Despite injuries and some Grinch-like behaviour from a pair of French clubs, John Herdman’s Olympic reunion at B.C. Place Stadium is coming together nicely.
The Canadian coach will have 16 members of his 18-woman bronze medal squad from the Rio Olympic plus three alternates for Saturday’s so-called celebration match against Mexico.
The friendly marks Canada’s first outing since defeating host Brazil 2-1 on Aug. 19 in Sao Paulo to capture back-to-back medals at the Olympics. Saturday’s contest also serves as a swansong for the retiring Melissa Tancredi, Rhian Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault, who go into the match with a combined 374 caps.
The only Olympians missing are centre back Kadeisha Buchanan (Olympique Lyonnais) and fullback-midfielder Ashley Lawrence (Paris Saint-Germain), whose clubs refused to release them.
Attacking midfielder Sophie Schmidt has an arm injury and was freed up by FFC Frankfurt. Gabrielle Carle picked up a knock in a scrimmage during the recent California camp and will join Schmidt on the sidelines Saturday. And there is a question mark over whether centre back Shelina Zadorsky will be healthy in time to play.
“The squad’s a little beaten up but that should leave a little bit more opportunity for other players,” Herdman said after releasing his roster Tuesday.
The Canadian women, ranked fourth in the world, will play No. 26 Mexico again on Feb. 7 in a closed-door match that likely will be more business than pleasure.
Given this is the start of a new quadrennial, leading to the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympics, Herdman is salting his squad with young talent. His 22-woman roster for the California camp, which included 10 members of the Olympic squad, featured seven teenagers and 17 players aged 24 or younger.
Adriana Leon, Amandine Pierre-Louis and Valerie Sanderson drop off the roster from the California camp. Joining the 26-player squad for the Mexico game are Olympians Josee Belanger, Jessie Fleming, Rebecca Quinn, Scott, Nault, Tancredi and Wilkinson.
The CSA bills the squad as 19 Olympians and “seven rising stars.”
The super seven are Jordyn Huitema (aged 15), Ashley Cathro (16), Sarah Stratigakis and Hannah Taylor (17), Marie Levasseur (19), Alex Lamontagne (20) and Lindsay Agnew (21).
Herdman is already excited by what he has seen of the new wave of talent.
“It was really evident that there isn’t a big gap between what we’ve got in our (development) system and what we have in our national team,” he said.
“The competition should ramp up over this next four years,” he added. “It is really exciting.”
The youngsters will be able to watch some fine role models Saturday. Nault, Tancredi and Wilkinson have served their country well.
Nault, 34, was an alternate at the London Games but was pressed into action and saw key playing time when Robyn Gayle and Emily Zurrer were sidelined by injury. The defender made her senior debut in 2004 and has 70 caps to her credit.
Tancredi, 35, has 27 goals in 124 appearances with two of those goals coming in a historic 2-1 win over Germany at the Rio Olympics. A powerful forward with a big personality to match, Tancredi captained Canada that day to its first ever win over the European powerhouse. She also made her senior debut in 2004.
Wilkinson, 34, has long helped set the tone for the team. The cerebral defender’s 180-cap career stretches back to 2003.
All three will see action Saturday with Herdman determined to shine the spotlight on the Olympians.
The coach says it’s an emotional week for the entire team.
“I’m sure for the girls that are saying goodbye, this is going to be a tough night for them. But they wanted to finish their careers on the pitch,” he said. “We gave them that opportunity to do the (farewell) wave at halftime but they were adamant they wanted to finish their career how it started.”
Non-travelling Olympic reserve Kaylyn Kyle, recently released by the Orlando Pride, is not on the roster.
The Canadian Soccer Association says more than 20,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday’s game.
Lindsay Agnew, Kingston, Ont., Washington Spirit; Janine Beckie, Highlands Ranch, Colo., Houston Dash; Josee Belanger, Coaticook, Que., unattached; Gabrielle Carle, Levis, Que., CS Levis-Est; Ashley Cathro, Victoria, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite B.C. Soccer REX; Allysha Chapman, Courtice, Ont., Boston Breakers; Sabrina D’Angelo, Welland, Ont.; North Carolina Courage; Jessie Fleming, London, Ont., UCLA; Jordyn Huitema, Chilliwack, B.C., Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite B.C. Soccer REX; Stephanie Labbe, Edmonton, Washington Spirit; Alex Lamontagne, Whitby, Ont., Durham United FC; Marie Levasseur, Stoneham, Que., University of Memphis; Diana Matheson, Oakville, Ont., Seattle Reign; Marie-Eve Nault, Trois-RiviÃ¨res, Que., unattached; Nichelle Prince, Ajax, Ont.; Houston Dash; Deanne Rose, Alliston, Ont., Scarborough GS United; Rebecca Quinn, Toronto, Duke University; Sophie Schmidt, Abbotsford, B.C., FFC Frankfurt; Desiree Scott, Winnipeg, FC Kansas City; Kailen Sheridan, Whitby, Ont., Sky Blue FC; Christine Sinclair, Burnaby, B.C., Portland Thorns FC; Sarah Stratigakis, Woodbridge, Ont., Aurora United FC; Melissa Tancredi, Ancaster, Ont., unattached; Hannah Taylor, Edmonds, Wash., Eastside FC; Rhian Wilkinson, Baie d’Urfe, Que.; Shelina Zadorsky, London, Ont., Washington Spirit.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press