The journey has begun for some youngsters who are getting their first taste of training with the Canadian senior women’s team this month in Vancouver.
Coach John Herdman refers to the group as “mavericks” and wants to challenge them to see if they have what it takes to suit up with Christine Sinclair, Erin McLeod, Diana Matheson and Rhian Wilkinson, longtime pillars of the national squad.
“Recruiting young players who play freely, risky football—they have technical competencies in certain positions and they’re going to get their chance to bring it alive and interact with people like Sinclair, Matheson. It’s an exciting time for us,” Herdman said.
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He also explained he is looking for creative strikers, who are strong in 1-v-1 situations.
Here’s a closer look at the current group of prospects you may not have heard of who are attending the current camp in Vancouver ahead of December’s four-nation tournament in Natal, Brazil:
Erin McLeod and Stephanie Labbe provide a one-two punch in goal and have plenty of appearances (130) between them. However, Sabrina D’Angelo is waiting in the wings for her chance. Sportsnet caught up with the young ‘keeper over the summer while she was in the middle of her first season of professional soccer. The 22-year-old has represented Canada at the U-20 level and had a decorated college career at South Carolina. Her style is aggressive. She likes to challenge shooters and isn’t afraid to come off her line.
The most experienced of the group is Rhian Wilkinson—the always dependable fullback with 166 caps. She’s followed by Allysha Chapman, who has been a revelation of sorts for the national squad after playing a number of years professionally overseas. Chapman was one of Canada’s strongest defenders at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Star Kadeisha Buchanan is expected to join the team once her NCAA season is over. Herdman is currently searching for a centre-back to play with 20-year-old Buchanan, the Women’s World Cup Young Player Award recipient and shortlist nominee for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year. There are a number of options for that coveted spot, including Rebecca Quinn and Shelina Zadorsky. Quinn has seen some time with the senior side (nine appearances) and wore the captain’s armband for a match during the Pan American Games this past summer. Buchanan and Quinn played side-by-side at the 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup, meaning there is a familiarity there.
With Zadorsky, you have a centre-back with nearly two years of professional soccer under her belt. After graduating from Michigan, the 23-year-old suited up for Perth Glory of Australia’s W-League and just finished a full season with Vittsjö GIK in Sweden. Zadorsky can also line up as a fullback in a pinch.
Rounding out the group of defenders at camp is Kennedy Faulknor, who plays out of Unionville Milliken SC in Ontario. The fullback helped Canada win gold at the 2014 CONCACAF Girls’ Under-15 Championship. The youngster will graduate high school in 2017 and despite her age, has caught the eye of the EXCEL program coaching staff.
Sophie Schmidt and Diana Matheson lead the way for the midfielders. They are two of the most familiar faces on the team and have already paved a path for future players looking to patrol the middle of the pitch. Ashley Lawrence has already followed in their footsteps and while she currently isn’t in camp due to playing in the NCAA Championship Tournament with West Virginia (along with Buchanan), she will join the group once she becomes available.
The fourth midfielder called in is Deanne Rose. The 16-year-old is coming off a strong showing at this year’s national championship with Scarborough GS United, scoring four goals (tied for the tournament lead) and earning a bronze medal.
Christine Sinclair continues to be the face of Canadian soccer and the search churns on to find suitable strikers to play alongside her.
There are a number of possibilities, including 17-year-old Gabrielle Carle, who was a standout at the Pan Am Games. She also represented Canada at the U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2014.
Marie Levasseur just wrapped up an impressive freshman season at Memphis. She finished tied on the team for both goals and points, while being named the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year. Levasseur proved to be a prolific scorer at the U-17 level, netting five goals at the 2013 U-17 CONCACAF tournament and adding four more at the 2014 U-17 Women’s World Cup.
After a nearly two-year absence from the program, Summer Clarke is back in camp. During that time, the 20-year-old has been concentrating on her studies, while being a difference-maker for Louisiana State. Her college career includes numerous accolades and scoring nearly 25 goals in three years. Her last experience on the international stage was in 2012, where she dominated the U-17 CONCACAF tournament.
Janine Beckie and Nichelle Prince join the group after lengthy NCAA campaigns. Beckie has wrapped up her senior season at Texas Tech, where she was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row. Sportsnet spoke to Beckie in August and she told us the next step in her career would be making the Olympic roster after being a late cut on the World Cup team. She’s also hoping to play in the National Women’s Soccer League in 2016.
Prince was part of Canada’s original Pan Am roster, but suffered an injury and was unable to suit up. She did, however, play 23 matches in her junior year with Ohio State and led her team in both goals and points. Prince has represented Canada at both the U-17 and U-20 levels, while making her senior debut in 2013.
Rounding out the forward corps is veteran Melissa Tancredi.
The team will depart for Brazil early next month. The four-nation tournament begins December 9 in Natal, when Canada faces Mexico. They’ll also play Croatia and Brazil.
Canada last won the tournament in 2010, when they beat Brazil in the final on penalties.