We’re only two and a half months removed from the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the younger players coming through the Canadian pipeline are already a ringing endorsement of what the tournament set out to achieve: inspiring the next generation.
Twenty-six players from the national U-14/U-17 EXCEL Program recently gathered for a camp in Vancouver, the same city where Canada’s senior side put their hearts and bodies on the line in trying to go the distance versus England in the quarterfinals. While the team came short, they left an indelible mark on those hoping to follow in their footsteps.
U-14/U-17 EXCEL director Bev Priestman recently told Sportsnet these youngsters are using the World Cup as a looking glass into what the future might hold for them. They’ve devoted many days away from school and their families to continue a journey through the national program, for their chance on the big stage.
Sarah Stratigakis, a 16-year-old from Scarborough, Ont., has already started making her way up the ladder with appearances at the 2014 U-17 Women’s World Cup, and she even saw time on the pitch with the U-23 group at the recent Pan American Games where she suited up alongside one of the players she hopes to emulate.
“She’s really good with driving with the ball,” Stratigakis described of senior team midfielder Ashley Lawrence. “Her vision to see the play is really strong.”
Although Stratigakis was one of the youngest on the field at the Pan Ams, she wasn’t overwhelmed lining up alongside her World Cup heroes.
“To play with top athletes like Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley, just to get that national team experience was incredible,” Stratigakis stated.
Buchanan’s breakout performance at the World Cup left an impression on many, including Kennedy Faulknor of York, Ont.
“I’m a very aggressive player,” said the defender, who helped Canada capture the 2014 U-15 CONCACAF title. “I like to be first to the ball and also, as I used to play forward, I’m technical. Kadeisha’s a centre-back who is also strong and aggressive. No one can get past her.
“The future of women’s soccer in Canada is great. It’s growing. There are so many great players on this team, who can do great things and it’s exciting to see.”
Anyssa Ibrahim is another recent U-14/U-17 EXCEL camp attendee who has eyes on a senior spot down the road. She dubbed Sophie Schmidt’s style as something she’d like to copy.
“It’s the technical part of the game and being good with my feet,” the 16-year-old midfielder said. “She has very good vision and that’s such a great way to play.”
Ibrahim was actually on hand in Montreal, her hometown, to watch Canada in action against the Netherlands in group play of the World Cup.
“What really impressed me was the will to win,” she said. “They’re doing everything out there to be able to win. That way of playing is definitely something that, hopefully, the younger generation can repeat as they come up through the system.”
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Young goalkeeper Lysianne Proulx was, too, left in awe after watching World Cup matches in Montreal.
“It was about doing everything it takes to do to win in a tournament,” the 16-year-old said.
And as she grows into her role in net, she would like nothing more than to follow in the footsteps of Erin McLeod.
“She’s very good at directing a team,” Proulx said. “She provides very good leadership and has a lot of confidence.”
McLeod has played many critical matches over her career and Proulx is working her way toward getting there after capturing the U-15 CONCACAF Championship last year, where she was named the tournament’s top goalkeeper.
Up next for this U-14/U-17 group is qualifications for the 2016 U-17 Women’s World Cup. That next stepping stone is something the likes of Lawrence, Buchanan, Schmidt and McLeod all went through.
Now it’s the next generation’s turn.
Sandra Prusina is a Calgary-based writer. Follow her on Twitter