TORONTO â€” The Canadian women’s soccer team takes its first step into the new quadrennial on Friday at a camp in Los Angeles where players ranging from 15-year-old Jordyn Huitema to 33-year-old captain Christine Sinclair will take the field.
Coach John Herdman’s 22-woman roster includes 10 members of the Olympic bronze medal squad, as well as six players who competed at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea in November-December and five who took part in the U-17 World Cup in Jordan in September-October.
The camp roster features seven teenagers and 17 players aged 24 or younger. Sinclair (33), Diana Matheson (32), Stephanie Labbe (30), Desiree Scott (29) and Allysha Chapman (27) are the only players over 25.
“This is a great window to start that assessment,” Herdman said in an interview.
The youngsters invited represent just the first wave of new talent. There is another group â€” 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds â€” who will be assessed in 2018 to see if there are any who could break into the senior group as a young Deanne Rose did.
For Herdman and his staff, it’s all part of a carefully crafted blueprint for the 2019 World Cup in France and 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Herdman’s team will fly back to Vancouver on Jan. 29. The fourth-ranked Canadian women will play No. 26 Mexico on Feb. 4 at Vancouver’s B.C. Place Stadium in what is billed as a celebration match of the Olympic team.
While the Canadian Soccer Association is handling Huitema with care, she is seen as a future star.
She was just 13 when she attended an under-15 talent identification camp. Since then she has taken part in 12 national youth team camps or international tournaments, playing most recently at the U-17 World Cup.
“She’s one of the closest things I’ve seen to Sinclair â€” so no pressure on the kid,” Herdman said dryly. “As a youngster, I’ve seen those qualities of Sinclair â€” the touch, the movement â€” in people like Janine Beckie. But from what I’ve seen of Jordyn, she’s got the goal-scoring ability and the sort of height and size and presence that you associate with Christine on the field.”
The five-foot-10 forward from Chilliwack, B.C., has been developing with the Vancouver Whitecaps elite girls program for two years.
Herdman brought her briefly into a camp prior to the Olympics and “she knocked it out of the park.”
“She was on par with our senior players and looking like she could be the future,” he added.
Huitema, whose favourite player is Sinclair, has already shown she can handle pressure. In 2014, the then-13-year-old scored the deciding penalty kick in the shootout that earned Canada the CONCACAF U-15 championship over Haiti.
Of the other eight Olympians, European-based players Kadeisha Buchanan, Ashley Lawrence and Sophie Schmidt were not called up.
“With these players, you’re now dealing with international windows,” said Herdman.
Rebecca Quinn is injured (toe) but is due to be assessed during the camp. Josee Belanger is due to join the camp on Jan. 30. Melissa Tancredi and Rhian Wilkinson have announced their retirement but will be part of the Feb. 4 game.
Herdman elected not to summon rising midfield star Jessie Fleming, citing her busy schedule at UCLA. But Fleming is expected to take part in a couple of the Los Angeles training sessions.
Talks are ongoing to see if the European-based players might be released for the Mexico game.
Marie-Eve Nault, another veteran who is hanging up her boots, will watch the Mexico game from the sidelines.
Herdman is committed to playing his Olympians in that match. But he will shuffle the deck for a second game against Mexico that will played behind closed doors.
Hannah Taylor, 17, and Ashley Cathro, 16, have been summoned ahead of schedule because Herdman is thin at centre back. Buchanan is in Europe while Quinn and Kennedy Faulknor (concussion) are injured. Rachel Melhado, who has been excelling at USV Jena in Germany is unavailable for personal reasons.
Attacking midielder Sarah Stratigakis, a highly touted youth international, and West Virginia defender Amandine Pierre-Louis also get a shot.
There is also a call-up for 21-year-old Ohio State forward Lindsay Agnew, the first Canadian taken in last week’s NWSL draft at No. 19 by the Washington Spirit.
There is a return for 24-year-old Adriana Leon, a member of the 2015 World Cup team, after a stint in Europe with FC Zurich.
The camp was originally slated for suburban Vancouver but was shifted to California because of the weather forecast and possible pitch conditions.
Lindsay Agnew, Kingston, Ont., Washington Spirit; Janine Beckie, Houston Dash; Gabrielle Carle, Levis, Que. Dynamo Quebec; Ashley Cathro, Victoria, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite; Allysha Chapman, Courtice, Ont., Boston Breakers; Sabrina D’Angelo, Welland, Ont., North Carolina Courage; Jordyn Huitema, Chilliwack, B.C., Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite; Stephanie Labbe, Edmonton, Washington Spirit; Alex Lamontagne, Whitby, Ont., Durham United FC; Adriana Leon, King City, Ont., FC Zurich; Marie Levasseur, Stoneham, Que., University of Memphis; Diana Matheson, Oakville, Ont., Washington Spirit; Amandine Pierre-Louis, Montreal, West Virginia University; Nichelle Prince, Ajax, Ont., Houston Dash; Deanne Rose, Alliston, Ont., Scarborough GS United; Kailen Sheridan, Whitby, Ont., Sky Blue FC; Sarah Stratigakis, Woodbridge, Ont., Aurora United FC; Valerie Sanderson, Boisbriand, Que, Cometes de Laval; Desiree Scott, Winnipeg, FC Kansas City; Christine Sinclair, Burnaby, B.C., Portland Thorns FC; Hannah Taylor, Edmonds, Wash., Eastside FC; Shelina Zadorsky, London, Ont., Washington Spirit.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press