For FIFA and Canadian organizers, next month’s U-20 Women’s World Cup is a test run for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
For Canadian coaches, it’s also a chance to see future and present talent in action.
Players on coach Andrew Olivieri’s under-20 squad, announced Wednesday, who have already featured on John Herdman’s senior team include centre backs Kadeisha Buchanan and Rebecca Quinn, fullback Sura Yekka and midfielders Ashley Lawrence and Jessie Fleming.
Forward Nichelle Prince made her senior debut in the Four Nation’s Women’s Tournament in China in January 2013, coming off the bench to score against South Korea.
Defender Kylie Davis is a veteran of the 2012 U-20 World Cup.
For them and their teammates, the U-20 tournament will be a valuable preface to the World Cup if they make that squad – ensuring they have a taste of what it’s like to play under the pressure of being the host team.
The U-20 tournament is scheduled for Aug. 5-24 in Edmonton, Moncton, Montreal and Toronto.
Under Olivieri, Canada went 1-2-0 at the 2012 tournament. The Canadian women failed to advance out of the group stage, thumping Argentina 6-0 before losing 2-1 to Norway and North Korea.
The Canadian coach said the 2012 experience has helped shape the preparation for this tournament. With Herdman also serving as high-performance director, consistent coaching approaches at different levels have helped ensure the Canadian women are all on the same page.
“He’s been fantastic support the last two years,” said Olivieri.
Fresh from a July 16-21 camp in Mexico, the Canadian women open the 2014 tournament Aug. 5 at BMO Field with a Group A game against Ghana. They play Finland three days later in Toronto before heading to Montreal for an Aug. 12 date with North Korea.
“We know our last match will be an extremely difficult one,” Olivieri said of the group play schedule.
The opener may be a challenge as well.
Ghana made it to the semifinals at the FIFA U-17 tournament in 2012, losing to eventual champion France. The Africans went on to defeat Germany in the third-place match.
“They won’t be easy,” said Olivieri.
The Canadians lost to North Korea in the U-17 quarter-finals with the Koreans eventually losing 7-6 to France in a penalty shootout in the final.
Such success does not always translate to the next age group, but the U-17 performance of Ghana and North Korea gives the Canadians something to think about.
The Finns were the surprise of European qualifying, beating Norway and drawing with Sweden and Germany.
“Just to qualify out of Europe definitely signifies they have a quite a bit of quality. It will be quite a difficult match,” said Olivieri.
It won’t get any easier for the Canadian women after pool play, assuming they advance.
The top two teams from each pool advance to the quarter-finals, with the Group A survivors taken on likely either the U.S. or Germany from Group B, which also features China and Brazil.
The U.S. and Germany have dominated women’s soccer at this level, combining to win five of the six previous tournaments. North Korea won in 2006.
“We know that our objective going into the tournament is going to be to win a quarter-final. And we have probably the toughest crossover you can ask for,” said Olivieri. “But we’ll be ready and we’ll be happy to play Germany or the U.S. or if there’s a surprise, Brazil or China. We’ve certainly done our work to make sure we’re as ready as we can be for those matches.”
The Canadian team will be captained by defender Kinley McNicoll. Kailen Sheridan goes into the tournament as the No. 1 goalie.
Olivieri hopes goals will come from both the forwards (Prince and Janine Beckie) and midfielders (Ashley Campbell, Fleming and Lawrence among others).
The Americans won in 2012, defeating Germany. The U.S. also won in 2008 and 2002, when it defeated Canada and Christine Sinclair 1-0 after extra time before 47,784 at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium to claim the inaugural then (under-19) title.
Germany won in 2004 and 2010, when it became the only host country to hoist the trophy.
Group C is made up of England, Mexico, Nigeria and South Korea while Group D consists of Costa Rica, France, New Zealand and Paraguay.
The quarter-finals are shared by all four host cities, with Moncton and Montreal hosting the semifinals. Montreal will stage the final and third-place match.
Canada will play Mexico and England in friendlies in advance of the tournament.
The two final Canadian cuts were forwards Chelsea Harkins and Sessen Stevens, both from Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite.
Canada’s U-20 Team Squad
Goalkeepers: Kailen Sheridan, Clemson University; Marie-Joelle Vandal, Dynamo de Quebec; Rylee Foster, Woodbridge SC.
Defenders: Sura Yekka, Brams United; Kinley McNicoll, University of Wisconsin; Kylie Davis, Cometes de Laval; Kadeisha Buchanan, Ottawa Fury FC; Rebecca Quinn, Duke University; Victoria Pickett, Glen Shields; Lindsay Agnew, Ohio State University; Jordane Carvery, Glen Shields.
Midfielders: Ashley Campbell, Toronto Lady Lynx; Jessie Fleming, London NorWest SC; Ashley Lawrence, Ottawa Fury FC; Vanessa Gregoire, Cometes de Laval; Sarah Kinzner, Calgary Foothills; Emma Fletcher, Louisiana State University.
Forwards: Nichelle Prince, Toronto Lady Lynx; Janine Beckie, Texas Tech University; Amandine Pierre-Louis, Cometes de Laval; Valerie Sanderson, Cometes de Laval.
Coach: Andrew Olivieri.