With one major tournament under his belt, Canadian under-20 women’s coach Daniel Worthington is now on the cusp of showing number two.
The 2015 CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship runs from December 3 to 13 in Honduras. Canada is looking for a top-three finish, which would qualify them for next year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea.
Sportsnet had a chance to catch up with Worthington ahead of the tournament to find out his expectations for the Canadian team and how it prepared to make the most of its time in Central America.
The last time we spoke was at the conclusion of this summer’s Pan American Games and you mentioned there would be a lengthy evaluation period. How did that go to get you where you are today?
First thing we did, we did the assessment and right now, we’ve got a women’s national team camp with the Olympic qualification development focus in Vancouver. What we did is we looked through that and really went with players who showed well at the Pan Ams with a blend of the senior team players from the World Cup.
To be honest with you, we went through that process and at the same time, what I did is that I got out of the Pan Ams and I looked at the U-20s that had shown promise in our system with what we call the “gold medal standard.” We also went down to the U-17s with Bev Priestman’s group and we looked to some of those players we’ve been tracking.
There are a number of youngsters currently in senior camp with John Herdman preparing for the four-nation tournament in Brazil later this month. How did you decide who would go to the qualifiers with the U-20s?
We have one connective vision and our system is about producing more Sinclairs, more often. It really always comes back to that. What ends up happening is we’ve put in the foundations and the building blocks that these young players need to be successful. We’ve said, “Look, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.” We’re tracking toward that “gold medal standard” within the position threshold of the women’s national team. We’re going to give you that opportunity and place on the stage. It’s good because we have a system and that system’s working. We’re starting to produce players through the system and they need to go into events, tournaments, camps that’ll give them performances under pressure.
John Herdman called the youngsters with him right now “mavericks” and said he wants them to be dynamic offensive players, who aren’t afraid to go 1 versus 1 against the world’s best defenders. Is there more of a focus on developing strikers in the senior group?
When you bring it back down to the essence, we’re building a foundation of curriculum. We tend to build a structure and we have principles around those structures. The structure is what drives that creativity. If you look around Canada and you look over time, we need young players to live on the ball and to take chances. The players that he’s got, we feel as a group, we as the national team staff, need to give them an opportunity.
They’re “mavericks” and when he says that they can do something on the ball, they can bring a different flavour, a different energy, to compliment what we already have in the women’s national team. What it really comes down to is “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.” That’s why you’ll see some young players.
At the same time, when you talk about positions, you can start out like Kennedy Faulknor, who was a central midfield player and now she’s a centre-back. We’ve got options and measures to profile players and to guide them into the best positions that are going to give them the best chance of moving forward.
The 20 players you’re taking to Honduras have benefited from more than 1,700 days in the national youth program. What can you tells us about this group?
What you can see with the team is a blend of players from the NCAA, playing in that domestic arena as either part of the Pan Am Games or U-20 camps through quarter one and quarter two of this year. Then we’ve got some other players that have been playing in our Regional EXCEL Centres. Regionally, we have these centres with Bev Priestman and Joey Lombardi, who have been showing some great leadership with the women’s national team game model.
What you’re seeing is a courageous roster. If we start to build it right, with the more Sinclairs, more often, our EXCEL centres are working with those individuals to the way to their national dream. What I get to do is I take a national team and build on those foundations and give those players a staging post. The CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship’s number one goal for us is to qualify for the World Cup. If you want to be on the world stage, you have to give the best players the opportunity to play against the best players.
Under John’s leadership, the system is starting to work. We’re starting to be a light and have one vision. My message is that we’re on the right path. We’re building a system that’ll be around for the next five to 10 years.
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You’re going into this tournament with players who are experienced on the world stage. I think of Sura Yekka (13 senior appearances, 2014 U-20 Women’s World Cup) or Sarah Kinzner (Pan American Games, 2014 U-17 Women’s World Cup). There’s plenty of leadership there.
For sure and that’s something we can lean on when we have young players coming in. With those players you have that internal leadership, both on and off the field, and we try to create a culture where it’s very high-performance in terms of behaviour. It’s a culture to grow and to grow together. The World Cup was the greater goal and really said, “Be the best Canadian you can be.”
Going into this tournament, we do have a blend and we do have experience. I think it’s about how we connect, trust and perform together over a short period of time. I think that’s going to be the key.
What do you know about your opponents in the group stage (Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Honduras)?
We know we have the second and third qualifiers for the Caribbean group. They’re going play a similar style. It’s going to be hot, humid and we’re going to have to control the game to play the way we want to play. Trinidad and Jamaica will give us a similar look and feel. That can be good for us because we can take one game and improve to the next game to bring that momentum forward. We can’t take that lightly because they’re going to be physical and fast. They’ll look to play on the counter.
Honduras, they’re the hosts of the tournament and they’re trying to leave a legacy for women’s football in that country. There’s some great energy there. It’s the second CONCACAF tournament they’ve had in the year with the U-17 men and now the U-20 women. I would expect a lot of fans at the Honduras game and a lot of momentum behind them. That’ll be a great experience for our girls. These are the kinds of games you want to play in and you want to coach in. You cherish them.
Any final thoughts ahead of Canada’s first match?
I go back to your question about expectations. It’s about this roster and really about more Sinclairs, more often. I think it’s building on the momentum of the World Cup and good performances from some young players at the Pan Am Games. Right now, the system is aligned and we’re well on track. It’s such a pleasure. I have the best job in the world.