After missing the SheBelieves Cup in February, fullback Ashley Lawrence is happy to be back in Canadian colours for friendlies against Wales and England.
The 25-year-old from Brampton, Ont., has been away from the international scene more than a year due to the pandemic, with her Paris Saint-Germain club refusing to release her for the SheBelieves Cup due to quarantine issues.
"It's just really nice to catch up, see players that I haven't seen in a long time — even some new faces," Lawrence told reporters Thursday from Cardiff.
Captain Christine Sinclair is also back, after missing the February games due to injury.
“I know for me, personally, it’s been a long time since I played for Canada (in March 2020)," said the 37-year-old from Burnaby, B.C "I feel like a little kid. I’m excited to get back out there with my teammates and my friends, and to start my road to the Tokyo Olympics.”
The Canadian women, ranked eighth in the world, take on No. 31 Wales on Friday at Leckwith Stadium. They then meet No. 6 England on Tuesday in Stoke-on-Trent.
While Lawrence missed out on the games against the U.S., Argentina and Brazil in February, coach Bev Priestman made sure she and others who couldn't make it to the Florida tournament were still in the loop.
"We were there at meetings (virtually). We had access to training sessions. It was really good. Although we weren't there, we were able to really join in on most things," said Lawrence, who has won 91 caps for Canada with seven goals and nine assists.
The Canadian women have played Wales just once — at the 2002 Algarve Cup in Portugal. Canada won 4-0, with Sinclair and fellow teenager Kara Lang both scoring two goals.
The 34-year-old Priestman is well acquainted with new Wales coach Gemma Grainger, having worked with her in the England setup. The 38-year-old Grainger spent 11 years working with England youth teams.
Grainger was hired last month and will be making her debut at the Wales helm against Canada.
Priestman expects to face a Welsh team with a solid defence. Further up the field, midfielders Sophie Ingle (Chelsea) and Jess Fishlock (Reading) bear watching.
"They definitely have become a much better nation over the past thee or four years. I expect a really tough game," said Priestman.
With NWSL teams just finishing their pre-season, kicking off the Challenge Cup on Friday, the North American-based Canadian players will be behind the England and Wales squads in terms of preparation given they are in-season.
"Yes, they'll be in a different place and that's OK," said Priestman. "This time of year it's going to be that. That's always the reality for Canada at this time of year."
Still, Priestman says she sees a "real freshness" and hunger among the Canadians.
"In SheBelieves, did all the results go our way? No, but we did make some good first steps," she said. "The key now is we turn those steps into some real actions that send a message and bring the group together."
The Canadian camp roster includes two uncapped players — forward Cloe Lacasse (Benfica, Portugal) and goalkeeper Rylee Foster (Liverpool, England).
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2021.