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Kailen Sheridan says competition brings the best out of the Canadian women

The Canadian women look to put the finishing touches on a golden year Saturday with the first of two matches against Mexico. The sixth-ranked Olympic champions take on No.
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The Canadian women look to put the finishing touches on a golden year Saturday with the first of two matches against Mexico.

The sixth-ranked Olympic champions take on No. 28 Mexico at a Mexico City training facility before Tuesday's rematch at Estadio Azulgrana.

For Canada, it's a chance to extend a five-game winning streak and 12-game unbeaten run (8-0-4 including two penalty shootout wins at the Olympics) dating back to a 2-0 loss to Brazil on Feb. 24 at the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando.

Canada is 9-2-4 this year, with the other loss also at the Orlando tournament — a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the top-ranked U.S. that was later avenged at the Tokyo Olympics.

The SheBelieves Cup marked the start of Bev Priestman's tenure as coach, and goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan believes it set the tone for the year.

"It was a big roster in the camp. It was a brand-new coaching staff, for the most part," Sheridan said from Mexico.

"At that point, I think everybody knew it was going to be an incredibly competitive year and Bev kind of instilled that within us," she added. "So I think at that point we were in a mindset of really trying to understand Bev, understand what we could do as a team and really compete more. I think we really felt that throughout the year.

"And it benefited us a lot during the summer. And it's still benefiting us now because we're still feeling that competitive edge every time we go into camp and we bring in these big rosters or newer people. And it's an opportunity for us to try things, build new relationships, but also kind of feel uncomfortable a little bit and get us outside of that comfort zone where we can really challenge ourselves as a team and as individuals."

Priestman has brought in new faces, saying they bring their talent and "a desire and a hunger to do whatever they can to wear the shirt."

Sheridan, who came back from surgery to be part of the Olympic squad after injuring a leg at the SheBelieves Cup, knows all about competition.

Canada is overflowing with talent at the goalkeeper position.

Erin McLeod, 38, has won 119 caps while current No. 1 Stephanie Labbé, 35, has 85. The 26-year-old Sheridan, a two-time nominee for NWSL goalkeeper of the year, has 14 caps and 28-year-old Sabrina D'Angelo has eight.

All four were called into the Mexico camp, although Labbé, along with Ashley Lawrence and Shelina Zadorsky, did not make it due to medical reasons, according to Canada Soccer.

"It's an interesting dynamic because there is only one really who gets to play and we all want that. And we all know that the others want that," said Sheridan, a native of Whitby, Ont. "And we're going to be pushing at the best of our ability to get it.

"We've had many conversations off the field, on the field, about our culture and our relationships. And how important it is for us to push each other. If I'm getting better each day, then that's going to make them get better each day and vice versa."

Priestman has previously called Liverpool 'keeper Rylee Foster into camp. And Canadian goalkeeper Devon Kerr was on the Washington bench when the Spirit won the NWSL championship earlier this month.

Canada's depth was further shown when D'Angelo suffered an injury in camp in Mexico. Priestman has called in 19-year-old Anna Karpenko, a Canadian youth international who plays for Harvard University, as a replacement.

The games against Mexico, which ranks third in CONCACAF behind Canada and the top-ranked U.S., offer Priestman's team a chance to play CONCACAF opposition at altitude. 

Canada has won five straight against Mexico and is unbeaten in their last 14 meetings (12-0-2) dating back to a 2-1 loss in March 2004. Its overall record against the Mexican women is 22-1-2. 

That one loss was a costly one, however. The 2-1 defeat in March 2004 in a CONCACAF semifinal in San Jose, Costa Rica, denied Canada a berth at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

The Canadian women have played twice since their Tokyo Olympic triumph, defeating No. 23 New Zealand 5-1 in Ottawa and 1-0 in Montreal, kicking off what was dubbed a "Celebration Tour.''

Priestman's team is expected to play away matches during the February international window. Canada Soccer says that Celebration Tour will continue with home matches next spring.

The Canadians are gearing up for next July's CONCACAF W Championship, which will determine qualification for the 2023 World Cup and 2024 Olympics.

The Canada squad will be watching the Ballon d'Or results Monday with interest, given captain Christine Sinclair, Lawrence and Jessie Fleming are among 20 finalists for the world's player of the year.

Sinclair is also up for Best FIFA Women’s Player while Priestman is a finalist for Best FIFA Women’s Coach and Labbé for Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper. Those winners will be announced Jan. 17.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2021.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press