Canada announces roster for Olympic qualifier

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.

If the Canadian women’s soccer team is to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio it will do it with a blend of veterans and youngsters.

Coach John Herdman revealed his 20-woman roster on Tuesday for next month’s CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Texas, a squad that 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. 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.

Looking to build upon Canada’s quarterfinal exit at the World Cup, Herdman explained he wants more speed in the team, hence the inclusion of so many youngsters. 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.

"Adding pace around players like Sinclair is absolutely crucial to give the space that she needs to operate," Herdman told a media conference call on Tuesday.

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, is a bit of a surprise, as she trained with the team in Vancouver earlier this month.

The other players invited to camp who didn’t make this squad were defender Kennedy Faulknor and forward Marie Levasseur, both teenagers.

"The players that haven’t been selected still know they have an opportunity to push into this team," Herdman said.

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The Canadian women’s team received a favourable draw for the upcoming CONCACAF qualifying tournament, which runs from Feb. 10-21 in Dallas and Houston.

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 the Olympics in Rio.

"The game we have to be freshest for is Game 4," 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.

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’s Roster
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.

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