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New format, new team as 2nd Challenge Cup tournament kicks off new NWSL season

The second annual National Women’s Soccer League’s Challenge Cup begins Friday with plenty of intrigue, a new expansion team and 15 Canadians in the mix.  

The NWSL was the first North American professional sport to return during the COVID-19 pandemic last June with the inaugural Challenge Cup, then a round-robin tournament format held in a bubble environment in Salt Lake City. 

This year’s edition will be much different. 

First of all, the teams won’t be in one place, they’ll be travelling and fans will be allowed into select stadiums depending on local guidelines. The league’s 10 teams will be divided into East and West divisions of five teams, playing each team once — two home, two away.  The division winners will meet in the championship game on May 8 (location still to be determined). 

The East:

  • North Carolina Courage
  • Orlando Pride
  • Racing Louisville FC
  • Gotham City FC
  • Washington Spirit

The West:

  • Chicago Red Stars
  • Houston Dash
  • Kansas City
  • Portland Thorns
  • OL Reign

The tournament kicks off April 9 with a doubleheader, featuring a rematch of last year’s final between the reigning champion Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars and Kansas City NWSL (formerly Utah Royals) on the road versus Christine Sinclair’s Portland Thorns FC. 

Canadian forward Christine Sinclair and her Portland team take on Kansas City Friday as part of an opening-day doubleheader. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images)

Racing Louisville FC makes its league debut April 10 as it hosts Orlando, which missed last year’s Challenge Cup due to COVID-19 cases within the club. 

National team members for both Canada and the United States will miss the beginning of the tournament because of international friendlies in Europe. 

Four games will air on the league’s broadcast partner, CBS Sports, and all games are streamed on Paramount+, formerly known as CBS All Access. The Challenge Cup is precursor to the NWSL’s regular season, which opens in mid-May and ends in October. 

North Carolina Courage

Stars: Casey Murphy (GK, USA), Debinha (F, BRA), Lynn Williams (F, USA), Abby Erceg (FB, NZL) 

Canadians to watch: Lindsay Agnew (FB, Kingston, ON)

Notes: First-round draft pick and Canadian international Deanne Rose (10th overall) will play her senior season with the University of Florida this spring and join the team at a later date. The Courage lost some key players in the off-season. The three biggest saw fullback Crystal Dunn moving to Portland in a three-team blockbuster trade and Sam Mewis and Abby Dahlkemper joining Manchester City.  

WATCH: How Deanne Rose conquered her senior year in a pandemic:

Deanne Rose speaks with Signa Butler about going in the first round of the NWSL draft, dealing with the pandemic, and the SheBelieves cup. 3:07

Orlando Pride

Stars: Alex Morgan (F, USA), Sydney Leroux (F), Marta (F, BRA), Ashlynn Harris (GK, USA), Ali Krieger (FB, USA) 

Canadians to watch: Erin McLeod (GK, St. Albert, Alta)

Notes: McLeod was named to one of Canada’s 10 allocation spots, meaning those players’ salaries are paid by the federation. She’s also back in the national team mix for the first time in over two years. Harris and Krieger welcomed their first child this past February and are currently on a hiatus from international duty. 

Racing Louisville FC 

Stars: Yuki Nagasato (F, JPN), Savannah McCaskill (F)

Canadians to watch: None. 

Note: Louisville took a chance in the expansion draft choosing American national team veterans Tobin Heath and Christen Press. Both are under contract with Manchester United, so whether they’ll don the lavender and midnight violet is still to be determined. Also, Australian internationals Alanna Kennedy (Tottenham) and Caitlyn Foord (Arsenal) are currently on loan overseas. 

NY/NJ Gotham City FC (formerly Sky Blue FC) 

Stars: Carli Lloyd (F, USA), Midge Purce (FB, USA), Nahomi Kawasumi (F, JPN) 

Canadians to watch: Kailen Sheridan (GK, Whitby, ON), Evelyne Viens (F, L’Ancienne-Lorette, Que) 

Notes: The team formerly known as Sky Blue FC will now be called Gotham City FC thanks to a rebrand announced earlier this week. Sheridan, the reigning NWSL Challenge Cup Gold Glove winner and team MVP, is out an indefinite period of time because of a torn quadricep, an injury she suffered while playing for Canada during the opening game at the SheBelieves Cup. She underwent successful surgery and is currently rehabbing, hoping to be back on target for the Tokyo Olympics. Viens earned her first caps at any level for Canada at the SheBelieves Cup and is coming off a loan to Paris FC where she scored 11 goals in 14 matches. 

Evelyne Viens scored 11 goals in 14 games with Paris FC. (Getty Images)

Washington Spirit 

Stars: Kelley O’Hara (FB, USA), Emily Sonnett (FB, USA), Andi Sullivan (MF, USA)

Canadians to watch: Devon Kerr (GK, Barrie, ON)

Notes: Trinity Rodman, a striker and daughter of former NBA star Dennis, was chosen second overall in the 2021 NWSL college draft. Kerr, a dual citizen, has represented Canada and the U.S. at the youth international level. 

Chicago Red Stars

Stars: Tierna Davidson (FB, USA), Julie Ertz (MF, USA), Casey Krueger (FB, USA), Alyssa Naeher (GK, USA), Mallory Pugh (F, USA)

Canadians to watch: Bianca St-Georges (FB,  St. Felix de Valois, Que) 

Notes: St-Georges had a breakout performance at last year’s Challenge Cup and is now an allocated player by Canada Soccer, meaning the organization pays her salary rather than the team. She picked up a knee injury during the pre-camp for the SheBelieves Cup, had surgery and is expected back for the NWSL regular season.  

Houston Dash 

Stars: Rachel Daly (F, ENG), Jane Campbell (GK, USA), Kristie Mewis (MF, USA) 

Canadians to watch: Allysha Chapman (FB, Courtice, ON), Nichelle Prince (F, Ajax, ON), Sophie Schmidt (MF, Abbotsford, B.C.), Maegan Kelly (F, Kansas City) 

Notes: The reigning Challenge Cup champs Dash were perennial basement dwellers before a culture shift under coach James Clarkson turned the team into a side that’s hard to beat. Schmidt recently signed a two-year extension plus an option after a solid performance last season, while Chapman and Prince are also regular starters.

WATCH | Analyzing Canada’s performance at SheBelieves Cup:

Signa Butler is joined by John Molinaro and Harjeet Johal, to assess Team Canada’s performance in their debut at the SheBelieves Cup and which players made the most of their opportunity, for the notably short-handed Canadian side. 7:20

Kansas City NWSL

Stars: Kate Bowen (MF, NZL), Rachel Corsie (D, SCO), Mariana Larroquette (F, ARG), Amy Rodriguez (F)

Canadians to watch: Jordyn Listro (MF, Toronto), Diana Matheson (MF, Oakville, ON), Desiree Scott (MF, Winnipeg), Victoria Pickett (MF, Newmarket, ON)

Notes: It’s a bit of a homecoming for Scott, who was part of the original Kansas City NWSL franchise. Listro was traded from Orlando to Kansas City in March. She went from being a trialist with the Pride to starting three of four games in the Fall Series. She earned her first caps with Canada at the recent SheBelieves Cup. Pickett was selected in the second round of the 2021 NWSL college draft after a successful career at the University of Wisconsin. 

Portland Thorns

Stars: Crystal Dunn (FB, USA), Lindsey Horan (MF, USA), Becky Sauerbrunn (FB, USA), Sophia Smith (F, USA), Rocky Rodriguez (MF, CRC)

Canadians to watch: Christine Sinclair (F, Burnaby, B.C.)

Notes: The Fall Series champions and always competitive Thorns just got a whole lot tougher to beat thanks to the addition of Dunn in a three-team blockbuster deal. Dunn is a rare player, one who can be a tough, defensively minded wingback in one breath and in the next, make a dazzling move or two, beat defenders with her incredible pace and send  deadly crosses in front of goal. Christine Sinclair, the team’s 37-year-old captain and international soccer’s all-time leading goal scorer, is coming off an injury that kept her out of the SheBelieves Cup. Longtime Thorn Tobin Heath, who is on loan to Manchester United, was taken by Racing Louisville FC during the expansion draft. 

OL Reign 

Stars: Megan Rapinoe (MF, USA), Rose Lavelle (MF, USA), Jess Fishlock (MF, Wales), Shirley Cruz (MF, CRC)

Canadians to watch: Quinn (MF/FB, Toronto)

Notes: Quinn, an allocated player for the first time since 2018, played for Sweden club, Vittsjio GIK, on a short loan this off-season. A member of Canada’s bronze-medal winning team at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Quinn, who plays multiple positions as a midfielder/defender, will be an asset in competing for selection on the Canadian team for Tokyo.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Signa Butler previews Canada’s upcoming U.K. friendlies:

Head coach Bev Priestman has a chance to determine her strongest 18-player roster as Canada come up against Wales and 6th-ranked England in back to back friendlies this month. 9:02

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CBC | Soccer News

Larin, Davies team up to help Canada crush Bermuda in World Cup qualifier

One down, 19 more to go.

Canada opened its oft-delayed World Cup qualifying campaign Thursday with a comfortable 5-1 win over Bermuda. It’s the start of a long road, with at least 19 more matches needed to get to Qatar in 2022.

Cyle Larin scored three goals, with Alphonso Davies playing provider each time, as the Canadian men played their first competitive match since a 4-1 CONCACAF Nations League loss to the U.S. on Nov. 16, 2019, at the same venue — Exploria Stadium.

Richie Laryea and debutant Theo Corbeanu also scored for Canada. Kane Critchlow replied for Bermuda with a second-half goal against the run of play.

WATCH | Larin hat trick leads Canada past Bermuda:

Canada dominates Bermuda 5-1 as they start World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region. 3:19

It was a scrappy opening 15 minutes for the Canadians, perhaps unsurprising given their time apart. But once the engine warmed up, it was one-way traffic.

“It took us a while to get started, but once we did get started you could see the quality in that team,” said coach John Herdman.

“All in all a good night, but loads to build on,” he added. “I mean you look at the potential in this group now. It’s one game and as I keep saying there’s 19 more to go. I just can’t wait to see these guys in 19 games time.”

The degree of difficulty will escalate as the qualifying road unfolds. But this Canadian squad, which was missing Jonathan David and Jonathan Osorio on the night, is brimming with promise

“This is a very very good team,” said Laryea. “We’ve got some really good pieces, some guys that we’re missing, that aren’t here right now that are also extremely huge pieces. It’s only going to get better but we can’t settle for anything.”

Canada is ranked 73rd in the world, compared to No. 169 for Bermuda. The Bermudians’ task was complicated by the fact that some of its players — and coach Kyle Lightbourne — did not make it to the match because of COVID-19 protocols.

Bermuda managed just five players on its bench, compared to 12 for Canada,

“We had to do quite a bit of quarantining to keep ourselves safe so we could even get the amount of players that we did to the match today,” said Maurice Lowe, technical development director at the Bermuda Football Association, who ran the team from the sidelines.

While officially a Canadian home game, the match was shifted to Orlando because of pandemic-related travel restrictions. The Canadians face the Cayman Islands on Sunday in Bradenton, Fla., in a game that was to have been hosted by the Caymans but was moved to ease similar quarantine hurdles.

WATCH | Breaking down Canada’s path to Qatar:

Canada’s men’s national team squad, filled with as much raw talent as there is experience, has to win the group stage in the First Round of qualification to keep their hopes of participating in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 alive. 10:08

Bermuda gave up a number of early free kicks and Canada made them pay in the 19th minute when Larin, in a crowd, got his head to a curling set-piece delivery from Davies.

The goal seemed to discombobulate the Bermudians, whose shape began to evaporate.

Larin, upping his Canada goals total to 11 in 32 matches, continued his banner season. The 25-year-old from Brampton, Ont., ranks third in the Turkish Super Lig with 14 goals for Besiktas and looks full of confidence.

“He’s an absolute predator,” Herdman said of Larin, who used to play at Exploria Stadium for Orlando City SC.

Davies, meanwhile, was a constant threat. The Bayern Munich star fullback, moved into a more attacking position by Herdman, tormented defenders on the left flank while providing quality service to teammates.

Larin made it 2-0 in the 27th after Bermuda goalkeeper Dale Eve left his penalty box in search of the ball. Davies got there first and — as Eve scrambled to get back into position — fed it to Larin, who coolly beat a defender and slotted it in.

Laryea scored his first for Canada in the 53rd minute, beating Bermuda’s sloppy attempt at an offside trap before putting the ball past Eve.

Critchlow cut the margin to 3-1 in the 63rd minute after goalkeeper Milan Borjan spilled a cross from Lejaun Simmons. Critchlow was Johnny-on-the-spot, poking the ball in.

WATCH | Referee Nesbitt makes history:

Kathryn Nesbitt, 2020 MLS Assistant Referee of the Year, makes history by becoming the first woman to referee a CONCACAF men’s World Cup qualifier. 0:34

Larin scored his third in the 68th minute, set up again by Davies who had his choice of teammates to choose from in the box. The 18-year-old Corbeanu made it 5-1 in the 81st, tapping home a perfect low cross from fellow substitute Liam Millar.

Larin and Laryea both came up through the Sigma FC program in Mississauga, Ont.

8 of starting XI Canadians based in Europe

Herdman positioned Lucas Cavallini at the tip of the Canadian spear with Davies, Larin and Junior Hoilett behind him in a potent attack.

With MLS teams in pre-season, eight of the 11 Canadian starters came from European-based dreams. Cavallini (Vancouver Whitecaps), Laryea (Toronto FC) and Kamal Miller (CF Montreal) were the MLS starters.

Atiba Hutchinson earned his 85th cap for Canada, moving him past Paul Stalteri into second place among Canadian men behind Julian de Guzman. Borjan earned his 50th cap.

For the 38-year-old Hutchinson, it marks his fifth round of World Cup qualifying. Only goalkeeper Pat Onstad, with six, has taken part in more among Canadian men.

Hutchinson, playing in his 28th World Cup qualifier, wore the captain’s armband for the 12th time. After the game, Herdman said his skipper was leaving Friday to return to Turkey.

Canada’s starting 11 Thursday took the field with a combined 266 caps under their belt. Some 191 of those came from Hutchinson, Borjan, Larin and Hoilett. The 20-year-old Davies earned his 18th cap.

Cavallini robbed

Cavallini could have had a hat trick in the first 35 minutes.

He was put in alone in the 16th minute but Eve got a hand to his low shot from the edge of the penalty box. The Whitecaps striker had another chance in the 34th minute, after a defender whiffed on a Davies cross, but shot just wide.

A minute later, Cavallini’s shot off another fine Davies feed slammed off the crossbar. The burly striker held his head in his hands and kicked the goalpost in frustration.

Eve made a fine reflex save to stop Cavallini’s header in the 56th from close range.

Herdman credited Cavallini with occupying the Bermuda centre backs, allowing space for Larin and Davies to exploit.

Nashville SC fullback Alistair Johnston came on in the 69th minute to earn his first Canada cap. Corbeanu, an 18-year-old attacking midfielder who plays for Wolves under-23 side in England, followed in the 77th and essentially scored in his first touch.

“That was brilliant,” said Herdman, who told him to “go make an impact.”

Samuel Piette came off the bench to earn his 50th cap for Canada, which improved to 6-0-4 all-time against Bermuda.

Bermuda, whose population of 72,000 is about the same as Sarnia, Ont., was without Bristol City forward Nahki Wells due to quarantine issues.

After the Caymans, Canada faces two more Group B games — June 5 at No. 200 Aruba and June 8 at home to No. 141 Suriname, which blanked the visiting Caymans 3-0 on Tuesday.

Thirty countries, split into six groups, are taking part in the first round of qualifying in the region which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. Only the group winners move on.

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CBC | Soccer News

Canadian men’s soccer team battling more than tough opposition at Olympic qualifier

Canada will be battling more than El Salvador on Friday when it opens play at the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in Guadalajara.

Heat (the forecast for the 4 p.m. local time kickoff calls for a temperature of 29 C), altitude (1,550 metres), inactivity (14 of Canada’s 20-man roster play in North America and so are coming from out of season) and unfamiliarity (the Mexico tournament marks the first exclusive get-together for this under-23 team) will likely all come into play at Jalisco Stadium.

But for Canada Soccer and men’s supremo John Herdman, who has tasked the Olympic team to assistant Mauro Biello while he looks after the senior side in World Cup qualifying, it’s a chance to test Canada’s depth and processes.

Since taking over the men’s national team in January 2018, Herdman has brought plenty of young talent into camp to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Canada looking to end Olympic dearth 

“This is an opportunity for a lot of young players here to showcase themselves but at the same time, in terms of the program, everything’s aligned from the men’s national team all the way to our U-15 program,” Biello told a virtual news conference Thursday.

“So a lot of these players that have had some experience graduating through the youth teams and now into the U-23s in our environments are now ready.”

Ten of Canada’s 20 players have national team experience.

Derek Cornelius (13 caps), Marcus Godinho (5), Zachary Brault-Guillard (4), Charles-Andreas Brym (3), Theo Bair (2), Zorhan Bassong (2), Ballou Tabla (2) and Kris Twardek (1) have all played for the senior side while the uncapped Tajon Buchanan and James Pantemis have been called into at least one senior camp.

Herdman and Biello joined forces in guiding a young Canadian side that turned heads at the prestigious Toulon youth tournament in France in May-June 2018.

Cornelius, Pantemis, Aidan Daniels and forward Theo Bair were on that Toulon team.

Now they are looking to help the Canadian men return to the Olympics for the first time since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, where Canada lost to Brazil in a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals.

Finding the ‘rhythm’

“We’re sure that the quality is there. We’re sure that we have the talent,” said Cornelius, a 23-year-old defender with the Vancouver Whitecaps. “And it’s just about getting the small things right so that we can really show it on the pitch.”

The eight-team Olympic qualifier was originally scheduled for last March but was postponed due to the pandemic. It will send two teams from the region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, to the Summer Olympics.

Only players born in 1997 or later are eligible for Olympic qualifying (the same age limit was kept despite the qualifying tournament’s one-year delay). Countries that make it to the Olympics are allowed up to three overage players.

After facing El Salvador, Canada continues Group B play against Haiti on Monday and Honduras next Wednesday. Group A, which opened the tournament Thursday, consists of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the U.S.

The top two in each group advance to the semifinals with the winners booking their tickets to Tokyo.

Mexico, which has won the last two CONCACAF qualifiers, and Honduras represented the region at the last two Olympics. Honduras was fourth at the 2016 Rio Games while Mexico defeated Brazil 2-1 to win gold in 2012 in London.

Biello calls El Salvador a possession-based technical team that is organized defensively. It’s also a team that has been together three times already, he noted.

“Obviously my main concern is getting that rhythm,” Biello said of his squad. “A lot of these players haven’t played, whether it’s off-season, whether it’s pre-season.”

Plenty to play for

“This is not going to happen perfectly on the first go,” added Cornelius. “I’m just looking to improve and get the team to be better and better as we go along in the tournament.”

With World Cup qualifiers and the Gold Cup on deck this year, the Canadian men have plenty to play for.

Canada and El Salvador tied 0-0 when they met at the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament. Canada won 4-2 in 1996.

Biello was unable to summon Toronto FC young talent after the MLS team went into a training camp lockdown earlier this month due to an outbreak of COVID-19.

El Salvador forwards Joshua Perez and Enrico Hernandez are both based in Europe, with Spain’s UD Ibiza Spain and the Netherlands’ Vitesse, respectively.

Canada Olympic Team

Goalkeepers: Sebastian Breza, Bologna (Italy); Matthew Nogueira, CS Maritimo (Portugal); James Pantemis, CF Montreal (MLS).

Defenders: Zorhan Bassong, CF Montreal (MLS); Zachary Brault-Guillard, CF Montreal (MLS); Derek Cornelius, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Marcus Godinho, FSV Zwickau (Germany); Thomas Meilleur-Giguere, Pacific FC (CPL); Callum Montgomery, Minnesota United FC (MLS).

Midfielders: Michael Baldisimo, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Aidan Daniels, Oklahoma City Energy FC (USL Championship); Lucas Dias, Sporting Lisbon (Portugal); Patrick Metcalfe, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); David Norman, Cavalry FC (CPL) Ryan Raposo, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS).

Forwards: Theo Bair, Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS); Charles-Andreas Brym, Royal Excel Mouscron (Belgium); Tajon Buchanan, New England Revolution (MLS); Ballou Tabla, CF Montreal (MLS); Kris Twardek, Jagiellonia (Poland).

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CBC | Soccer News

4th time was a charm for Brendan Bottcher’s team

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Brendan Bottcher broke through

Heading into last night’s Brier final, Bottcher’s Alberta rink was in danger of becoming the Buffalo Bills of curling. Another loss in the title game would make it four in a row — just like those infamous ’90s Bills teams.

Never mind that reaching four consecutive finals in a tournament as competitive as the Brier is a great accomplishment. Or that Bottcher’s team was the underdog in each of the four finals. Or that the opposing skips in those games — Brad Gushue in ’18 and ’20, Kevin Koe in 2019 and this year — are among the greatest ever. Or that legends Russ and Glenn Howard each lost the Brier final four times as a skip (though they both won a pair too). Four consecutive defeats on men’s curling’s biggest stage could have turned Bottcher into a punchline.

Instead, his Alberta team got the last laugh, defeating Koe’s defending-champion Team Canada 4-2 last night in the Calgary bubble. It’s the first Brier title for the 29-year-old Bottcher and his teammates Darren Moulding, Bradley Thiessen and Karrick Martin, who had all endured the three consecutive title-game defeats together. “It sucked the first time, it sucked the second time and it sucked just as much the third time,” Bottcher said after curling 97 per cent last night to become the first skip other than Koe or Gushue to win the Brier since 2015.

A few other takeaways from the Brier:

The Kevin Koe debate will have to wait. If he’d won a record fifth Brier title as a skip last night, we’d be arguing right now about whether Koe is the greatest men’s curler of all time. But the 46-year-old remains tied with Ernie Richardson, Randy Ferbey and Kevin Martin with four titles. Ferbey owns more world titles than Martin, but Martin won an Olympic gold medal in Vancouver, so the edge probably goes to him for now. Koe, though, is clearly still going strong. He’ll be among the favourites at the Canadian Olympic curling trials, which he won four years ago.

Wayne Middaugh stole the show. The 53-year-old hadn’t competed in a Brier in eight years and hadn’t skipped in one in 16. His curling career effectively ended five years ago when he suffered a horrible leg injury while skiing. But when his old friend and teammate Glenn Howard broke several ribs in a recent snowmobile crash (fellas — take it easy out there!) he asked Middaugh to skip his team at the Brier. Middaugh became the story of the tournament by going 7-1 in the round robin to win Pool A and then winning his opening game in the championship pool. Three straight losses after that caused him to barely miss out on the three-team playoffs, but what a run.

There’s still lots of curling left. Two events down in the Calgary bubble, five to go. The Canadian mixed doubles championship starts Thursday and runs for a week. Then Bottcher’s team will represent Canada in the men’s world championship April 2-11. Back-to-back Grand Slam of Curling events will be held April 14-25 before Scotties champion Kerri Einarson’s team represents Canada at the women’s world championship starting April 30.

Brendan Bottcher curled 97% and finally snapped his Brier losing streak, as his Alberta rink defeated Kevin Koe 4-2. 1:59


Notice anything weird about the March Madness bracket? For the first time in 45 years, both Duke and Kentucky are missing. Since then the schools have combined to win nine NCAA men’s basketball titles and send countless players to the NBA. Both were ranked in the top 10 in the pre-season Associated Press poll. But Kentucky went 9-16 and Duke was 13-11 and already looking like it would miss the tournament when the program shut itself down last week after a positive COVID-19 test. The clear favourite to win the tournament, which tips off later this week in a bubble-like environment in Indianapolis, is Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are 26-0 and have an important Canadian player in junior guard Andrew Nembhard. The other No. 1 seeds are Michigan, Illinois and Baylor. The schedule is also a little weird this year. Rather than the 64-team field getting started on Thursday, the four play-in games will be held that day and the main event starts Friday. Read more about the bracket here.

Corey Conners was in contention again. A week after finishing third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Canadian golfer had another strong showing at an even more prestigious tournament. Conners shot a final-round 66 yesterday to finish seventh at the Players Championship — four shots behind winner Justin Thomas. The 29-year-old from Listowel, Ont., has pocketed more than $ 1.1 million US in prize money over the last two weeks and risen to 44th in the official world rankings and 23rd in the FedEx Cup standings.

Canadian freestyle skiers and snowboarders are racking up medals at their world championships. In the past seven days, skier Mikael Kingsbury won double gold in the men’s moguls and dual moguls; Simon d’Artois and Rachael Karker scored silver in, respectively, the men’s and women’s ski halfpipe; Seb Toutant took silver in the men’s snowboard slopestyle; and Megan Oldham grabbed bronze in the women’s ski slopestyle. The world championships for ski and snowboard cross were held back in February, and Eliot Grondin took bronze in the men’s snowboard event. The final world-championship events of the season take place Tuesday, when the men’s and women’s ski and snowboard big air finals will be held in Aspen. Canadians Laurie Blouin, Mark McMorris and Max Parrot will compete in the snowboard competitions. Qualifying for the ski events was still in progress at our publish time. Watch the ski finals live from noon-1:30 p.m. ET and the snowboard finals from 3:30-5 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

And in case you missed it…

A few other things from the weekend you should know about:

Genie Bouchard fell just short of her first tournament win since 2014. The Canadian tennis player reached the final of the modest Guadalajara Open, where she lost 6-2, 7-5 Saturday to 57th-ranked Sara Sorribes Tormo. Bouchard, who was once ranked as high as fifth, rose from 144th to 116th with her run to the final in Mexico. Read more about it and watch highlights here.

Drew Brees retired. The NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards and completions announced yesterday he’s hanging it up after 20 seasons. The last 15 came with the Saints, who took a chance on Brees coming off a career-threatening shoulder injury and ended up creating one of the great QB-coach partnerships in football history. With the inventive Sean Payton designing and calling the plays and Brees executing them to perfection with his pinpoint accuracy and sharp mind, the Saints made a miraculous run to the second round of the playoffs in their first season together — 2006, the year after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Three years later, they won the franchise’s first (and still only) Super Bowl, and the Saints made the playoffs in nine of the last 15 years — pretty remarkable for a team that was a laughingstock before Brees arrived. Read more about his brilliant career here.

Marvin Hagler died. One of the most beloved boxers ever, Hagler is best known for his 1980s middleweight battles with Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and, of course, Thomas Hearns. The 1985 Hagler-Hearns fight lasted only eight minutes but is revered for the sheer amount of violence the fighters heaped on each other — especially in the first round, which some consider the greatest ever fought — before Hagler stopped Hearns in the third. Hagler won a 15-round decision over Duran in 1983 but lost on points to Leonard in 1987 in his final bout. Hagler died Saturday at the age of 66. Read more about his life and career here and (do yourself a favour) watch that legendary first round of Hagler-Hearns here.

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CBC | Sports News

Canadian Premier League looking to add expansion team in Saskatoon

The Canadian Premier League is looking to add a team in Saskatchewan, awarding “exclusive rights” to an expansion club to a company planning to start a franchise in Saskatoon.

But there are more hoops to jump through before the fledgling soccer league, which grew to eight teams with Atletico Ottawa coming on board last year, expands again.

The agreement in principle with Living Sky Sports and Entertainment Inc. (LSSE) is contingent on the Saskatchewan-based company providing a soccer-specific stadium to league standards.

LSSE is looking at Prairieland Park in Saskatoon as the preferred site for a stadium — on the site currently occupied by the Marquis Downs racetrack.

“The key thing now is to get everybody behind it — the community, the soccer public in Saskatchewan and get that machine running the way they do. Because they’re great sports fans,” said CPL commissioner David Clanachan. “I think soccer will fit perfectly in that province.

Should everything fall into place, 2023 would likely be the earliest for the Saskatchewan team to kick off.

The man behind LSSE is Alan Simpson, a 63-year-old Regina businessman.

He was co-founder of Hospitality Network Canada, which provides entertainment services within the healthcare industry. He subsequently co-founded StorageVault Canada and currently is chairman of the company’s acquisitions committee and serves on its board of directors.

Soccer is his game now

“My time right now is consumed with Living Sky Sports and Entertainment and trying to get this soccer project to fruition with CPL,” he said in an interview.

Simpson has no partners as of now, but says he is open to bringing on “other founding partners and community partners in Saskatchewan.”

While the soccer team would be the primary tenant, the proposed venue could be used for other things. Simpson said Prairieland Park would be a partner in the stadium.

Prairieland Park, a non-profit corporation established as an agricultural society in 1886, is a 55-hectare site in the southeast section of Saskatoon.

Prairieland Park CEO Mark Regier said his site is reviewing the merits of adding a soccer stadium.

“When Prairieland was approached about the possibility of a soccer stadium at the park, we felt compelled to consider whether such an infrastructure project could enhance the long-term sustainability of the park, as well as contribute meaningfully to the city of Saskatoon,” Regier said in a statement. “While we have not come to a definitive answer, Prairieland has entered into a memorandum of understanding with LSSE.”

Regier said the memorandum of understanding “marks the ending” of thoroughbred racing at Marquis Downs.

Simpson is looking at a stadium that can accommodate 5,000 to 6,500 to start, refurbishing some of the existing infrastructure of the racetrack. Clanachan says the plan could see the venue expand to 10,000 to 12,000.

Starting in 2023 would mean “we would need to put shovels in the ground probably second quarter of 2022,” said Simpson.

“We’ll focus on 2023. We’ll be assertive and aggressive on trying to achieve that,” he added. “But we will also be realistic that it’s a very very ambitious timeline.”

Simpson says his soccer dream is “somewhat idealistic.”

“The province is ready for it. Saskatoon is ready for it. And all the kids who have participated and will participate in soccer are ready for it because it’s a stepping stone to creating a vision and a hope and a dream of perhaps playing professional soccer one day if not in your own province, in your own country. That’s the underlying driving force to do it.”

The CPL’s current lineup includes Pacific FC (Langford, B.C), FC Edmonton, Calgary’s Cavalry FC, Winnipeg’s Valour FC, Hamilton’s Forge FC, York United FC (Toronto) and HFX Wanderers FC (Halifax) in addition to Atletico Ottawa.

The league has targeted the Victoria Day long weekend (May 22-24) as the kickoff for its third season.

Clanachan says the league is moving “full steam ahead” on expansion.

“We’re still having conversations with multiple other groups,” he said. “Every one of them is going to come along at a different pace. This is one that just seemed to be able to pick up a little more steam than the others. And so it’s important for us to get it out there and get working on it.”

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Wilfried Nancy named head coach of CF Montreal, team to start season in Florida

After overhauling their name and look, CF Montreal have announced their latest adjustments — a new coach and a new temporary home.

The club announced Monday that former assistant coach Wilfried Nancy has been promoted to the top job. He takes over from Thierry Henry, who resigned last month citing family reasons.

“I’m not going to lie — soccer, football, it is my passion,” Nancy told reporters Monday. “For me, this is a good step.”

Montreal also announced it will open the season playing home games in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., because of border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nancy, a 43-year-old Frenchman, has been an assistant coach with the first team since 2016, and said he wants to build on what the group accomplished last season.

Montreal finished the regular season with a 8-13-2, good for ninth spot in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference. The club — known as the Montreal Impact before a rebrand in January — made the playoffs for the first time since 2016, but was eliminated by the New England Revolution in the play-in round.

‘We’re going to be a good team’

The team established a style of play last year, Nancy said.

“We will continue that style of play,” he said. “We’re going to be a good team, proactive, dynamic and we will be able also to put produce on the opposition.”

Working under Henry — formerly a marquee striker with Arsenal in the English Premier League — was an illuminating experience, Nancy said.

“I worked with a champion,” he said. “Thierry was a star as a player and I understood why he was a star,.”

Henry was a demanding coach who found it hard to accept that players would make mistakes, but he also set a strong example for the team, Nancy said.

“For me, it was good to learn from Thierry about the desire to win and the desire to succeed,” he said. “This is the first time that I can see that close to me.”

CF Montreal announced on Feb. 25 that Henry was stepping down after a single season as the club’s head coach.

There was a lot of interest in the job from people across Europe and North America, sporting director Olivier Renard said. While he declined to say who else was considered, Renard added that the pandemic wasn’t an obstacle in the hiring process.

What set Nancy apart from other applicants was his determination and his familiarity with the club, Renard said.

“I know his philosophy, I know what he wants to do for the club. And the club knows also what he makes the last 10 years of the club,” he said.

“It’s not only we gave him the chance, he deserved the chance also.”

While’s Nancy’s contract is for one year, Renard said in French that the new coach doesn’t have a sword hanging over his head.

Nancy said he understands the situation and is OK with it.

“I have to do my job now as a coach to go forward,” he said.

Experience developing young talent

Before joining the first team as an assistant coach, Nancy worked as a coach in the club’s academy system.

His experience developing young talent is part of what makes Nancy a good fit for the head coach role, Renard said.

“One of the best qualities of Wil is his communication with young guys,” he said. “We need that.”

Assistant coaches Kwame Ampadu and Laurent Ciman, goalkeeper coach Remy Vercoutre and fitness coach Jules Gueguen will complete Nancy’s staff.

The newly minted coach and his team opened training camp in Montreal last week, but will soon make the move to a warmer locale.

Club to play in Fort Lauderdale

The club announced Monday that it will begin its season in Florida, playing at Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale and using Inter Miami CF’s facilities for daily training.

CF Montreal is set to move south on April 6 and plans to play two pre-season games in Florida before the MLS season begins on April 17.

The club will have ample Canadian company in the Sunshine State. The Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC are all playing in Florida due to border restrictions and the Canadian national men’s soccer team also will play a home World Cup qualifying game in the state.

The restrictions forced all three Canadian MLS teams to move south last season. Montreal finished out the year in Harrison, N.J., sharing a stadium with the New York Red Bulls.

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Women are the strength of Canada’s Summer Olympic team

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

It’s International Women’s Day, which means it’s a great time to repeat this stat: women won 16 of Canada’s 22 medals at the last Summer Olympics, including three of the four gold. Based on the latest projections, there’s a good chance they account for an even larger share of the country’s podium spots this summer. So let’s look at some of the Canadian women who could star in Tokyo:

Kylie Masse: Since she swam to an Olympic bronze medal in the 100-metre backstroke in 2016, Masse has taken over the event. She won back-to-back world titles in 2017 and ’19, making her the favourite to take gold in Tokyo. Masse is also a podium threat in the 200 back (she took bronze at the ’19 worlds) and could add a relay medal or two. 

Maggie Mac Neil and Sydney Pickrem: After Masse, they’re the two Canadians most likely to win individual swimming medals. Mac Neil is the reigning world champ in the 100 butterfly, while Pickrem won bronze in both the 200 breaststroke and 200 medley at the 2019 worlds and added another bronze in a relay. Penny Oleksiak’s individual results have dipped since her magical 2016 Olympics, but she’s a valuable relay team member who contributed to three bronze medals at the ’19 worlds.

Laurence Vincent Lapointe: Women’s canoe is making its Olympic debut in Tokyo with two events — a singles 200m and a doubles 500. Vincent Lapointe has a great chance to win both of them. She ruled those races for the better part of the last decade, taking seven world titles in the solo 200 and four in the doubles 500 with various partners. Vincent Lapointe’s dominance got cut off in August 2019 when she tested positive for a banned muscle-building drug and was provisionally suspended, causing her to miss that year’s world championships. Vincent Lapointe insisted she did not knowingly take the substance, and last January the world governing body for canoe threw out the ban, clearing her to return.

Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes: Beach volleyball is one of the Olympics’ glamour events, and the Canadian duo is favoured to win the women’s gold. Pavan and Humana-Paredes are still the reigning world champions from their victory in 2019, and they’re currently ranked No. 1 in the world.

Rosie MacLennan: In 2016, the trampoline star became the first Canadian ever to win back-to-back gold medals in the same individual event at the Summer Olympics. She went on to win her second world title in 2018, and she took bronze at the 2019 world championships (the most recent to be held) despite breaking her ankle only seven months earlier. If MacLennan three-peats in Tokyo, she’ll join rowing teammates Marnie McBean and the late Kathleen Heddle as the only Canadians to win three gold medals in the Summer Olympics.

Ellie Black: No Canadian woman has ever won an Olympic medal in traditional gymnastics, but Black might do it in Tokyo. She took silver in the all-around (the sport’s marquee event) at the 2017 world championships in Montreal and placed fourth in 2019.

Team sports: Of the eight Canadian squads that have already qualified for the various team-sport events in Tokyo, five are women’s: soccer, basketball, rugby sevens, water polo and softball. And the best medal hopes are on the women’s side. The soccer team won bronze at the last two Summer Olympics, the rugby sevens squad also took bronze in 2016, and the softball and basketball teams are ranked, respectively, third and fourth in the world.

CBC Sports’ Anastasia Bucsis wants to know when society will address the injustices faced by women everyday. 2:05


The National Women’s Hockey League will complete its playoffs. Back in February, the NWHL “suspended” the Isobel Cup playoffs on the eve of the semifinals because of a COVID-19 outbreak in its Lake Placid hub. Today, the league announced the semis and final will take place March 26 and 27 in Boston. The top-seeded Toronto Six will play the Boston Pride in one of the semis, with the Minnesota Whitecaps and the Connecticut Whale facing off in the other. The winners meet the next night for the Isobel Cup. Read more about the NWHL’s return here.

Mikael Kingsbury won his third moguls world title. The 28-year-old reigning Olympic champion from Deux-Montagnes, Que., repeated as world champ by winning today’s men’s competition in Kazakhstan. Kingsbury missed the first three World Cup stops of the season after fracturing two vertebrae in a training accident, but he’s undefeated since returning. He won both the moguls and dual moguls events in his first (and only) World Cup appearance of the season last month. Tomorrow, Kingsbury will go for his third straight dual moguls world title. Watch the men’s and women’s events live from 4-5:30 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

And in case you missed it…

A few things from the weekend you should know about:

Kevin Koe got the upper hand on Brad Gushue. They’re the two main protagonists at the Brier, where Koe is trying to become the first skip to win it five times and Gushue is trying to match him with his fourth title. Koe took control from the defending champ last night by scoring three in the final end to beat Gushue 9-7 and improve his record to a tournament-best 4-0. Heading into today’s draws, which started at 3:30 p.m. ET, Koe’s wild-card team topped Pool B ahead of Ontario (John Epping) and Quebec (Michael Fournier), who were both 3-1. Gushue’s Canada rink was 2-1. The Pool B co-leaders were Manitoba (Jason Gunnlaugson) and Glenn Howard’s wild-card team, who were both 2-0. Former champion Brad Jacobs’ Northern Ontario and three-time finalist Brendan Bottcher’s Alberta were part of a four-way tie at 2-1. Read more about the Koe-Gushue showdown here and watch That Curling Show with Devin Heroux and Colleen Jones live at 7:30 p.m. ET on YouTube or the CBC Olympics Twitter and Facebook feeds. Tonight’s guests are Jacobs and Epping.

Charles Hamelin won another short track speed skating world title. Saturday’s victory in the men’s 1,500 metres gave the 36-year-old Canadian his 37th world championship medal and his 13th gold. He also won the overall crown at the 2018 worlds in Montreal and owns five Olympic medals, including three gold. This one may have come a bit easier with several top skaters and countries — including powerhouse South Korea — deciding not to travel to the Netherlands for the worlds. But, considering his age and the fact that he’s been unable to race for more than a year because of the pandemic, Hamelin said he ranks this gold among his “top three” world championship medals. He was the only Canadian man to finish on the podium. On the women’s side, Courtney Sarault took silver in the 1,500 and bronze in the 1,000, helping her finish second in the overall standings.

The biggest stars in women’s boxing and MMA both won their fights. On Friday night, Claressa Shields scored a unanimous decision over Canadian Marie-Eve Dicaire in the main event of what was billed as the first all-women’s pay-per-view boxing card (though that claim was disputed by some). On Saturday night, Amanda Nunes tapped out Megan Anderson in just two minutes to retain the UFC women’s featherweight title.

You’re up to speed. Get The Buzzer in your inbox every weekday by subscribing below.

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Toronto FC camp paused after ‘multiple’ team members test positive for COVID-19

Toronto FC’s pre-season has ground to a halt after a number of positive COVID-19 tests.

The MLS team said Monday club personnel are currently isolating and training has halted pending contact tracing and follow-up testing. The club did not identify who tested positive, saying only they were members of the “team delegation.”

The club’s north Toronto training centre has been closed. The club had been practising behind closed doors there and at BMO Field, whose playing surface has underground heating.

GM Ali Curtis said it started with one positive test and is now at “a small handful” of positives, The club is now testing everyone daily while working with local health authorities with the goal of getting “back to training in a safe way.”

Citing privacy concerns, Curtis declined to comment on the condition of those who tested positive.

“We feel good about the strength of the medical protocols. We’re trying to be smart about this and trying to use all our resources to ensure that everyone returns to health and returns to play in a really, really safe way,” he said.

“Every team in every different league has been dealing with this. We were really fortunate in that last year we didn’t have one staff or player test positive during the season. Last season was a great season for us in that respect. This year, we’ve got to respond in the right way to make sure that everyone is as safe as possible.”

Toronto finished out the 2020 campaign in East Hartford, Conn., due to pandemic-related border restrictions. The club plans to begin the season in Florida, with “home” games either in Orlando or Tampa to start.

Toronto opened camp Feb. 17, allowed to begin its pre-season early to prepare for the Canadian Championship final against Forge FC of the Canadian Premier League. While no date has been announced yet for the game, March 20 has been floated.

The winner of the Canadian Championship advances to the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, to meet Mexico’s Club Leon in a round-of-16 tie that opens April 7.

The MLS regular season kicks of April 17.

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Former CPL MVP Tristan Borges rejoins Forge FC on loan from Belgian team

Tristan Borges, a former player of the year in the Canadian Premier League, is returning to Forge FC.

The CPL champion announced Friday a loan deal with Belgium’s Oud-Heverlee Leuven that will see the attacking midfielder rejoin the Hamilton-based side for the 2021 Canadian Premier League season.

Hamilton sold Borges to the Belgian team in January 2020. At the time, CPL commissioner David Clanachan called Borges’ move a “landmark transfer” for Forge and the league.

Borges made 33 appearances in 2019 for Forge in all competitions, finishing as the CPL’s Golden Boot winner with 13 goals while tying for first in the league with five assists. He was named the league’s player of the year and U-21 player of the year after scoring the winning goal in the first leg of the CPL finals in October at Tim Hortons Field against Calgary’s Cavalry FC.

Borges has represented Canada at the under-17 and under-20 level and won his first senior cap for Canada against Barbados in January 2020.

He played for SC Heerenveen’s under-21 side in the Netherlands from 2016 to 2018 before returning home for the CPL’s inaugural season in 2019. With Portuguese bloodlines, he has a European passport that eased the move abroad.

“We’re very happy to welcome Tristan back to our club,” Forge director of football Costa Smyrniotis said in a statement Friday. “The co-operation with OH Leuven has been very good here, with the common, important goal of furthering the competitive development of Tristan over this upcoming year.”

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