'We're serious about going to No. 1': National women's soccer team returns to Winnipeg to face Costa Rica

The team last played to a Winnipeg crowd of nearly thousands at Investors Group Field in 2014.

Friendly at Investors Group Field marks 1st time team has played in Winnipeg since 2014

Team Canada players Desiree Scott (left) and Christine Sinclair (centre) speak to media at a news conference with head coach John Herdman Friday in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Canada's national women's soccer team is back in Winnipeg and ready to take on Costa Rica in a friendly match at Investors Group Field.

"We've got some great memories in this stadium," said John Herdman, head coach of Canada's national women's soccer team.

Winnipeg-born Desiree Scott said she's looking forward to once again playing in front of a hometown crowd.

"It's really about relishing this moment," the Team Canada midfielder said. "Whatever minutes I get, I'm going to be enjoying them to the fullest."

The team hasn't played in Manitoba since 2014, when they tied 1-1 with the U.S. in front of a crowd of thousands.

"It was a hell of a match," said Herdman.

Much has changed since then, he said, not least of which was the team's Olympic bronze-medal finish at the 2016 Summer Games.

Herdman said the friendly on Thursday will be an important test as the team prepares for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers.

Prepared for 'tough match'

It's easy to get complacent heading into an exhibition game against a team you're expected to beat, but Herdman said the players have steeled themselves against any surprises from underdog Costa Rica.

"We know it's going to be a tough match but we've been preparing for that," he said. "We've made sure that this is Canada's A-team here in Winnipeg. Our top players will be on the pitch."

They will, though, take to the field without veterans Melissa Tancredi, Marie-Ève Nault, and Rhian Wilkinson. The trio hung up their cleats in February after Canada toppled Mexico in a friendly held in Vancouver.

Herdman said he is proud of how far the team has come in a few short years, but they're no longer satisfied with third-place finishes.

Team Canada captain and star goal-scorer Christine Sinclair said the team is closer than ever to being the top-ranked squad in the world.

"We want to put forth a statement that we're serious about going to No. 1," Sinclair said.

Inspiring young generations

Herdman said the younger players on the team feed off of Sinclair's energy, confidence and determination, and playing with her has made them better athletes.

Sinclair's flourishes on the field have played a big factor in vaulting women's soccer to new heights in Canada, Herdman said.

"There's an awareness … that kids have genuine role models and there's a consistency now. It would be once ... there would be a World Cup and there'd be some big names appear, and all of a sudden those names would just disappear for four years and go into an abyss and these kids couldn't attach," he said.

"It's just been a great journey to consistently raise awareness about these women, and then when that happens you light the grassroots, and if the grassroots are lit, you'll get a consistent base of players coming in, more talent, more opportunity."

Future of sport in Canada

Sinclair said the first moment she knew professional soccer was in her future was when she watched the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup from the stands.

Alliston, Ont., native Deanne Rose was born that year and now suits up alongside Sinclair.

Canada's Deanne Rose (6) celebrates her goal with teammate Christine Sinclair during a friendly in Vancouver on Saturday. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

"Any young player on our team, they're world-class, their potential is absolutely limitless," Sinclair said.

"Rose, she is what — 17 years old, and like, the fastest person in the world? So yeah, maybe keep an eye on her too," Sinclair said.

Kick off for the Canada-Costa Rica match is 7:30 p.m. CT Thursday.