A sudden change at head coach hasn't stopped Canada's team from maintaining its focus at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup which begins Nov. 19 in Chile.
Soccer Canada handed Ian Bridge the U-20 team's reins Oct. 9. He replaced Bob Birarda who was curtly dismissed as head coach of the U-20 side and the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team of the United Soccer Leagues.
Midfielder Jonelle Filigno of Mississauga, Ont., who was named to the 21-player World Cup roster Wednesday, said despite the unexpected coaching change the team has the talent to return home with a medal.
"We're coming in as a country that is not expected to win but is still one of the top countries there," said Filigno, 18, who was a member of the senior women's team which played at this summer's Olympics in Beijing. "I think there is not that much pressure on us.
"I feel like we can win gold if we want it bad enough."
Canada finished second in the inaugural competition in 2002, losing 1-0 to the U.S. in extra time in Edmonton. The team was fifth at the 2004 tournament in Thailand and slipped to ninth at the 2006 U-20 in Russia.
Bridge is hoping for a reversal of the team's fortunes this year.
"We have set a goal to be playing for a medal," said Bridge, who was an assistant coach with the senior team at the Olympics and last year's women's World Cup. "A high goal for sure, a difficult goal, but this team has had some exciting results this year.
"The women's game at the U-20 level is getting closer and closer. I think one of 10 teams in the tournament could win it. Of course I would like it to be us."
The exact reason for Birarda's leaving has never been explained. At the time, the U-20 squad was undefeated and had won both the CONCACAF women's U-20 championship and the Four Nations tournament in Chile.
Both Soccer Canada and the Whitecaps said it was "a mutual decision."
Filigno chose her words carefully when asked about Birarda being replaced.
"To lose a coach is upsetting," she said. "It's kind of shocking for that to happen so sudden. We still have our eyes on what we need and that's gold at the World Cup.
"Ian is a great coach. We support him very much. He's doing a great job. There are no problems."
Filigno refused comment when asked if Birarda's leaving had a negative impact on the team.
"I feel like once it happened everyone moved forward," she said. "No one discussed it. It was just over and done with and we moved on and kept playing soccer."
Bridge had coached the under-20 team in the past and was familiar with many of the players, making the transition easier.
"I wasn't sure what I was coming into, in terms of how the players were going to handle it," said Bridge. "For somebody completely outside to come in would have been difficult, not just for the coach but for the players.
"To come in three or four weeks before the tournament and make big changes in terms of playing style would not be the right thing to do. There was no real reason to change a massive amount of the players on the team."
Monica Lam-Feist, a 17-year-old forward from Surrey, B.C., said the coaching change was a hurdle the team had to clear.
"Our team is very strong," said Lam-Feist, the team's youngest player. "It was a bit upsetting but at the same time we have Ian who is a great coach and he stepped in."
The Olympic team advanced to the quarter-final of the Olympics, losing in overtime to the eventual gold medal-winning U.S.
The Canadian women's team is also playing well at the FIFA U-17 tournament in New Zealand. The team has a 1-0-2 record and faces Germany in the quarter-final on Saturday.
Bridge will take a veteran side into the 16-team tournament. Both Filigno and defender Lexi Marton of Aurora, Ont., have played with the senior team.
Goaltender Erin McNulty played at the 2004 U-20 in Thailand and is one of five players who played at the 2006 tournament in Russia.
Bridge said the U-20 championships rank behind only the World Cup and the Olympics in women's soccer.
The Canadian team leaves Vancouver for Chile on Monday and will play a friendly against England on Friday.
Canada opens the tournament against Japan Nov. 20 and then plays Congo Nov. 23 with both games in Santiago. The team ends group play against Germany Nov. 27 in Coquimbo.
The top two-teams from each group advance to the next round.
The final is scheduled for Dec. 7.