Only two weeks after they were knocked out of the Women’s World Cup, John Herdman already has his eyes on the podium at next summer’s Rio Olympics, and on the crop of young players hoping to get there.
And it all starts with the Pan Am Games, a veritable tryout for the 18-player roster heading to Brazil. The young Canadian side, coached by Herdman, is made up of mostly under-23 players, and kicks off their tournament against Ecuador Saturday night in Hamilton.
“That group will push to show what they can do to break the 2016 Olympic squad,” Herdman told the Toronto Star just days after England sent the home country packing in the World Cup quarter-finals.
If that tournament was any indication, the up-and-comers are the ones to watch in the Canadian system.
Kadeisha Buchanan, 19, Ashley Lawrence, 20, and Jessie Fleming, 17, are already familiar faces to anyone who paid attention to the game’s biggest tournament last month. Not only did the three arrive, but they thrived in their first senior World Cup.
Buchanan, the heart of Canada’s defence, won the tournament’s young player award. Lawrence played all but 15 minutes of the tournament and scored her first international goal in a do-or-die match versus the Netherlands. And while Fleming had a limited role after the group stage, starting only one match, the London, Ont., native has been touted as the next Christine Sinclair.
The three are not the only threats to crack Herdman’s senior lineup.
Forwards Nichelle Prince and Janine Beckie, both 20, could inject some much-needed composure into a front line that managed just four goals in five World Cup matches. Centre-back Rebecca Quinn, 19, could shore up the middle of the defence for the Canadians in favour of Lauren Sesselmann or Carmelina Moscato.
Five other players — Kailen Sheridan, 19, Kinley McNicoll, 21, Victoria Pickett, 18, Sarah Kinzner, 17, and Emma Fletcher, 20 — played in last year’s under-20 World Cup.
Four years ago, Sinclair and company managed a Pan Am Games gold in Mexico, finishing ahead of the hosts and Brazil. Herdman’s young stars have the same goal this year. But the path to No. 1 won’t be easy.
Their group includes Ecuador, Costa Rica and Brazil, all of whom are also coming out of the World Cup.
On the other side are Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia. The latter two sides were at last month’s World Cup, with the Colombians the only team (other than Canada) to make it out of the group stage.
Ecuador, ranked 54th in the world, should prove to be Canada’s easiest match of the group stage. The top two teams from each group will move on to the semi-finals.
Fleming, who also captains Canada’s under-17 side, has said it’s exciting every time she is named to a roster with her fellow rookies.
“Things are looking up in Canada soccer,” she said. “Our style of play has changed dramatically over the past five years and it plays into our hands. We’re just so excited and feel very lucky to be part of the future.”