., pulled up with an injury just before halftime against El Salvador. She had to be subbed out and was replaced by Deanne Rose.

"It's just very unfortunate," Canada coach Bev Priestman said on Saturday. "I feel devastated for Nichelle, both on a personal level but also what she's contributed for this team post-World Cup. I think she's done incredibly well in that No. 9 [position] so it's a massive loss for us.

"But I'm pleased at the same time to say well this isn't another long-term long-term injury. But I think it's long enough to rule her out with the Gold Cup and it could be tight for [April's] SheBelieves [Cup). I'm not sure yet."

Prince has 16 goals and 12 assists in 97 games (55 starts) for Canada since making her international debut in 2013.

She previously ruptured her Achilles in a friendly against Brazil in November 2022. She came back in time for lats summer's FIFA World Cup but saw limited action off the bench. Since the World Cup, she has started six of Canada's seven game and scored in a 2-0 win in the first leg of its Olympic qualifier against Jamaica last September.

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Player to watch: Cloé Lacasse

Cloé Lacasse has been on the fringes of breaking into Canada’s starting 11 for quite some time now. The Arsenal forward has 30 caps to her credit since making her debut in 2021, but only 10 of those appearances have been as a starter. 

Her performance against El Salvador should give Bev Priestman something to think about as to whether she deserves more starting opportunities. Lacasse was the star of the show for Canada, scoring her fourth international goal and setting up three others. In doing so, she became the first Canadian player to record a trio of assists in a single game since 2020. 

Deployed on the right side of the midfield, Lacasse effectively linked up with fellow goal scorers Adriana Leon and Jordyn Huitema and routinely got in behind El Salvador’s back line. It was her swift-cutting move into the penalty area from off the wing that led to her opening the scoring in the third minute. Lacasse turned playmaker later in the half when she collected a pass down the right and then delivered a cross with two defenders on her to the edge of the six-yard box for Huitema to knock in past El Salvador goalkeeper Idalia Serrano.   

Canada added a third goal when Huitema’s through ball ripped open El Salvador’s back line. Lacasse let the ball run before playing a one-touch pass into the box for Leon to score into an empty net. Lacasse capped things off by setting up Olivia Smith’s goal late in the 86th minute. 

“I thought Cloé and Adriana Leon on that right-hand side in the early part of the game, it really came to life. You have two maverick-type players, dribblers who like to come off the page and that made it very difficult for [El Salvador] to deal with," Bev Priestman explained. 

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A quick look at Paraguay

Paraguay finished fourth at the 2022 Copa America Femenina and in fifth place at the 2023 Pan Am Games. So, the South Americans entered the Gold Cup with a bit of momentum, and they built upon that with their win over Costa Rica on Thursday. 

The Paraguayan squad is filled with players who play for clubs in Brazil, Mexico, Spain and Portugal, including Espanyol forward Lice Chamorro who scored the winner against Costa Rica. Incredibly, Chamorro took 63 per cent of the shots by Las Guaraníes in the win over Costa Rica. 

Aside from Chamorro, Levante forward Jessica Martinez also poses an attacking threat – she finished with three goals in five appearances at the 2022 Copa America and was named to the tournament's Best XI. 

Paraguay has built its reputation of being a strong defensive team that likes to hit out on the counterattack. So, it'll be interesting to see how much they can frustrate the Canadians and if the reigning Olympic champions can break through their low defensive block. 

"They're incredibly tenacious but also well-organized and hard to break down," Bev Priestman said. "We're going to have to take our game to another level and do that off the back of a tight turnaround with some injuries. So that's a challenge but we have to embrace that challenge and be ready for that with our own standards and expectations."

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Makeup of Canada's roster

Coach Bev Priestman earlier this month announced her 23-player squad for the Gold Cup, which features several familiar names, including newly minted captain Jessie Fleming, goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, defenders Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence, midfielder Quinn, and forwards Adriana Leon and Nichelle Prince.  

Recalled into the national team fold are forwards Deanne Rose and Clarissa Larisey. Rose previously featured in Canada's 2-0 win over Brazil in Halifax last October, while Larisey's last cap came in a 2-1 loss to France on April 11, 2023.

One player who was on the squad for December’s international window who didn’t make the cut this time around is midfielder Jeneva Hernandez-Gray. Forward Janine Beckie and Desiree Scott are still unavailable as they continue their rehabilitation from long-term injuries, while fullback Allysha Chapman is pregnant. Also missing for Canada is defender Emma Regan.

Midfielder Marie-Yasmine Alidou and defender Bianca St-Georges were omitted from Priestman's original Gold Cup squad. But injuries to fullback Jayde Riviere and defender Sydney Collins (suffered during Canada's pre-camp) saw Priestman call up both St-Georges and Alidou as replacements.

What happened last time between Canada and Paraguay

This is the first ever meeting at senior level between the two nations. 

What's next for Canada

The Canadians will take on Costa Rica on Feb. 28 in their Group C finale from Houston's Shell Energy Stadium.

(Top photo courtesy of Canada Soccer)

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