Sinclair leads Canada into Olympic soccer qualifying

Reigning player of the year Christine Sinclair and veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc were among the 20 players named to the Canadian women's Olympic soccer qualifying roster Tuesday.
Canadian captain and B.C. native Christine Sinclair will lead the women's national team at the 2012 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver Jan. 19-29. (David Gannon/AFP/Getty Images)

Reigning player of the year Christine Sinclair and veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc were among the 20 players named to the Canadian women's Olympic soccer qualifying roster Tuesday.

National team coach John Herdman selected a mostly veteran squad for January's CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver, including 14 players from the team that won Pan American Games gold in October.

The top two teams in the eight-team tournament earn a berth to the 2012 London Olympics. Canada opens Jan. 19 against Haiti at BC Place.

"The team is very excited to show what they can do in Vancouver," said Herdman, the former New Zealand manager who took the Canadian program in early September.

"We have to qualify [for the Olympics]. It’s not one of those events where you can start testing and developing players," he said. "It’s an event we have to go in and win. And with that, we had to go and pick a squad that we felt would deliver us that outcome."

Perhaps no other player on the Canadian roster is more recognizable than Sinclair, the nation's all-time leader in both appearances (168) and goals (120).

The Burnaby, B.C., native is coming off a solid year, which saw her win her seventh national player of the year award, and lead the Canadian team to Pan American games gold and her club team, Western New York Flash, to a league title.

There were also disappointments, notably Canada's distastrous showing at the FIFA Women's World Cup — where the team failed to win a game and left the captain with a broken nose from the opening match — and the resignation of the previous coach, Carolina Morace. 

Balanced roster

Other veterans named to the team include LeBlanc, of Maple Ridge, B.C., who stopped two penalty kicks to secure the Pan Am win against the Brazil and defender Candace Chapman, who will earn her 100th cap for Canada during January's tournament. 

Stalwart midfielder Diana Matheson was named to the initial roster, but wasn't able to recover from off-season knee surgery in time for the tournament and was replaced by 20-year-old Alyscha Mottershead. 

Chelsea Buckland, a 21-year-old striker from Surrey, B.C., will make her official international competition debut. She first suited up for the national team last May in an exhibition game against Switzerland and netted her first senior team goal in a friendly against Sweden in November, coming in as a substitute and scoring in Canada's 2-1 victory.

Herdman said Buckland opened the coaching staff’s eyes at the Sweden training camp earlier this fall.

"She moves well, the timing of her movement is good," Herdman said. "She really understands how to work with and for another forward. And I think that’s important. Her understanding [of the game] really jumped out at us."

Canada’s roster:

Goalkeepers: Karina LeBlanc (Sky Blue FC), Erin McLeod (Dalsjöfors G.o.I.F.)

Fullbacks: Candace Chapman (Sky Blue FC), Carmelina Moscato (Piteå IF), Shannon Woeller (Rutgers University), Melanie Booth (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Robyn Gayle (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Lauren Sesselmann (Atlanta Beat), Chelsea Stewart (UCLA), Rhian Wilkinson (Lillestrøm SK Kvinner)

Midfielders: Kaylyn Kyle (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Alyscha Mottershead (Syracuse University), Kelly Parker (Atlanta Beat), Sophie Schmidt (unattached), Desiree Scott (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Brittany Timko (unattached), *Diana Matheson (injured, replaced by Mottershead)

Forwards: Chelsea Buckland (Oregon State University), Christina Julien (Ottawa Fury), Christine Sinclair (Western New York Flash), Melissa Tancredi (Piteå IF)