Christine Sinclair leads Canada's Pan-Am roster
The Pan American Games will be as much about learning for John Herdman as they are about winning.
Canada's new women's soccer coach will field a team led by veteran striker Christine Sinclair that's a blend of experienced players and relative newcomers at next month's Pan Am Games.
But while bettering the team's bronze-medal performance from the Pan Ams four years ago is a goal, Herdman said the tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico is more about gaining experience as a team ahead of Olympic qualifying in January.
"I've got to make sure every step that I take in these next three months provide us with the best opportunity of [qualifying for London]," Herdman said in a phone interview. "So it's a really considered approach. Pan Ams will be more of keeping on our journey toward the qualifiers.
"But if we get the processes right, I don't think there's any issue with us not being there and being really competitive [at Pan Ams]. We've got a pretty testing group, which is exciting, but I think with some of the players we have entering the Pan Ams we should be quite positive with our approach."
The Canadians are in a group with Costa Rica, Argentina and Brazil.
The 28-year-old Sinclair scored eight goals in six matches to lead Canada to bronze in 2007 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Herdman's 17-player roster is missing six women from the team that was dispatched from the women's World Cup this past summer without recording a victory, a disastrous result that led to the resignation of coach Carolina Morace.
The notable absences from the Pan Am roster, including goaltender Stephanie Labbe and midfielder Carmelina Moscato, are due, Herdman said, to professional commitments and conflicts with the U.S. college season.
"It's been a bit challenging, and if I'm being honest, I don't have a great understanding of whether that is the best roster to go into the Pan Ams with," Herdman said. "But the [NCAA conflict] has been a real difficulty. I was really hoping to see some of those younger players, and just can't really get access to them.
"I think if you were to push you probably could, but then you start tipping their balance in terms of their education and their commitments to school out of kilter."
Sinclair, a native of Burnaby, B.C., and Canada's all-time leading goal scorer, is one of eight players with previous Pan Am Games experience.
The players will open camp in Vancouver on Oct. 6 before flying to Guadalajara for the Games, Oct. 14-30.
Herdman isn't certain if other teams will field their top rosters for the Games, although he believes Brazil likely will after its heartbreaking World Cup finish — the Brazilians lost to the U.S. in a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals. Mexico, as host, will also want to have a strong showing.
The former coach of New Zealand's national team said the chance to look at teams Canada could face at January's Olympic qualifying tournament is invaluable.
"I'm used to playing games in Asia more often than not, so getting greater exposure to CONCACAF and South American opposition is priceless," Herdman said. "We know the systems and strategies and tactics are often a bit different, something that takes a while for players and coaches to get used to. So while I'm not scared of it, I think it's a great opportunity to gain experience."
The semifinals are Oct. 25, while the gold-medal game is Oct. 27.