Youthful core ready to lead Canadian women's...
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Feb 09, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Youthful core ready to lead Canadian women's soccer team

Canada can secure an Olympic berth with a top-two finish at CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament that starts Wednesday


When it comes to age, John Herdman’s viewpoint is consistent.

“If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” the Canadian women’s national team head coach has said time and time again since his appointment in 2011.

It is that belief that saw Herdman promote then-teenagers Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence and Jessie Fleming first to the country’s senior squad in 2013, then to last year’s Women’s World Cup squad.

It is also part of the reason a largely under-23 squad faced off against senior squad like Columbia and Brazil at last summer’s Pan Am Games.

And so far, the thinking seems to be working.

Buchanan and Lawrence were standouts at last summer’s World Cup. Fleming, a few years younger, is still touted as the country’s next Christine Sinclair. A fourth-place finish at the Pan Am Games was only a disappointment after a strong showing from a previously unrated team.

But now the toughest test of Herdman’s philosophy is upon him, as he banks on a squad with half its players under the age of 24 to earn Canada a spot at this summer’s Rio Olympics.

Make it there and the Canadians would be defending a bronze medal.

Canada arrived in Houston for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, which begins Wednesday, just last week.

In the 20-player squad — including the likes of Christine Sinclair and Diana Matheson but without more than a handful of familiar faces — Herdman said those youngsters already look at home in the team.

“With all players coming into international football, it’s always a learning curve. You’re picking up something new every time you play a different opponent. But we’ve certainly focused on these players just to bring what they have at this point, because what they have is good enough.”

Good enough is all Canada really needs at this tournament, which will be held at BBVA Compass Stadium, home to Major League Soccer franchise Houston Dynamo.

The Canadians need to come in first or second to secure Olympic qualification. The team was not drawn in the same group as the United States, so win Group B and the Canucks likely won’t face its American foes until the meaningless — on paper — final.

To get there, Canada will have to beat No. 89-ranked Guyana Feb. 11, No. 48-ranked Trinidad and Tobago Feb. 14 and No. 76-ranked Guatemala Feb. 16. For the world’s 11th best team, that shouldn’t pose much of a problem.

The ticket to the Olympics can be sealed in game four, on Feb. 19, with Canada’s opponents likely to be Costa Rica or Mexico.

The Canucks haven’t played Costa Rica since a 5-1 win in 2012.

More recently, the senior team, including many of the new, young faces, posted a 3-0 win over Mexico in December. But the Pan Am squad lost 2-1 to its North American counterparts in July.

It’s that slight discrepancy between the newbies and the veterans, that familiarity with the full international game, which has Herdman encouraging the youngsters to clear their minds while their older teammates take a little more responsibility on their shoulders.

Goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who is fit to play in Houston after suffering a knee injury in December, said Monday she and her longtime teammates — six of whom have more than 100 caps to their name — are happy to take on that task.

“When you’ve got somebody like Christine Sinclair, player that many times, scored that many goals, if she’s got something to say and some advice to give, you’ve got to be a fool not to listen up,” she laughed.

McLeod is already impressed by her younger teammates’ professionalism and mental toughness.

More so, she’s once again inspired by the je ne sais quoi attitude that comes with youth. It’s something she remembers in herself, some 14 years ago.

“You don’t have a care in the world. You just go out and you play free; there’s nothing that’s going to stop you. I definitely see that fire and that confidence in people on the team and its teaching us that confidence.”

Toronto Star

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