CONCACAF U-20 Women's Championship: Canada searching for new stars

Canada's quest to qualify for next year’s FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup begins Thursday when it kicks off the CONCACAF championship tournament against Trinidad and Tobago in Honduras.

Team looking for next generation of talent

Canadian players, from left to right, Sarah Stratigakis, Mika Richards and Sarah Kinzner are hoping to qualify for the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Papua New Guinea. (Gavin Day/CBC Sports)

The FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup has been a springboard for several young players who would go on to star for Canada, something defender Bianca St-Georges is well aware of.

St-Georges is part of the Canadian team hoping to qualify for next year's event in Papua New Guinea.

But first, Canada must make it through the CONCACAF U-20 Women's Championship, which kicks off Thursday in Honduras as Canada faces Trinidad and Tobago.

Future stars like Christine Sinclair and Kara Lang burst into the national consciousness at the inaugural event in Canada in 2002 (it was an under-19 competition at that time). Just last year, Kadeisha Buchanan and Jessie Fleming took their first bows in major competition on home soil as Canada again played host.

"These players are all players that we've looked up to, so being in their place right now and taking the same steps they've taken is amazing because it's always a dream that you want to come true and now it is coming true," said St-Georges, who was named captain on Tuesday.

"I guess I'm just going to make the most out of it and every year I feel Canada should improve, so I'm going to try to do better than what has happened before."

After the opening match against Trinidad and Tobago, Canada will take on Jamaica on Saturday and host Honduras on Monday.

The top three teams in the eight-team tournament qualify for the U-20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea, which takes place in November and December of 2016.

Plenty of youth

The Canadian roster is filled with youth, with Shana Flynn, Emma Regan — both 15 — and 16-year-old players Anyssa Ibrahim, Vital Kats, Lysianne Proulx and Sarah Stratigakis on the squad.

All those players are also eligible to play at next year's under-17 World Cup, but as the Canadian program has previously shown, age is just a number so long as players can perform.

"I'm looking at that as a great opportunity because if you're good enough, you're old enough and that's what we're trying to send to Canada and the rest of the world," said head coach Danny Worthington. "We have a six-year plan and it's the start of that. I think this is the first tournament where you're going to see our young players get a chance on this stage."

Fleming is one of five eligible players not in camp. The promising midfielder is with the Canadian senior team as it prepares for a pre-Christmas tournament in Brazil.

It's all part of a divide-and-conquer plan to develop depth in the system and have a large selection of players to choose from who know how to thrive in high-pressure international competition.

"It comes down to young players learning to be international footballers. We've got a model where we want to produce more [Christine] Sinclairs more often and more Kadeisha Buchanans more often and this is the stage to do it," said Worthington. "Whether these young players can step onto the world stage, it's up to them to see if they can perform under pressure."


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