Coming off back-to-back bronze medal performances, the Canadian women’s team will try to reach the podium for a third consecutive time at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
To book their trip to Japan this summer, though, the Canadians must first navigate the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament which runs from Jan. 28 to Feb 9, 2020.
Canadian coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller has put together a 20-player roster for the Concacaf competition, and it’ll be interesting to see how this group of players rebounds from last summer’s disappointing showing at the FIFA World Cup in France when the team bowed out in the round of 16.
And, of course, all eyes will be on Christine Sinclair as she attempts to make history. More on that later.
In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about the Concacaf qualifiers and Canada’s bid to win a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The eight-team field that is vying for a pair of Olympic berths is divided into two round-robin groups.
Canada, eighth in the current FIFA world rankings, will compete in Group B vs. No. 127 Saint Kitts and Nevis (on Jan. 29), No. 51 Jamaica (on Feb.1) and No. 26 Mexico (on Feb. 4). All of Canada’s group stage games will take place in Edinburg, Texas.
Group A consists of two-time reigning World Cup champions United States (ranked No. 1 in the world), Costa Rica (37), Panama (53) and Haiti (68). All group games will be played in Houston.
The semifinals and finals are scheduled for Feb. 7 to 9 in Carson, California.
The top two nations from each group advance to the semifinals of the Concacaf tournament. Only the two finalists qualify for this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo.
Isn’t Christine Sinclair chasing a goal-scoring record?
Indeed, she is.
Canada’s iconic captain currently sits on 183 international goals since making her national team debut as a teenager in 2000.
The 36-year-old forward from Burnaby, B.C., is now poised to leapfrog retired U.S. star Abby Wambach (184 goals) as the all-time leading scorer in international soccer, for both women and men.
If all goes to plan, Sinclair should break Wambach’s mark sometime during the group stage.
What is the makeup of this Canadian roster?
In total, 16 players who were part of Canada’s 2016 Olympic bronze medal-winning team in Brazil are on this roster, while Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt, and Desiree Scott were also bronze medallists at the London Games in 2012.
Also named to this squad were teenagers Jordyn Huitema, Julia Grosso, and Jayde Riviere, three of Canada’s most promising prospects for the future.
Here is the full roster list:
Goalkeepers: Stephanie Labbe, North Carolina Courage (NWSL); Kailen Sheridan, Sky Blue FC (NWSL); Sabrina D’Angelo, Vittsjo GIK (Sweden).
Defenders: Allysha Chapman, Houston Dash (NWSL); Kadeisha Buchanan, Olympique Lyonnais (France); Shelina Zadorsky, Orlando Pride (NWSL); Rebecca Quinn, Seattle Reign (NWSL); Ashley Lawrence, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Jayde Riviere, University of Michigan.
Midfielders: Julia Grosso, University of Texas; Desiree Scott, Utah Royals (NWSL); Sophie Schmidt, Houston Dash (NWSL); Gabrielle Carle, Florida State University; Jessie Fleming, UCLA.
Forwards: Deanne Rose, University of Florida; Jordyn Huitema, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Christine Sinclair (capt.), Portland Thorns (NWSL); Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash (NWSL); Janine Beckie, Manchester City (England); Adriana Leon, West Ham (England).
Who is missing from Canada’s squad?
Two veterans absent from Canada’s roster are midfielder Diana Matheson and goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who have combined for over 300 caps. Both have been recovering from injuries that ruled them out of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
Heiner-Møller hopes to have them back in the mix should Canada qualify for the Olympics.
“They’ve got the experience that is sometimes needed in these big tournaments,” he said. “Going into the Olympics, we’re going to cut the roster again [to 18 players], which is going to be a hard decision. You bring in players who are ready to play.”
He later added: “The intelligence of Diana is something that is crucial for every team… and we need that sometimes, but we also need her to be able to execute.”
Jenna Hellstrom and Olivia Smith were named to Heiner-Møller’s preliminary squad, but were later cut as all teams have to submit 20-player rosters for this tournament.
Hellstrom, a 24-year-old from Sudbury, Ont., has four caps for Canada, and plays in the NWSL for the Washington Spirit.
Smith became the youngest player to appear for Canada’s senior women’s team (at 15 years and three months) when she came off the bench in a loss to Brazil last November. The winger from Whitby, Ont., won a second cap three days later in Canada’s win against New Zealand.
How important is it for Canada to win its opening group?
Bluntly, it’s incredibly important.
The second-place team in Group B crosses over and plays the winner of Group A in the semifinals with an Olympic berth on the line.
It’s fair to assume the top-ranked United States will win its group, so Canada will want to avoid a semifinals showdown with their neighbours to the south – a semifinal vs. Costa Rica, Haiti or Panama would pose a far easier challenge for the Canadian side.
Canada should win its group, though.
St. Kitts and Nevis is currently ranked 127th in the world and is making its debut in the tournament.
Canada has won all seven of its previous meetings vs. Jamaica by a combined score of 48-1. The Reds sport an all-time record of 21-2-1 against Mexico, with their lone loss coming in 2004.
Other than Sinclair, who is Canada’s player to watch at this tournament?
A case can be made for several players, including Janine Beckie, who is having a standout season with Manchester City, as well as teenager Jordyn Huitema (who plays in France with PSG) and Ashley Lawrence, voted Canada’s player of the year for 2019.
But keep a close eye on Jessie Fleming, a 21-year-old midfielder with UCLA who is believed to be looking to join a big club in Europe.
“She can almost pick and choose the club she’s going to,” Heiner-Møller said of Fleming. “I feel she’ll improve further when she goes into a club either in Europe or the NWSL. She’s a smart player who can find the pass to either space or a player.”
What is Canada’s Olympic record like?
The Canadian women have qualified for the last three Olympics, beating Mexico (twice) and Costa Rica in the semifinals of the Concacaf qualifiers, before losing to the U.S. in the final each time.
Canada did not qualify for the 2004 Games in Athens, as it was upset by Mexico in the Concacaf semifinals. The Canadian women also did not qualify for the 1996 or 2000 Olympics when the U.S. was the lone CONCACAF representative.
Canada won bronze medals at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.