Canadian women's soccer coach John Herdman couldn't afford to think about experimenting or development.
So captain Christine Sinclair and goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc headline an experienced team of largely familiar names announced Tuesday for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
Chelsea Buckland, a 21-year-old striker from Surrey, B.C., is the lone player on the roster making her international competition debut.
“It's such a big event, we have to qualify,” Herdman said on a conference call Tuesday. “It's not one of those events where you can start testing and developing players, although the experience they'll have will certainly put them on a great footing for the Olympics.
“It's certainly an event we have to go and win, and with that we had to pick a squad that would deliver us that outcome.”
The roster includes 14 members of the team that won gold at the Pan American Games in October. And five of the six who missed the Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, played in the FIFA women's World Cup.
Canada needs to finish in the top two of the eight-team qualifying tournament, Jan. 19-29 in Vancouver, to earn a berth in the 2012 London Olympics.
Sinclair, Canada's captain from Burnaby, B.C., scored to move Canada into overtime versus Brazil at the Pan Am Games. LeBlanc, a goalkeeper from Maple Ridge, B.C., then stopped two penalty shots to secure the gold medal.
The one notable player missing from Herdman's roster is veteran defender Emily Zurrer, whom he opted to leave off the lineup in what he called “a tough call.”
But the coach noted this team isn't exactly the one he'll take to the Olympics and Zurrer — or a rising young player such as Amelia Pietrangelo — could play her way on to that London-bound squad.
Buckland, who topped Oregon State in scoring the past two seasons, earned her spot with an impressive performance in a Canadian team camp last month, scoring a goal in a 2-1 win over Sweden in a friendly.
“Her game understanding really jumped out at us . . . and then you see a player come on for only 20 minutes, move well and then actually score a goal, it makes all the difference,” Herdman said.
While Herdman is fielding a familiar roster in Vancouver, the coach who was hired in September on the heels of Canada's disappointing performance at the World Cup, said fans will see a new and improved squad.
Much of his focus has been on the back line, and breaking the team's tendency to launch the ball up the field under pressure.
“I think you'll see a team that is certainly more versed in playing around rather than over,” Herdman said. “That's certainly what we want to show as part of our identity because I think when we get to the Olympics, we have to have a full repertoire of playing.”
The former New Zealand coach is also pleased with the development of individual players.
“I've been able to watch even some senior players develop new things to their game,” he said. “A lot of that has come down to the fact that they've been willing to really look at what they've done, recognize what they've done in the past probably hasn't been good enough and shed an old skin to move toward something new.”
Herdman has also focused on rebuilding team morale after its first-round exit at the World Cup in Germany, adding mental trainer Ceri Evans to the staff.
“There is a mental approach that needs to be developed,” Herdman said. “When you look at the mental state of the team it's always going to be fragile if you don't have the tools to get you through those high-pressure situations where you can lose focus which costs you your performance.”
The roster also features 11 players from the 2008 qualifying tournament that earned the Canadians a berth in the Beijing Games where they lost to the U.S. in the quarter-finals.
In opening-round action in Vancouver, Canada faces Haiti on Jan. 19, Cuba on Jan. 21 and then Costa Rica on Jan. 23. The top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals on Jan. 27, while the gold-medal game is Jan. 29.
The other group has the U.S., Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.
The Canadians will gather in Los Angeles for a camp Jan. 3 before travelling to Vancouver on Jan. 14.
Herdman isn't giving his players any break for the holidays however. They've been outfitted with GPS-enabled heart-rate monitors and are required to upload training data so the coaching staff can keep close tabs.
Goalkeepers: Karina LeBlanc, Maple Ridge, B.C., Sky Blue FC; Erin McLeod, Calgary, Dalsjofors G.O.I.F.
Defenders: Candace Chapman, Ajax, Ont., Sky Blue FC; Carmelina Moscato, Mississauga, Ont., Pitea IF; Shannon Woeller, Vancouver, Rutgers University; Melanie Booth, Burlington, Ont., Vancouver Whitecaps; Robyn Gayle, Mississauga, Ont., Vancouver Whitecaps; Lauren Sesselmann, Green Bay, Wisc., Atlanta Beat; Chelsea Stewart, The Pas, Man., Real Colorado; Rhian Wilkinson, Baie d'Urfe, Que., Lillestrom SK Kvinner.
Midfielders: Kaylyn Kyle, Saskatoon, Vancouver Whitecaps; Diana Matheson, Oakville, Ont., Lillestrom SK Kvinner; Kelly Parker, Saskatoon, Atlanta Beat; Sophie Schmidt, Abbotsford, B.C.; Desiree Scott, Winnipeg, Vancouver Whitecaps; Brittany Timko, Coquitlam, B.C.
Forwards: Chelsea Buckland, North Delta, B.C., Oregon State University; Christina Julien, Williamstown, Ont., Ottawa Fury; Christine Sinclair, Burnaby, B.C., Western New York Flash; Melissa Tancredi, Ancaster, Ont., Pitea IF.