In just a few days, Canada’s U-17 women’s side begins their journey at the World Cup in Azerbaijan.
Earlier this month, head coach Bryan Rosenfeld said his squad would be focusing on pacing themselves. So that means, rather than looking ahead, they are concentrating on playing one game at a time. Sure, that’s a common sport cliché, but in this case, it truly applies. The red and white find themselves in Group A, which includes the host nation, Nigeria and Colombia. All are formidable opponents, especially Nigeria. You can prepare as much as you want, but with players at this age, you never know what will truly transpire until after the opening kickoff. Emotions, nerves and preparation are all factors. Nerves. Nerves. Nerves. Did I mention nerves? They often make or break a game. The goal for Rosenfeld will be adapting to the different emotions of all of these young Canadians. It’s no doubt overwhelming wearing the maple leaf, hearing O Canada and squaring off against the world’s best. Rosenfeld and company will key in on those mentally tough players and those who can lead the squad both in the dressing room and on the pitch.
The good news is the team has plenty of momentum going into this world-class tournament. Earlier this year, they captured silver at the CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship. Seventeen of those same players are suiting up for Canada in Azerbaijan, which bodes well in terms of team chemistry and camaraderie.
The most experienced player is midfielder Ashley Lawrence of Ontario. The pressure will be familiar to her because she took part in the same tournament two years ago in Trinidad and Tobago. She’ll be one of the team’s key players. Also keep an eye on defender Kadiesha Buchanan, forward Summer Clarke and midfielder Valerie Sanderson.
A blessing in disguise for the Canadians is the fact no Asian teams are in their group. Asian countries have dominated the U-17 WWC since its inception in 2008. But, once you hit the knockout stage, anything is possible. The Japanese coach said it best during a recent interview, “in this type of competition – especially the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup – you can’t predict anything”.
Canada is one of eight countries that have participated in all three U-17 WWCs, but that’s a moot point now. Just qualifying isn’t good enough anymore. They want to reach the semi-finals for the first time.
You can bet that Canadian women’s senior coach, John Herdman, will have his eyes glued to all of the action. The meticulous and technically sound bench boss will look to bolster his squad in preparation for the 2015 Women’s World Cup hosted by Canada. Some of these U-17 players may have just what it takes to make the jump, because when it comes to skill and smarts on the pitch, age is nothing but a number. If this same tournament was around in the late 1990s, you have to know that Christine Sinclair would have been dominating it.
Canada’s first match is September 22nd at the Tofig Bahramov Stadium in Baku versus Nigeria. Broadcasts of the Canadian games will be available on CBC and Sportsnet.