Canada's primary roster at the 2015 Women's World Cup was largely similar to the team fielded three years earlier at the 2012 London Olympics. Team coach John Herdman's next key decision is how much change comes in the 14 months leading to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
Do veterans, again, get most of the key positions, or do more younger players see prominent roles? What will happened to stalwarts such as 33-year-old forward Melissa Tancredi and 31-year-old defender Lauren Sesselmann?
Canada's goal, after losing 2-1 to England in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday, is to reach the podium in Rio, at least a repeat of the 2012 bronze. That seems unlikely to occur, given that the roster is in transition. But the team receives significant backing from Own The Podium, and an Olympic medal has to be the outward aim, even if it's not realistic.
On Monday, Herdman leaned on what might have been, and how close the current World Cup has been. He pointed to the fact that Norway tied Germany, the world No. 1, and Colombia upset France, another world power. With a few breaks, he said, Canada could have been in the semi-finals: He declared Canada to be the better team on Saturday – despite losing to England for the fourth consecutive time in four years.
The tangible question is who will play in 2016. Fourteen women, including substitutes, played for Canada in the 2012 bronze-medal game. More than half of them were starters against England on Saturday, seven of 11 players. Herdman, in an interview on Monday, spoke about needing veterans who had experience on a stage such as the Olympics to be able to play in the hothouse of a home World Cup.
"People have to go away from this, process it and reflect on where they want to be in their football careers coming out of this," Herdman said.
Some older players may choose to retire from the national team. "Others," Herdman said, "will not want to give this up. We might have to make some hard decisions."
Although Herdman was available Monday, the players didn't speak.
Most of them didn't speak after the England loss, either. Sesselmann, writing on Instagram late on Sunday to respond to widespread criticism of her play, said: "We will be back and we will be better."
Staff will consider the team's failings and look at younger players coming up who are, in Herdman's words, "on the cusp of providing us what we need."
Still, Herdman faces the same challenge in 2016 as he did this year – a lack of players in their prime. Does he cut a veteran, with experience playing in front of 54,000 people, to put a younger player on the Olympic roster who has no big-time experience?
Herdman suggested the decision depended on "whether the gamble on youth is greater or worse than the gamble on keeping older players who are starting to move late into their careers."
Twenty-year-old defender Rebecca Quinn, for one, was in contention for the World Cup roster and will be a key player at the Pan American Games, where Canada fields an under-23 team even though countries such as Brazil and Mexico will field senior teams. It will be, for Herdman, an important test to see a new face or two who could be ready for Rio.
Certainties for Rio – for which Canada has to qualify in January, but is expected to make it – are the likes of Christine Sinclair and young star Kadeisha Buchanan. Diana Matheson, the 31-year-old veteran who scored the bronze-winning goal in 2012 but barely played at the World Cup because of injury, will be a part of the squad. Herdman sees Josée Bélanger fitting in as a defender.
The biggest problem remains who will score goals. In five World Cup games, Canada had only four, one of which was from a penalty kick.
The goal in Rio may be the podium, but Herdman is frank. If Canada has a true future as a contender, it's some years away, at the end of the decade. In Rio, Herdman acknowledged, the team will be like 2015, a scrappy juggling act: "We may not have the best Canadian team that's ever stepped on the pitch."