Quebec’s Viens takes advantage of opportunity on short-handed Canadian women’s soccer team

A rash of injuries left the Canadian women’s team undermanned for its pair of international friendlies this month as it continued to prepare for next summer’s FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Among the six absentees from October’s training camp were iconic captain Christine Sinclair and fellow forward Deanne Rose. The casualty list grew to seven after fullback Allysha Chapman picked up a lower leg injury in Canada’s opening game against Argentina, ruling her out for Monday’s contest versus Morocco.

But the plethora of absences barely slowed down the reigning Olympic champions, who defeated Argentina 2-0 last Thursday and followed that up with a 4-0 defeat of Morocco, with both games taking place in sunny Southern Spain.

With Sinclair and her cohorts unavailable, other experienced players on the fringe of the first team, as well as youngsters who are cutting their teeth at international level, stepped up in a big way for Canada. But the standout performer over the course of the two games was unquestionably forward Évelyne Viens.

WATCH l Viens stars in 4-0 victory over Morocco:

Pair of pretty goals power Canada’s women’s soccer team past Morocco

Great goals by Jessie Fleming and Evelyne Viens opened up the floodgates to a 4-0 Canada victory.

Viens, a 25-year-old from Quebec, made the most of the opportunity presented to her after being away from the team for the majority of this year. Although not credited with the opening goal after coming off the bench in the victory against Argentina, it was her industrious work inside the penalty area that forced a save from the goalkeeper, with the ball deflecting off a defender and trickling into the back of the net.

Deployed as a starter against Morocco instead of Jordyn Huitema, Viens was the sole architect of Canada’s opening goal. She expertly intercepted a poor clearance by goalkeeper Khadija Er-Rmichi, went on a probing run down the left side and held onto the ball long enough for Jessie Fleming to charge into the penalty area, before playing a centring pass for her teammate to slot home.

Viens doubled her side’s advantage in the second half when she scored on a header via a cross from Sophie Schmidt. It was Viens’ third goal in 12 international appearances, and first since Canada’s 2-0 win over England on April 13. Viens’ raking pass to set up Clarissa Laris­ey’s goal in the 90th minute put the cherry on the top of a brilliant individual performance.

WATCH | Injury-riddled Canadians step up against Argentina:

Canada shuts out Argentina 2-0 in Spain

Cloé Lacasse scored the go ahead goal for Canada to seal a 2-0 victory over Argentina in a friendly Thursday.

Canada dominated play and enjoyed nearly 73 per cent of the possession. But it had difficulties breaking through a well-organized Morocco defence.

“This was a different type of game and for sure, we need to find solutions when we play teams that play with a low [defensive] block and try to score on the counter-attack,” Viens said. “We think every game we play is good for us and I thought it was a good challenge today.”

Viens could not have picked a better time to break out. She’s been scoring for fun at Swedish club Kristianstads DFF with 20 goals this year. But she wasn’t called up by Canada for this summer’s CONCACAF W Championship or last month’s international window that saw the Reds earn a pair of wins in Australia against next year’s World Cup co-hosts.

After the win against Argentina, Canadian coach Bev Priestman spoke about how she challenged Viens to work on aspects of her game at club level after the disappointment of being left off the team for the last two camps. Viens clearly took those discussions to heart, and repaid Priestman’s faith during her recall into the team this month.

“Bev and I had meetings and it was good to know just what she wanted me to work on,” Viens said. “Defensively some adjustments, and offensively how I can help the team in the buildup. Those were the two main points, and I took those windows I wasn’t getting called in to keep working and get my rhythm in Sweden.

“I was happy to be called back in, and she gave me a chance to be on the field, so I was really glad.”

WATCH | Viens pots 1st international goal:

Evelyne Viens scores her 1st international goal for Canada in win over Wales

Evelyne Viens scored Canada’s second goal in a 3-0 win over Wales in an international friendly in Cardiff in the United Kingdom.

Viens also benefited from a tactical shift made by Priestman, who has recently shifted from her preferred 4-3-3 formation to a new-look 4-2-3-1 setup where the main striker is supported by three attackers playing just behind.

Viens thrived in her role as the main reference point in attack, using her strength to hold up the ball link up with her teammates. It also allowed her to display her playmaking skills, which have largely gone unnoticed since she made her national team debut in February, 2021.

“The new system suits Évelyne … She’s an in-behind, fox-in-the-box-type of player,” Priestman said. “I’ve seen Évelyne come in with confidence and I think confidence is critical for a [forward]. She looks like she’s enjoying herself, rather than having the weight of the world on her shoulders.

“We’re all hyping her up on the outside, but sometimes that can mean facing a lot of pressure. I’ve just asked her to relax and do what she does at her club, and she’s done that. I’m happy for her, because she’s gone away and worked hard at her game.”

Canada’s group stage opponents for next summer’s FIFA World Cup will be determined during the official draw on Oct. 22 in Auckland. The Canadian team will close out this year with more friendlies in November, with Canada Soccer expected to make an official announcement about opponents in the coming days.

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