"If you're good enough, you're old enough to play at a certain level."
That's the mantra that coach John Herdman has taken with Canada's national soccer team heading into the FIFA Women's World Cup, reported The London Free Press.
And it applies to Jessie Fleming, Canada's youngest player, better than anyone else on the squad.
The 17-year-old London, Ont.-born midfielder is playing in her first World Cup; she made her debut in the competition on Saturday, substituting for Desiree Scott in a 1-0 win over China.
Fleming has had a distinguished career as a teen, being named to Ontario's provincial all-star team as an under-14 player two years ago.
She has gone on to captain Canada to a silver medal at the 2013 CONCACAF Women's Under-17 championship. She also played for the U-17 and U-20 World Cup teams, both of which reached their quarter-finals last year, said CBC.
National team coaches and Canadian clubs voted her as the best female soccer player under 17 in 2014.
"Sometimes I just stop and look at how lucky I am," Fleming told the Free Press. "I think I've grown so much as a player and person. I'm just excited to keep going. I love every time I get to go on the field."
Fleming is playing in her third World Cup in under 16 months. But her quick upward trajectory doesn't seem to faze her.
"When you look at the mental side, when we've tested her on sports vision training, she was scoring off the charts," Herdman told the Free Press. "She's gone up against some of the top nations and showed she can play at the level. She's showed she's good enough even though she's so young."
Fleming was the second-youngest person to ever play for Canada's national team at 15 years old.
The youngest was Kara Lang, who also debuted at 15, though a few months younger, The Province reported.
Lang has since mentored Fleming and said that when her protege talks, she "sounds like a veteran."
"Jessie just seems a few steps ahead of everyone," Lang said. "Even Christine Sinclair at that age wasn't as technically gifted. Christine was a natural goal-scorer, but as far as vision and awareness and ball skills, I don't think we've ever had anyone at that age so dominant in that way."
The question of whether Fleming can match Sinclair, the third-highest scorer in women's soccer history, has come up.
Nigel Reed, a soccer analyst with CBC Sports, is cautious about comparisons, but he sees Fleming's potential for leadership.
"She's not going to score 150 goals for Canada in my opinion because that's not her principal role," he said. "But I do think she has the potential to be the fulcrum for the team of the next generation."
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