Skip to main content

Captain Christine Sinclair and six other veterans of 2012 Olympic team remain for the Feb. 10-21 Olympic qualifier.Ben Nelms/Getty Images

While not dismissing the first three teams Canada will face at next month's Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship in Texas, coach John Herdman acknowledges it all boils down to Game 4.

A win in the semifinal and Canada is headed to Rio, looking to add to the bronze it won in heroic fashion four years ago in London.

Herdman has retooled his squad for the Olympic qualifier, shedding 10 members of his 23-woman World Cup roster last summer for a trimmed-down 20-player roster.

Captain Christine Sinclair and six other veterans of 2012 Olympic team remain for the Feb. 10-21 qualifier. But Herdman has infused youth into the squad with seven players 20 years old and under.

Players range in age from 16-year-old midfielder Deanne Rose to 34-year-old forward Melissa Tancredi.

Playing in Group B, 11th-ranked Canada opens in Houston against No. 89 Guyana on Feb. 11 before facing No. 48 Trinidad and Tobago on Feb. 14 and No. 76 Guatemala on Feb. 16.

Group A play, featuring the top-ranked Americans, No. 26 Mexico, No. 34 Costa Rica, and No. 108 Puerto Rico, takes place in Frisco, outside Dallas.

The top two teams in each group play in the crossover semifinals Feb. 19 with the winners booking their ticket to Rio de Janeiro as representatives of North and Central America and the Caribbean. The championship game goes Feb. 21.

"The game we have to be freshest for is Game 4," Herdman told a media conference call Tuesday. "Whether that's the U.S., Costa Rica or Mexico. We have to get through the other games and put ourselves in a good position to be at our best for that fourth game."

Herdman has divided his team into three groups: the veterans, inbetweeners and new faces. He'll dig into each talent pool for the opening games, then roll out his best lineup for the key semifinal.

Despite the youthful additions, there is plenty of experience.

The 32-year-old Sinclair and Tancredi are joined by fellow Olympic veterans Diana Matheson, Erin McLeod, Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt and Rhian Wilkinson. Together they have 1,035 caps for Canada.

Defender Kadeisha Buchanan (44 caps) and midfielder Ashley Lawrence (26), both 20 years old, have already integrated themselves into the lineup. Teenage midfielder Jessie Fleming (17 caps) has also earned her dues.

But the rest of the 20-and-under corps – defender Rebecca Quinn, midfielder Rose and forwards Nichelle Prince and Gabrielle Carle – have 24 caps between them.

Still the youngsters can contribute, said Herdman.

In reviewing Canada's quarter-final exit at the World Cup, he concluded the team needed more pace up front – with Prince, Rose and 21-year-old Janine Beckie fitting the bill.

"Adding pace around players like Sinclair is absolutely crucial to give the space that she needs to operate," he said.

He also wanted more weapons on the wing, players who can beat defenders and deliver crosses. Beckie, Carle and Rose can help there.

Quinn and 23-year-old Shelina Zadorsky offer Herdman a left-footed centre back, a role that Lauren Sesselmann occupied at the World Cup.

The Olympic roster is still a work in progress, he said. There will be another roster review in advance of Rio should his team qualify, given the stiff competition and demands at the Olympics.

"The players that haven't been selected still know they have an opportunity to push into this team," he said.

Canada will play all its matches at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, home to Group B and all the playoff games. Group A matches will be played in Frisco, a suburb of Dallas.

The Canadian women have qualified for the last two Olympics. In both instances, Canada beat Mexico in the semifinals to earn its Olympic berth, before being defeated by the U.S. in the qualifying tournament final.

Canada reached the quarter-finals at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Canada missed out on the 2004 Games in Athens, upset by Mexico in the CONCACAF semifinals. The Canadian women did not qualify for the 1996 or 2000 Games when the U.S. was the lone regional representative.

Canada Roster

Goalkeepers: Erin McLeod, St. Albert, Alta.; Stephanie Labbe, Edmonton; Sabrina D'Angelo, Welland, Ont.

Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Brampton, Ont.; Rebecca Quinn, Toronto; Shelina Zadorsky, London, Ont.; Josee Belanger, Coaticook, Que.; Allysha Chapman, Courtice, Ont.; Rhian Wilkinson, Baie-d'Urfe, Que.

Midfielders: Jessie Fleming, London, Ont.; Ashley Lawrence, Caledon, Ont.; Diana Matheson, Oakville, Ont.; Deanne Rose, Alliston, Ont.; Sophie Schmidt, Abbotsford, B.C.; Desiree Scott, Winnipeg.

Forwards: Janine Beckie, Highlands Ranch, Colo.; Gabrielle Carle, Levis, Que.; Nichelle Prince, Ajax, Ont.; Christine Sinclair (captain), Burnaby, B.C.; Melissa Tancredi, Ancaster, Ont.