U-20 World Cup launches stars of tomorrow

Jessie Fleming, left, in action for Canada. (Eraldo Peres/AP)

You know who Christine Sinclair is, right? Good. But what about Sura Yekka? How about Kadeisha Buchanan? Jessie Fleming?

No? Don’t worry. You’ll know them soon enough.

These Canadians are just three players who are set to announce themselves to a larger soccer audience at this summer’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

Oh, you’re not familiar with the U-20 World Cup? Think of it as the soccer equivalent of the world junior hockey championship—a tournament where the brightest prospects in the women’s game gather and showcase their skills before going on to bigger and better things.

Here’s what you need to know about this year’s tournament.

FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup: The 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup runs from August 5–24 in four cities across Canada. Watch all 32 games live on CBC and Sportsnet. || Match schedule || Standings || Tournament preview || Spotlight on Canada’s terrific trio || Sportsnet Q&A: John Herdman

When and where are games taking place?

The 16-nation FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup runs from Aug. 5-24 with games in Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Moncton. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium will stage the final.

You can watch all 32 games live on CBC and Sportsnet. Consult the full tournament schedule HERE.

How does the tournament work?

The 16-team field is divided into four round-robin groups, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the quarterfinals.

Who is in Canada’s group?

Canada will compete in Group A, with matches against Ghana on Aug. 5 and Finland on Aug. 8 (both in Toronto) and North Korea on Aug. 12 in Montreal.

Group B is made up of Brazil, China, Germany and the United States.

England, South Korea, Mexico and Nigeria will compete in Group C.

Group D sees Costa Rica play France, New Zealand and Paraguay.

Who’s playing for Canada?

Coach Andrew Olivieri announced his 21-player roster in July:

Goalkeepers: Kailen Sheridan (Clemson University), Rylee Foster (Woodbridge SC) and Marie-Jöelle Vandal (Dynamo de Québec).

Defenders: Sura Yekka (Brams United), Kinley McNicoll (University of Wisconsin), Kylie Davis (Comètes de Laval), Kadeisha Buchanan (Ottawa Fury FC), Rebecca Quinn (Duke University), Victoria Pickett (Glen Shields), Lindsay Agnew (Ohio State University) and Jordane Carvery (Glen Shields).

Midfielders: Ashley Campbell (Toronto Lady Lynx), Jessie Fleming (London NorWest SC), Vanessa Gregoire (Comètes de Laval), Sarah Kinzner (Calgary Foothills), Ashley Lawrence (Ottawa Fury FC) and Emma Fletcher (Louisiana State University).

Forwards: Janine Beckie (Texas Tech University), Nichelle Prince (Toronto Lady Lynx), Amandine Pierre-Louis (Comètes de Laval) and Valerie Sanderson (Comètes de Laval).

Sura Yekka and Kadeisha Buchanan are both teenagers—17 and 18 respectively—but have already combined for 31 appearances with Canada’s senior side since making their debuts in 2013.

Other players on Olivieri’s roster who have already played for John Herdman’s senior Canadian team include defender Rebecca Quinn, midfielders Ashley Lawrence and Jessie Fleming and forward Nichelle Prince.

Yekka and Buchanan have also represented Canada at the U-17 level. Yekka and three other members of this U-20 side represented Canada at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica back in March.

Defender Kinley McNicoll will serve as the Canadian captain. McNicoll played for Canada at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago in 2010.

Is this the same tournament that Canada hosted in 2002?

Yes! Canada staged the inaugural tournament in 2002, when it was known as the FIFA U-19 World Cup, and lost to the United States in the final before over 47,000 fans in Edmonton.

The 2002 competition effectively launched the careers of current national team stalwarts Sinclair, Erin McLeod and Carmelina Moscato

The tournament is staged every two years. Canada failed to get out of the group stage in the 2012 tournament in Japan.

Does this event really tournament matter?

You bet it does.

For one, the U-20 World Cup will give Canadian soccer fans a taste of what’s to come. Canada will host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup next summer, with games in Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.

More important, though, is that it will give prospects such as Yekka and Buchanan—and others who will likely feature in Canada’s senior team at next year’s World Cup and beyond—valuable experience in an international tournament.

"It’s a great opportunity for these younger players to experience a home World Cup. Over the last year and a half, you’ve seen how we’ve integrated quite a lot of these under-20 players into the senior team and given them a lot of game time," Herdman told Sportsnet.

"That signals they could be a big part of our attempt at the World Cup in 2015. So to play at a FIFA event here in Canada, you can’t get a better dress rehearsal for the younger players. That experience, more than anything, is what they lack. This is perfect for us."

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