It took 45 days and a change in venue but the CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Championship is kicking off again.
Canada takes on Costa Rica and the U.S. faces Bermuda on Wednesday as the tournament resumes at the IMG Academy, in Bradenton, Fla. The competition lasted six games in April in Nicaragua before CONCACAF, the governing body of soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, pulled the plug due to violence in Managua.
At stake in Florida are regional bragging rights and three berths in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Uruguay.
Coach Bev Priestman has the same 20-women roster including captain Jordyn Huitema. Senior coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller elected to leave the 17-year-old star striker with the youth team rather than pick her for Sunday’s international friendly against Olympic champion Germany in Hamilton.
The young players were at regional training centres in B.C., Ontario and Quebec before gathering in Florida on May 28 to gear up for the tournament resumption.
The tournament is now down to six teams, given Puerto Rico and Nicaragua both lost their first two outings and were eliminated from advancing to the semifinals. Mexico (2-0-0) and Haiti (2-0-0) will meet Friday to decide the order of finish atop Pool A.
The Canadian women beat Bermuda 3-0 before being told to leave Nicaragua on the eve of the Costa Rica game. A win Wednesday and Canada is guaranteed a semifinal berth. Canada and the U.S. meet Friday, likely to decide who tops Pool B.
Priestman says her players are not thinking past Costa Rica, which lost 4-0 to the U.S. in its opener.
“The girls are focused. There’s no distractions and we’re here to get the job done,” she added.
The group winner meets the runner-up in the other pool in the semifinals. The third-place team also books its ticket to Uruguay.
Priestman says there is opportunity in Florida out of the “sad situation” in Nicaragua.
“The benefit of this whole situation unfolding as a coach is you know you’ve got four teams to scout and prepare for rather than six,” said Priestman. “I think that’s a real benefit.”
She also said her players, having already played a game, have got over any nerves.
Since suspension of the Nicaragua tournament, FIFA has held the draw for the Uruguay U-17 World Cup.
The CONCACAF champion will play in a group with Brazil, Japan and South Africa while the CONCACAF runner-up is grouped with Colombia, South Korea and Spain. The third CONCACAF qualifier was drawn in a pool with Cameroon, Germany and North Korea.
Canada had qualified for all five previous editions of the U-17 World Cup, making the quarterfinals in 2008, ’12 and ’14.