The Canadian women’s soccer team will be leaning on its leaders when it heads to the Olympics in London later this month.
That was the message from coach John Herdman as his team prepares for its final tune-up matches in Switzerland against New Zealand and Brazil.
Canada will open the Olympics on July 25 against World Cup champion Japan in what will be its toughest test in the preliminary round.
“We’ve worked to develop a leadership structure within the group,” Herdman said on Wednesday, noting how some players were given leadership training. “There’s some real ownership and commitment and diligence into the planning [for the Games] from our leaders.”
Herdman wasn’t naming names, but he certainly has a lot of veterans to work with. Twelve of the 18 women chosen for the Canadian team were members of the 2008 Olympic squad that lost to the United States in the quarter-finals, and six have more than 100 caps.
Leading the way is striker and team captain Christine Sinclair , one of the sport’s all-time leading scorers, who is coming off her 135th goal in a 1-0 win over Colombia on Monday.
Sinclair is joined by others with plenty of international experience, including midfielder Diana Matheson and netminder Karina LeBlanc, who are likely part of the leadership group Herdman has worked to build heading into the Games.
“They’ve never had a formal leadership structure where the players have been empowered to a level where they can take full responsibility for the performance,” Herdman said. “Over the last few months, we’ve established with a group of players ... formal leadership training so that they understand about communication and engaging people in a vision.”
The Canadian team is attempting to rebound from a disastrous winless showing at the 2011 World Cup, which led to a regime change and the hiring of Herdman, a native of Newcastle, England, who previously coached New Zealand’s women’s national team.
Ranked seventh in the world, Canada is considered a medal threat, but it will have to survive a group stage that contains two of the top four teams in the world (Japan and Sweden) along with minnow South Africa (ranked 61st).
The Olympic tournament features 12 teams, but only the eight that are ranked among the top 22 countries in the world are likely to have a shot at the podium.
That puts Canada – competing in only its second Games – in a situation where it should be able to be one of the eight countries that advance to a do-or-die quarter-final. A win there would guarantee it would play in at least the bronze-medal game.
“We’ve been scouting the top six teams knowing that you have to beat them to get to the podium,” Herdman said. “We’ve done a lot of due diligence in the tactical preparation for these teams.
“Outside of Christine, it’s going to be the pure function of the team [playing as a team] and every player having their personal best on every day for us to get to the podium,” he added.