The established and the next generation will be on full display when the Canadian women’s team competes at the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament in January and February.
Canadian coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller unveiled his 20-player roster on Tuesday for the competition, and it’s very much a portrait of contrast between youth and experience.
Among the names on the Canadian squad that will attempt to qualify for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics are Christine Sinclair, Canada’s iconic captain who made her national team debut as a teenager in 2000.
Sinclair, a 36-year-old native of Burnaby, B.C., currently sits on 183 goals for Canada, and she is 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.
In total, 16 players who were part of Canada’s 2016 Olympic bronze medal winning team 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.
Sinclair and the youngsters are expected to feature prominently for Canada at the Concacaf Olympic qualifiers which runs from Jan. 28 to Feb 9, 2020.
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“With these qualifying tournaments, you have a maximum of two days turnaround between the matches. The players we bring in, they have to be ready to play. We can’t have anyone in that maybe can play,” Heiner-Møller stated.
“Some of them, it’s their first qualifier, some of them have been here so many times they’ve lost track. Young energy is definitely coming in, but also the experience… We’ve got a lot of upcoming young players and then we’ve got our veteran group. It’s about making that selection right on the pitch but also in the roster, and I believe we’ve done that.”
Canada, eighth in the current FIFA world rankings, will compete in Group B at the Concacaf competition 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 will be staged 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.
Heiner-Møller believes the team’s biggest challenge will be maintaining its consistency as the tournament progresses
“No matter who we play, we need to play to Canadian standards… It’s so easy to play teams that you’re better than and then you drop to their level – you play what you have to, and not what you can,” Heiner-Møller stated.
Two veterans absent from Canada’s roster are midfielder Diana Matheson and goalkeeper Erin McLeod. Both have been recovering from injuries that ruled them out of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
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.”
McLeod also missed the 2016 Rio Olympics after tearing her ACL for a third time.”
“She’s working hard to get back,” Heiner-Møller stated. “When you talk to her, you can see the fire in her eyes, where she wants to be [this] summer. I’m not going to put that fire out, by no means.”
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.
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).