With approximately one month until the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifiers kicks off in Vancouver, B.C., the Canadian Women’s National Team announced their 20-player roster earlier this week.
Head coach John Herdman retains a core group of players who have anchored the team for the past several years, including 16 players who suited up for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup and 14 who brought home Pan American gold in October. The veteran experience matters, but it’s also “about picking the players that would be performing the best at that time” given the must-win situation having to place in the top two of the tournament in order to qualify for next year’s London Olympics.
Herdman admitted that Qualifiers isn’t “one of those events where you can start testing and developing players,” but 21 year-old Chelsea Buckland was impressive enough during November’s training camp to earn a roster spot for her first Senior National Team competition. “She moves well, the timing of her movement is good and she reads the game well,” Herdman said of the redshirt junior from Oregon State University.
Rutgers University’s Amélia Pietrangelo, 18, and University of Iowa’s Alyscha Mottershead, 20, were both on the cusp of making the final roster. Herdman described Pietrangelo’s situation as “pretty unlucky not to have been named to the squad,” and added that Mottershead “is another who’s shown some aptitude at this level.”
Perhaps the most surprising omission from the roster is centre back Emily Zurrer. Despite her youth, the 24 year-old University of Illinois graduate recently earned her 50th cap in November’s friendly against Sweden. Herdman said the cut was “a tough decision… She’s been a key player in the Canadian setup for the last few years. Mentally and emotionally, for her and for the team, it’s been a tough call.”
Injuries have stalled the hopes of competing at Olympic Qualifying for two players. Left back Marie-Eve Nault trained with the team in December after returning from surgery in the fall, but didn’t make the final roster. Jonelle Filigno strained her right Achilles’ tendon in September when Rutgers University hosted Villanova. The striker underwent surgery earlier this month.
Herdman maintains that Olympic roster spots, should Canada qualify, remain open to any such players who are currently on the outside looking in. He described the Olympic Qualifying roster as a “short-term decision” and expects everyone to compete in the coming months.
The CanWNT (and fans, for that matter) can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Diana Matheson is back in the fold. The ever industrious midfielder had surgery in November for an “ongoing problem” that had worsened over the course of 2011. Herdman admitted that Matheson’s recovery time will be “tight”, but he hopes that the medical team will have her fit and ready for the start of the tournament.
Herdman has an eye on players’ willingness to improve and has been impressed with the team’s progression since taking over the job in September. “I’ve even been able to watch some senior players develop and add new things to their games,” he said. “A lot of that has come down to the fact that they have looked at what they have done, recognized what they have done in the past probably hasn’t been good enough and shed an old skin to move towards something new.”
The Pan American Games was the perfect opportunity to rebuild the team’s mental and physical form in light of this summer’s WWC. For one, it was a “process of learning how to grow through a tournament,” like knowing when to be ready to perform, when to rest, as well as when and how to reach peak performance.
The coaching staff will be keeping daily tabs on players’ training outside of camp using “heart rate monitors with GPS units… They can upload data onto the Internet that we can monitor just to make sure we’re doing everything we can to tick the peak fitness box.”
Herdman is also making sure that the team plays the ball on the ground and has the “mindset” to do so even in high pressure situations noting, “we have worked really hard on the team not falling into a default of the ball being sent down the pitch quite aimlessly.”
With the pressure that comes with playing on home soil, Herdman hopes it will be used as motivation rather than stress. “These players know they have to achieve something big and they would love to do it in their home country. I think that is a real benefit in terms of the excitement that will drive them to work even harder.”
These aspects of the team’s performance are being addressed in an effort to assure that the breakdown at the WWC doesn’t occur in future competitions. “We’ve started that technically, tactically and culturally, but there’s a mental approach that needs to be developed. 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.”
Sports psychologist Dr. Ceri Evans has been enlisted as the team’s “Mental Trainer”. The former New Zealand soccer captain played professionally in his country of birth and in England while he earned a slew of academic accolades, which included graduating “with distinction in Medicine from the University of Otagowas”, being “awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University” and gaining “membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and was awarded the Gaskell Gold Medal, one of the foremost academic distinctions in clinical psychiatry.”
Herdman added, “I think it’ll be the first time the team will have had a mental framework anchored into the whole process of the team dynamic. So this is something quite new to the team and they’re really excited for that work to start happening in January.”
Canada opens their group stage of play against Haiti (January 19), Cuba (January 21) and Costa Rica (January 23). Group B features the United States, Mexico, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. The top two teams from each group will move to the semi-finals (January 27) with the two respective winners of those games advancing to the finals (January 29) and the Olympics. Tickets can be purchased here. All matches will be played at BC Place Stadium and broadcasted in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet.
The CanWNT will reconvene January 3 in Fullerton, California before settling in Vancouver January 14.
GK- Karina LeBlanc | USA / Sky Blue FC
GK- Erin McLeod | SWE / Dalsjöfors G.o.I.F.
CB- Candace Chapman | USA / Sky Blue FC
CB- Carmelina Moscato | SWE / Piteå IF
CB- Shannon Woeller | USA / Rutgers University
FB- Melanie Booth | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
FB- Robyn Gayle | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
FB- Lauren Sesselmann | USA / Atlanta Beat
FB- Chelsea Stewart | USA / UCLA
FB- Rhian Wilkinson | NOR / Lillestrøm SK Kvinner
M- Kaylyn Kyle | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
M- Diana Matheson | NOR / Lillestrøm SK Kvinner
M- Kelly Parker | USA / Atlanta Beat
M- Sophie Schmidt | USA / magicJack
M- Desiree Scott | CAN / Vancouver Whitecaps FC
M- Brittany Timko | Unattached / sans club
F- Chelsea Buckland | USA / Oregon State University
F- Christina Julien | CAN / Ottawa Fury
F- Christine Sinclair | USA / Western New York Flash
F- Melissa Tancredi | SWE / Piteå IF
Other CanWNT matches
During December’s training camp in Fullerton, the CanWNT defeated the LA Vikings 3-0 in a closed door friendly with a hattrick by Christina Julien. (Our Game Magazine has the scoop on this absolutely stacked “offseason professional team”). Both teams will meet again January 9, 2012 at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Stadium. Tickets are now available for purchase.
There are also plans for The LA Viking Cup 2012, which will run from December 1 to 9. In addition to the host club being confirmed, Canada, Sweden and Mexico have expressed interest in competing in the 8-team tournament.
The CanWNT will also participate at the 2012 Cyprus Cup. Taking part since the tournament’s inception in 2008, Canada has won the title in 2008, 2010 and 2011, along with a second place finish in 2009.
In Group A, Canada plays Scotland February 28, Italy March 1 and Holland March 4. Group B consists of England, Finland, France and Switzerland, while Group C features up-and-coming teams New Zealand, Northern Ireland, South Africa and South Korea. The top teams in Group A and B will advance to the championship match March 6.
FIFA Women’s World Ranking
The latest World Rankings were released on December 23. Canada gained 25 points to advance two spots to #7.
The most interesting move in the rankings is Japan’s emergence into the top three, which consisted of USA, Germany and Brazil since September 2008 with the latter two teams swapping spots briefly in March 2009 and June 2009. The top two teams remain in their respective places, while Japan moved up one spot and has overtaken Brazil, who has now dropped to 4th.
Player of the Year
Christine Sinclair was named the female winner of the 2011 BMO Canadian Players of the Year award for the seventh-consecutive year. The Canadian Soccer Association has a rundown of Sinclair’s successful year.
Amélia Pietrangelo and Ashley Lawrence won the Canadian U-20 and U-17 Players of the Year awards respectively.
“KK Cam Holiday Special”
There’s no better way to celebrate the Holiday season than with a dose of Karina LeBlanc and the CanWNT bringing the funnies. Watch as Christine Sinclair leads team Canada in the Opening Ceremonies of the Pan American Games as the country’s flag bearer, along with exclusive footage of their Christmas party featuring a Cindy Lou Who hair contest and a ton of singing and dancing. Watch here.
Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year!! Here’s to a 2012 with lots more fantastic women’s soccer.