It is a learning process. Sometimes they are harsh lessons to learn.
Rachel Melhado was inconsolable. The 19-year-old defender from Brampton, Ont., couldn't contain her emotions at the final whistle, knowing it was her mistimed tackle which gifted a penalty kick and the subsequent winning goal to North Korea in the group finale on Monday.
The tears were genuine enough as was Canada's overall effort in Japan. Melhado can stop feeling guilty. In the final analysis the result made no difference to Canada's prospects. Even a tie would not have been enough to see them advance to the tournament's next stage.
The damage had already been done. Canada's loss to Norway four days earlier ultimately sealed its fate. The North Koreans lived up to their pre-tournament billing as the strongest team in the section while Argentina were out of its depth from the get-go, conceding an embarrassing 19 goals in Japan.
The battle for group runner-up was a straight fight between the Canadians and the Norwegians. Canada stole the lead on the stroke of halftime - a psychologically crucial time to break the deadlock. But all the hard work was undone by defensive errors, which allowed the Scandinavians to claim maximum points.
Canada's youngsters always knew the hill was going to get steeper. A crushing opening victory over the hapless South Americans has to be viewed in context. The one-sided result would have reinforced self-belief, but the ascent floundered, both mentally and physically, when the obstacles became increasingly more challenging.
The premature exit is deeply disappointing. Canadian soccer is on a high following the senior women's success in London. This was an ideal moment for the stars of tomorrow to ride the wave of optimism and make their own statement about the future of the game in the lead-up to the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada.Positives in losing
Despite the obvious negatives, there are some plus points. The cynics will be all too willing to decry the efforts of Andrew Olivieri's team. However, they actually tried to play soccer as it should be played. Pass-and-move is all about a sure first touch and then anticipation going forward. Technically Canada is not as advanced as the top nations but at least the development of these players is being focused in the right areas.
For a few, bigger challenges lie ahead. Some players naturally mature faster than others but the potential to perform at a higher level was evident. Adriana Leon's hat trick in the opening game and a neat assist against the Koreans certainly caught the eye.
Goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo may also have a bright future. The teenager from Welland, Ont., showed her agility in the final game and saved a penalty before it all went south against Norway.
Tireless running from Vancouver's Jenna Richardson, either as a striker or on the flanks, was rewarded with a goal and Sarah Robbins of Montreal was Canada's most effective midfielder in transition - always keen to win her individual battles and get the team moving forward.
For others, this will be as good as it gets. Because of the age restriction most players only get one opportunity to play at an U-20 World Cup. They should savour the moment and cherish the memories. Real life will come along and demand to be taken seriously all too soon.
Canada had its chance in Japan and ultimately failed to take it. Third in the Olympics meant a bronze medal. Third in round-robin play means nothing more than a long, uncomfortable and subdued flight home.
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