VANCOUVER, BC – The 2022 U SPORTS soccer season is upon us, and Canada West is looking to win a third straight U SPORTS Championship title, with UBC and MacEwan winning the last two seasons.
With kickoffs of the full 14-game season looming, 49 Sports, in partnership with Canucks At School, has selected the top seven players in Canada West women’s soccer heading into the season.
In no particular order, our top seven.
Danielle Steer – UBC Thunderbirds
There is little doubt that UBC’s Danielle Steer is the most threatening goalscorer in Canada West; she might even be the best in U SPORTS. After duelling stats sheets with Calgary’s Montana Leonard for several seasons, the UBC forward is alone in a class of pure finishers.
She scored 18 goals in as many matches last season. It was her and Leonard’s world; the rest of the conference was just living in it.
Steer is a dynamic forward, often deployed centrally in a 4-3-3, and also takes penalties for UBC. After a successful summer season in League 1 BC, Steer comes into her final U SPORTS campaign ready to add to her 40 career goals in all competitions.
With a dynamic midfield behind her, expect to see Steer’s name near or at the top of the Canada West golden boot race.
Katalin Tolnai – UBC Thunderbirds
A former Hungarian U17 international, Katalin Tolnai is one of Canada West’s most exciting talents at the attacking midfielder position. One of the few Canada West athletes from Ontario, Tolnai enters her third season with the Thunderbirds as a critical player, particularly when it comes to driving the attack, often with Steer in front of her.
Tolnai has an eye for goal when she gets the chance, but what stands out is her ability to often find a successful pass in the midfield as she drives the UBC attack. Her best season to date was in her rookie year, as she scored four goals and got an assist as UBC went on to win the U SPORTS national title.
While the counting stats may not be the highest for Tolnai, she averaged over two shots per game and is constantly a presence in UBC’s midfield. In a more senior role this year, expect her to play heavy minutes for head coach Jesse Symons.
Jessica Tsai – Manitoba Bisons
Jessica Tsai has a lot of qualities that stand out in Canada West. While she made highlight reels with a few headed goals last season, her creative tendencies and ability to put herself into high probability scoring areas stand above the rest.
Heading into her third season, the Winnipeg native will look to further draw on some chemistry built with Bianca Cavalcanti, another name that made our list. The two worked well together in 2021, with Tsai posting an average of 2.58 shots on target each match.
Her assists and ability to find passes behind defensive lines shine through as top-tier qualities, and with another year of experience under her belt, look for her to continue thriving against Canada West competition.
Biana Cavalcanti – Manitoba
Alongside her teammate, Jessica Tsai, Brazil native Bianca Cavalcanti made the cut on our watchlist for the best Canada West players. The second-year forward has a knack for goalscoring, which she showed in 2021 with nine goals and a nomination to the Canada West and U SPORTS All-Rookie teams.
The former Brazilian youth international approaches the game with tenacity and flare, and her work off the ball allows her often to position herself in invaluable areas of the pitch. While she hadn’t broke into the realms of goal-per-game scorers such as Steer in 2021, watch for her to lead the conference, or at least the prairie division in scoring this season.
Maya Morrell – MacEwan Griffins
While many of the plaudits for MacEwan’s 2021 success go to goalkeeper Brianna Truscott and forward Grace Mwsallla, Morrell has quietly been the engine that has driven much of the program’s success.
The Vancouver, BC native acts as a lynchpin in the Griffins’ attacking midfield or as an outright striker alongside Mwsalla. Really, it’s the duo which make each other so good; however, Morrell comes into this season having carried League 1 BC’s Altitude FC, where she noticeably developed as more of a distributor, playing in a bit of a deeper role.
Morrell is solid on the ball while also being skilled enough to take her chances. Although she has only scored twice in each of her three U SPORTS seasons, she is one of the conference’s most valuable players, and MacEwan’s system fits her style perfectly.
Anna Dunn – TWU Spartans
If you’re looking for a versatile attacking player, look no further than TWU Spartans fifth-year attacking midfielder Anna Dunn. While her nine goals tied her for third in conference scoring in 2021, she did it on 22 shots on target. Her eight assists go alongside her scoring.
Although Kathryn Harvey isn’t up top to finish chances after graduating, Dunn’s stats could be even higher, as highly-touted recruit Sophie Crowther joins the program.
Since transferring from the Alberta Pandas, the Edmontonian has grown into a critical player for head coach Graham Roxburgh’s group, ending 2021 as the second highest points scorer, and the highest setting to return for 2022.
There will be a lot of responsibility on Dunn to continue her prowess in midfield, but there will also be an added level off the bench, as her veteran presence replaces that of the graduated Liz Hicks. However, even with the weight of expectation and responsibility, Dunn is one of the conference’s premier players.
Tilly James – TWU Spartans
Former futsal star Tilly James comes into 2022 as a more versatile player than she was a year ago. With the 2021 TWU Spartans, James was part of a backline that conceded just six times in 13 matches, the best in the conference. However, she enters 2022 with more attacking abilities, often playing as a target forward with Unity FC in League 1 BC.
The centre-back was a Canada West All-Star last season and could repeat that feat, potentially with a few more goals.
“Tilly James has become that next anchor at the back, although you might be surprised to find her higher up the pitch,” Roxburgh said to TWU Athletics about the 2021 Canada West All-Star.
Several of the top defenders from Canada West graduated following last season, leaving former New Zealand youth futsal international James as one of the best. With an added element to her game, she has become one of the most intriguing and dangerous players in Canadian university soccer.