Canada heads into this month’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup with a familiar face at the helm of the program and a very promising goal scorer on the pitch.
Former national team defender Rhian Wilkinson was recently named coach of the under-17 side, and she has aspirations of helping Canada break through at the World Cup – the Reds have never advanced beyond the quarter-finals.
Here’s what you need to know about the World Cup and Canada’s chances for success.
How does the competition work?
The 2018 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup runs from Nov. 13 to Dec. 1 in Uruguay.
Sixteen teams are divided into four round-robin groups. The top two nations in each group advance to the quarter-finals.
How has Canada fared at previous World Cups?
The first U-17 World Cup was staged in 2008, and has since been held every two years. Canada is one of six nations to have competed at all five previous tournaments, reaching the quarter-finals in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
North Korea is the defending champion.
Who is in Canada’s group?
Canada will compete in Group D, and its first game is against Colombia on Nov. 14. Three days later the Reds take on South Korea before wrapping things up versus Spain on Nov. 21.
All three of Canada’s group stage games will take place in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital.
What are Canada’s chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals?
It won’t be easy. The Canadian team has only been together training in Montevideo since the beginning of the month, and the group, by Wilkinson’s own admission, is very tough.
“Colombia is a team that has really come up the last few years. … They are quite direct, but have skilled, fast tricky players up front who know how to finish, so we’ll have to be alert,” Wilkinson told Sportsnet.
South Korea won the U-17 World Cup in 2010, and Wilkinson thinks they are one of the most technically and tactically disciplined teams at this year’s tournament.
“Their movement with and without the ball is very precise, and their players are aligned with one another. They know how to pick teams apart,” Wilkinson offered.
Spain also has a track record of success at the U-17 World Cup – it was runner-up in 2014, and finished third in 2010 and 2016.
“Spain is probably one of the front-runners to win this World Cup. They have a group of players who have played at different age levels, and the Spanish FA has heavily invested in their women’s programs. They play a beautiful and fluid brand of soccer,” Wilkinson said.
Who is on the Canadian roster?
Wilkinson has assembled a 21-player squad for the World Cup, which includes three members who have already played for Canada’s senior team: forwards Jordyn Huitema and Jayde Riviere, and defender Ariel Young. Defender Maya Antoine was previously called up by the senior team, but has yet to earn her first cap.
This World Cup is a chance for the youngsters to show what they can do on the big stage. They can also use this tournament to grab the attention of Canadian senior team coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller, who is in Uruguay to lend his support to Wilkinson.
“There are six or seven players on this team who I feel have a genuine chance of going up to senior team in the next few years,” Wilkinson said.
“I believe massively in this team.”
Here’s the full U-17 roster for Canada…
Goalkeepers: Anna Karpenko, Sophie Guilmette and Kayza Massey.
Defenders: Julianne Vallerand, Sonia Walk, Maya Antoine, Ariel Young, Léonie Portelance, Jade Rose and Isabella Hanisch.
Midfielders: Caitlin Shaw, Lara Kazandjian, Wayny-Natasha Balata Nguenign and Jazmine Wilkinson.
Forwards: Jayde Riviere, Serita Thurton, Jordyn Huitema, Oluwateniola (Teni) Akindoju, Kaila Novak, Andersen Williams and Jessica De Filippo.
Who is the one Canadian player to watch?
Jordyn Huitema has been named captain of this U-17 side for very good reason.
The 17-year-old forward from Chilliwack, B.C. is one of Canada’s brightest prospects, having become a somewhat regular for the senior team since making her debut last March. Since then, she’s earned 15 caps (three as a starter) and scored six goals.
Huitema represented Canada at the 2016 FIFA U-17 World Cup held in Jordan where she scored a goal in the group stage, and she’s also featured for the Canadian under-20 team – She finished as the top scorer at this year’s Concacaf U-20 Championship.
“Where her experience helps this team is through her leadership and her knowledge. She’s played with [Christine] Sinclair and [Sophie] Schmidt and so many of the veterans on the senior team. Jordyn has the experience that others don’t, so we’ll be looking for her to bring that forward so that others will feed off of that,” Wilkinson offered.
How long has Wilkinson been in charge?
Not very long at all. Former U-17 coach Bev Priestman left the program in August to take a job as an assistant coach with England’s senior women’s team.
Wilkinson, a 36-year-old native of Quebec, was recently named as Priestman’s successor.
“It happened quite suddenly, but I was Bev’s assistant for the last year and a half. She put in a lot of energy and love into this team, so it was a shock for [the players] – I don’t think we can get around that. They obviously miss her, but I think it was important that I stepped in because I’m a familiar face for them,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson doesn’t have a wealth of coaching expertise, but she does have a ton of first-hand experience in the women’s game. The former defender debuted for Canada in 2003 and went on to earn 181 caps (150 as a starter), and score seven goals and tally 23 assists. She also won a pair of Olympic bronze medals, in 2012 and 2016, before announcing her retirement last year.
“The best part of this job, and I absolutely adore it, is the teaching part. Connecting with these players right at the beginning of their careers when they’re starting to fall in love with the game that I love so much, it’s great. That’s a huge part of this job that I love,” said Wilkinson, who is working on getting her UEFA “A” coaching license.