Kara Lang's triumphant return to the pitch is still a work in progress.
Nine months after the former Canadian soccer star launched a remarkable comeback effort from a seemingly career-ending knee injury, the 27-year-old has been named to Canada's roster for Sunday's friendly against Mexico in Vancouver. But head coach John Herdman said on a conference call Wednesday that Lang still has work to do on her rehabilitation and isn't ready to play yet.
"Kara's part of a long-term process," Herdman said. "We've been working fantastically with B2ten (a fundraising organization for Canadian athletes) on a rebuilding process with Kara — literally rebuilding her functional movements from scratch.
"Part of the process is getting her immersed with this team. ... A big part of her being on this roster is that she's going to get an experience in BC Place, which will be the stadium that hosts the final of the Women's World Cup."
Herdman said the team is targeting a return to action for Lang in the first quarter of 2014. He said Lang isn't participating in any scrimmages in training at this point.
"Look, the reality is we could put her in, but the big challenge for Kara is she's been brought back too quickly too soon in the past which has led to this consistent breakdown," Herdman said. "If you think about rebuilding a car, we've literally, through B2ten, rebuilt certain parts of Kara to help her become more efficient as an athlete so she doesn't keep breaking down with the same issues."
The fact that Lang is on the roster at is huge for a player who's career was essentially over. The Mexico match comes nearly three years after two torn ACLs forced Lang to walk away from the game, tearfully announcing her retirement at a news conference in her hometown of Oakville.
Veteran striker Josee Belanger is also returning to the national team after more than two years away with an ankle injury, but Herdman said she suffered a setback in training is not yet fit for game duty.
"Josee came in, had a fantastic start to our training, beat three players, scored a goal and went off injured," Herdman said. "That was her first return back to Canada Soccer's training environment.
"Josee is going to be out for a period of time now. It's more precautionary, just to help rebuild a player that hasn't been playing at this level for at least two years."
Both Belanger, a Sherbrooke, Que., native, and Lang were key players Canada's 2010 CONCACAF victory before being sidelined by injuries.
Lang is Canada's second all-time active goal scorer, with 34 goals. She played in two women's World Cups, in 2003 and 2007, as well as the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Eighteen of the players 23 players named to the roster were part of Canada's 3-0 victory over South Korea in Edmonton last month, including Sura Yekka, a 16-year-old defender from Mississauga, Ont., who earned her first senior team call-up for that game.
Rachel Melhado, a 20-year-old defender who plays for University of Louisville, will take part in her second senior camp. Her previous games for Canada include a 1-0 loss to Germany last June. She's also played for Canada's under-18 and U20 squads.
The game marks Canada's first in Vancouver and the first versus Mexico since a 3-1 Canadian win at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in January of 2012 that secured Canada's spot in the London Olympics.
"There's a healthy rivalry with Mexico and I know they will be ready for this game," Herdman said. "We'll be diligent with our work as well as keep focused on our goals leading into 2015.
Note: The Canadian Soccer Association said that 17,000 tickets have been sold so far for Sunday's game.