Rio Olympics on the line for Canada in CONCACAF semis
Women's national team faces Costa Rica in all-important match
The all-important semifinal match at the CONCACAF Olympic qualification tournament against Costa Rica is the game Canada's senior women's team has been focusing on and planning for over the past few months.
With a spot at the Rio Olympics on the line, nothing will be left to chance when the teams clash (Friday, 5:15 p.m. ET) at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
Canada, 11th in FIFA world rankings, has won each of its three group stage matches without conceding a single goal. However, they know that a tougher challenge is ahead when they face 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup participant Costa Rica, currently ranked 34th.
Canada played Costa Rica in both the 2011 Pan Am Games and in the group stage of the last Olympic qualification tournament in 2012.
Coach John Herdman will be looking to capitalize on that experience and build on Canada's strengths as the team seeks to qualify for the 2016 Games.
"I think that winning experience is always a good thing," said Herdman. "I don't think Canada have ever been beaten by Costa Rica."
However, Herdman has observed an improvement in Costa Rica since Canada last faced them at the 2012 Olympic qualifier.
"They've certainly improved, without a doubt," he said. "Those young players that were there in 2012 have matured into their peak ages. People like Shirley Cruz, who are playing now in the top leagues in Europe, playing Champions League football and Raquel Rodríguez who just got NCAA player of the year, so they certainly have got an attacking threat that wasn't there in 2012."
Leaving no stone unturned, Herdman has put months of planning into getting a result in the semifinal, and earning the chance to repeat a podium finish at the Olympic Games.
"We learned a lot last time in Vancouver in 2012, and at the FIFA Women's World Cup last summer," he said.
"There was some thinking about the way we go through our group stage, bringing real clarity on all of our processes and the way we manage the team. I think we've managed them way better."
With so much on the line, expect to see some of Canada's veteran players in the starting lineup against Costa Rica.
"With someone like [Christine] Sinclair or [Diana] Matheson there is nothing they haven't seen in the game and that gives you a comfort going into a match like this," said Herdman.
"I think the key is a blend of those senior, experienced players that have been in big games, big moments, but also the zest and energy of the new generation of Canadian player with the kind of technical competencies that we didn't have in the squad four years ago."
With files from Canada Soccer