Captain Christine Sinclair is ineligible to play in the upcoming Yongchuan Cup for the Canadian women’s team.
But that hasn’t stopped coach John Herdman from naming the star striker to his roster for the four-nation tournament that runs from Jan. 12-16 in China.
Sinclair is among the 21 players on Herdman’s team, even though she is not eligible to play after being hit with a four-match suspension stemming from last summer’s Olympic Games in London. A FIFA disciplinary committee panel disciplined Sinclair for displaying unsporting behaviour towards match officials. She was also fined an undisclosed amount.
Herdman admitted he “didn’t really have an option” but to select Sinclair to travel to China for this tournament, even though she can’t play.
“Christine wanted to be there. … She knows how important it is from a leadership perspective (to be in China),” Herdman told reporters during a Friday conference call.
A 29-year-old native of Burnaby, B.C., Sinclair is regarded as one of the best players in the women’s game, and is Canada’s all-time leading scorer with 143 goals in 190 appearances. She ranks third overall in all-time international goals scored by a female player, trailing the retired Mia Hamm (158) and Abby Wambach (152) of the United States.
Sinclair scored a tournament-leading six goals at the London Olympics, including a hat trick in a dramatic extra-time loss to the U.S. in the semifinals, and helped Canada win a bronze medal.
Her heroic efforts at the Games led to her to being named Canada’s flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony. When she returned home from London, she scooped up a number of individual honours, including the Lou Marsh Award as the Canadian athlete of the year. She was also named the 2012 Sportsnet Canadian Athlete of the Year.
One of the major criticisms of the Canadian team has been that it relies far too heavily on Sinclair to supply goals, and that if she is contained, Canada suffers on the field against their opponents.
With Sinclair unavailable for selection, Herdman sees this tournament as a chance for other players to step up and make a case for themselves to earn more regular playing time.
“It’s never a blessing (in disguise) to have Christine out of your team,” Herdman stated. “But I think the reality is this gives some players an opportunity to get some game time.
“I’m not sure we need to wean the team off Christine. She’s always going to be a major part of this team, as Marta is for Brazil or Wambach is for the USA. … But there are some players who probably haven’t had consistent opportunities to show themselves because Christine is always on the team sheet.”
While Herdman would like to win this tournament, it’s not his priority. Instead, he’s putting greater focus on continuing Canada’s tactical rebuild, with a focus of improving the team’s possession skills and ball movement, and adding width to the attack.
“Sometimes to achieve winning you have to forget about winning. Through this tournament, there will be some non-negotiables for this team, the things that make us Canadian: the spirit, the passion, the energy, the discipline, the hard work,” Herdman explained.
“But from a technical (and) tactical point of view, the team has to go into a pit. You have to be prepared to put a team into a place where they’re uncomfortable and things are new and mistakes are going to happen. We have to create a safe environment for these players where mistakes are accepted at this time, because you’re learning some new things.”
This is all being done with the goal of preparing the team for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup to be staged in Canada.
“Later on, in 2015, those mistakes won’t be tolerated any more. … So this is an important time for us, where we have to really take a step back. We can’t think about winning. We have to think about certain processes, and we’ve identified a number of statistical measures going into this tournament that are going to help us towards this new DNA,” Herdman said.
The Canadian roster for the Yongchuan Cup is a mix of veterans and youngsters, with 12 players having won bronze medals at the London Olympics. Seven youngsters on the roster have yet to make their senior team debut for Canada, including midfielder Ashley Lawrence and forward Tiffany Cameron.
Notable absentees include veterans Melissa Tancredi, Candace Chapman and Carmelina Moscato. Herdman confirmed they are still with the national team program: Tancredi wanted time off to go back to school, while Chapman and Moscato are injured.
Canada opens play at the Yongchuan Cup against China on Jan. 12, and then meets South Korea (Jan. 14) and Norway (Jan. 16). The Norwegian team is coached by Even Pellerud, who severed as manager of Canada’s national team from 1999 to 2008.
Herdman thinks China are a “little ahead of us. Norway rebuilding under Even Pellerud but will be tough. Korea technically as good as any.”