Coming on the heels of the Canadian women capturing bronze at the London Olympics, it would be easy to place high expectations for the Under-20 women at the World Cup in Japan. Canadian women's soccer has never had a higher profile in this country than it does right now, but that doesn't mean that Canada has a right to expect anything.
It's a deep field at the U-20s, probably even deeper than the Olympics, featuring the addition of Germany, an American squad eager to avenge an early exit four years ago, and a Japanese side that can safely be placed among the top teams in the world.
You can catch all of Canada's U-20 World Cup matches on CBC, and follow CBCSports.ca's live stream and chat
beginning Monday morning against Argentina at 6 a.m. ET.
The good work that John Herdman has done over the last year on the senior level has yet to have a chance to take root in the youth ranks. In the lead up to the Olympics, Herdman stressed tempering expectations.
Andrew Olivieri, head coach of Canada's U-20 squad and director of acceleration for the program, did much the same on Thursday, while laying the groundwork for what to expect in the future.
"Our goal is to progress from the group and meet a big team like Germany or the USA or even China in the quarter-finals. So that's going to be our goal for now - to play a top-level team. And then possibly progress beyond that," Olivieri said by phone from Japan.
But as far as motivation goes, Olivieri says his team needs none. They too, like most of Canada, were caught up in Big Red fever during the Olympics.
"The first thing I realized when I got into Japan and met up with the players, there is no need to add to that. They've seen it, so they're inspired on their own. So I don't need to push any of those buttons. It's been a great tool for us, without having to do any additional work," he said.Canada faces unpredictable group
That's not to say there isn't still work to be done. Canada has been drawn into an unpredictable group with Argentina, Norway and North Korea.
"What we've seen from Argentina is they're very physical, very athletic ... not very traditional. Still play with a sweeper. We haven't seen that very much," Olivieri said.
"The Norwegian team is very disciplined, very organized, very big. We actually just walked by them in the hotel and most of them are twice the size of some of our players. That will provide some different obstacles there."
The last team is North Korea. Like the country itself, little is known about the team, which hasn't played very many of its friendlies publicly. Thirteen of its players were featured on the Olympic squad, so the Canadians will have something to build on, but by and large they'll be heading into that game with little foreknowledge.
Olivieri, like most youth coaches, is hesitant to tap one of his players as the next superstar. It's a case of not wanting to put undue pressure on an up-and-comer, while conversely not causing any rifts within the team by not mentioning another.
"Who would have thought four weeks that Carmelina Moscato would emerge as one of the best centre backs in the world after the Olympics Games?" Olivieri said. "It's in tournaments like this where they make a name for themselves."
Shelina Zadorsky and Rachel Melhado will be looking to do just that as they anchor Canada's back line. Constance De Chantal Dumont will be looking to make a name for herself in the midfield, while much of the attention up front for Canada will be focused on Jenna Richardson and Nkem Ezurike.Women eyeing 2015 World Cup in Canada
Every player on this squad will have an eye on 2015, when Canada will host the women's World Cup. Performances at the U-20s could make or break their aspirations to play for Canada at home.
For Herdman and Olivieri, they're all too aware that three years down the line, when Canada hosts the senior tournament, they'll be one of the oldest teams at the World Cup. That means finding ways to integrate elements of this U-20 squad into the senior side will be important. And that's something, over anything else, that this program has struggled to do over the last five years.
"It's something that is going to be crucial for us. Unfortunately, with John coming in 12 months ago, the Olympics and the U-20s qualifying took priority," Olivieri explained. "Once this is done, John, myself and the rest of the national team coaches will be able to sit down and structure something for the future. That's our plan from September on. There's going to be a couple months of planning and making sure that the integration is optimal for our players."
As a nation that faces the challenges of its citizens and athletes often having dual nationalities, getting Canada's youth players committed to representing this country is one of the biggest hurdles. Olivieri, as the director or acceleration, knows that all too well.
"I do know if you provide them with an environment and opportunity that they can't say no to, or can't turn their back on, well that's the best you can do. It's absolutely a concern ... and there will be an attention put on that."
This is all part of Herdman's growing vision for the future of the women's program in Canada. As Olivieri explains, it's a message that is resonating down the ranks.
"The bottom line is that we need to not only put together top performances but do it against top teams on a consistent basis. It's not just winning a bronze medal at the Olympics, it's being on the podium tournament after tournament after tournament. It's putting something in place to pull that together over the long term."
The future begins Monday when Canada takes on Argentina in its opening match of the U-20 World Cup.
Back to accessibility links