Canada eyes third straight Olympic soccer berth

Sportsnet talks to John Herdman, coach of the Canadian women’s soccer team, about his roster and the competition ahead of their Rio Olympic qualifying tournament in February.

For Canada, the Road to Rio begins in Texas.

Coming off a bronze-medal performance four years ago in London, the Canadian women’s team will try to book a ticket for its third straight Olympics later this month at the CONCACAF qualifying competition in Houston and Frisco.

Here’s all you need to know about the CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers.

Friday programming alert: Watch Canada vs. Costa Rica in Friday’s semifinals of the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship live on Sportsnet ONE. Coverage starts at 5:15 pm ET/2:15 pm ET. (Canada will qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics with a win. If Canada loses, it will be eliminated from contention.) ||  Broadcast schedule

How does the tournament work?
Canada will compete in the eight-nation CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament from Feb. 10-21 in Houston and Frisco, Texas.

Canada, ranked 11th in the world by FIFA, will compete in Group B vs. No. 89 Guyana (on Feb. 11), No. 48 Trinidad and Tobago (on Feb. 14) and No. 76 Guatemala (on Feb. 16). Group A consists of the United States (No. 1), Mexico (No. 26), Costa Rica (No. 34) and Puerto Rico (No. 108).

The top two nations from each group advance to the semifinals. Only the two finalists qualify for this summer’s Olympics in Rio.

“The game we have to be freshest for is Game 4,” Canadian coach Herdman said. “Whether that’s the U.S., Costa Rica or Mexico. We have to get through the other games and put ourselves in a good position to be at our best for that fourth game.”

Canada will play all of its group-stage games in Houston, which will also host both semifinals and the final.

How can I watch? will live stream all of Canada’s group stage matches.

Sportsnet will carry each of Canada’s knockout round matches live on Sportsnet ONE. For more broadcast details, CLICK HERE.

Also, will have in-depth coverage of the Canadian team during the tournament, with regular reports from Texas from journalist and Sportsnet contributor Gavin Day.

Who’s playing for Canada?
Coach John Herdman announced his 20-player roster last week:

Goalkeepers: Erin McLeod, Stephanie Labbe Sabrina D’Angelo.
Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Rebecca Quinn, Shelina Zadorsky, Josee Belanger, Allysha Chapman, Rhian Wilkinson.
Midfielders: Jessie Fleming, Ashley Lawrence, Diana Matheson, Deanne Rose, Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott.
Forwards: Janine Beckie, Gabrielle Carle, Nichelle Prince, Christine Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi.

What’s the makeup of this Canadian team?
Herdman’s squad is a healthy mix of youth and experience.

Seven veterans who won bronze at the 2012 London Olympics are there: Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson and Sophie Schmidt foremost among them. Thirteen players who were on the Women’s World Cup team last year have been recalled.

But Herdman has also drafted in a number of young players to a team that looks considerably different from the side that competed at last summer’s Women’s World Cup held in Canada.

Seven members of the team are 20 years old or younger, including 16-year-old midfielder Deanne Rose, the youngest player on the roster. Forward Melissa Tancredi, 34, is the oldest.

Who’s missing? Who are the newbies
In total, 10 players on the 2015 World Cup team are not on this roster: Karina LeBlanc (retired), Carmelina Moscato, Robyn Gayle, Kaylyn Kyle, Jonelle Filigno, Adriana Leon, Emily Zurrer, Lauren Sesselmann, Selenia Iacchelli and Marie-Eve Nault.

Newcomers who weren’t on the World Cup roster who are on this squad include Sabrina D’Angelo, Shelina Zadorsky, Rebecca Quinn, Janine Beckie, Deanne Rose, Gabrielle Carle and Nichelle Prince.

The omission of Nault, a veteran from the 2012 Olympic side, was a bit of a surprise, as she trained with the team in Vancouver earlier this month.

Herdman’s take
Sportsnet talked one-on-one to Herdman about his roster and the competition ahead of their Rio Olympic qualifying tournament in February.

How has Canada fared at past qualifying tournaments?
The Canadian women have qualified for the last two Olympics, beating Mexico both times in the semifinals, before losing to the U.S. in the qualifying tournament final.

Canada lost to the United States in the quarterfinals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In London in 2012, the Reds lost to the Americans in the semifinals but then went on to beat France in the bronze-medal match.

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.

MORE ON CANADA: Canada eyes 3rd straight Olympic berth || McLeod welcomes mavericks on women’s team || Canada announces roster for Olympic qualifiers || Q&A: Defender Shelina Zadorsky || EXCEL program paying off for Canada || Tancredi adapts to mentor role || Levasseur an up and comer for Canada || Quinn looking to be mainstay for Canada

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