TORONTO — Canadian women's soccer coach John Herdman has summoned the heart of his World Cup team along with an injection of youth for his first camp on the road to Rio.
Herdman's roster includes captain Christine Sinclair and fellow World Cup veterans Erin McLeod, Rhian Wilkinson, Allysha Chapman, Diana Matheson, Sophie Schmidt and Melissa Tancredi.
The squad also includes 16-year-olds Deanne Rose and Kennedy Faulknor. Gabi Carle is 17, Marie Levasseur 18 and Summer Clarke 20.
"It's an exciting group we've brought together." Herdman said Sunday from Vancouver. "I really do hope we can find some of the quality that we are going to need to get on the Olympic (podium)."
Herdman knows what's needed. He's looking for a centre back to partner with rising star Kadeisha Buchanan, some guile and creativity on the wing and a pacey forward. All three were needed at the World Cup.
"We've recognized there are some gaps we want to fill within our team," he said.
The Canadian women lost 2-1 to England in the quarter-finals of the World Cup this summer on home soil. For Herdman, it remains a lost opportunity. "A game we could have won," he said.
"It's just that it ended too early," he added of the tournament. "I think that's what hurt most of us."
There are better Olympic memories.
Canada won bronze at the 2012 Games in London in a stirring campaign that included a roller-coaster 4-3 extra-time loss to the U.S. in the semifinals and a 1-0 win over France in the third-place game.
Herdman will augment the Vancouver camp roster with veterans and NCAA players for next month's International Tournament of Natal 2015 in Brazil where Canada will face Brazil, Mexico and Croatia starting Dec. 9.
The reinforcements include college players Buchanan, Janine Beckie, Ashley Lawrence, Nichelle Prince and Rebecca Quinn as well as veterans Desiree Scott, Josee Belanger and Marie-Eve Nault.
Herdman will hold another camp in January ahead of the Feb. 10-21 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in Houston and Frisco, Tex.
Canada, ranked 11th in the world, will be competing against the World Cup champion and top-ranked Americans, Mexico (No. 26), Costa Rica (No. 34), Trinidad & Tobago (No. 48), Guatemala (No. 84), Guyana (No. 92) and Puerto Rico (No. 115) for the two Olympic berths available for North and Central American and the Caribbean.
The tournament draw is scheduled for Monday in Miami.
Unlike the Women's World Cup, which has a field of 24, the Olympics feature just 12 women's teams. The rosters are also smaller — 18, instead of 23.
Herdman says the youth that is being showcased at the Vancouver camp matches the veterans in physical attributes and has the kind of quality he is after.
"The question is can they do it at the highest level when they're playing with arguably better players like Sinclair, Matheson and Schmidt. That's the test"
"Hopefully they come thorough like a Kadeisha Buchanan came through or an Ashley Lawrence," he added. "And if they don't, we still know we have a good group of women that can be called upon."
Herdman will be looking at young centre backs Shelina Zadorsky, Rebecca Quinn and Faulknor through the Brazil tournament.
Carle, Levasseur and Clarke are young forwards while Rose can add offence from midfield.
The Canadian coach has been hard at work since the World Cup and Pan American Games.
His World Cup review process included soliciting outside voices, one of whom was former Canadian women's hockey coach Melody Davidson.
He also spent time with the Seattle Seahawks and head coach Pete Carroll.
"One thing I was really interested in was their special teams. I didn't feel in the World Cup (that) Canada really delivered on our set plays. We were very poor in that area."
He also talked to Carroll about some of the "dilemmas" he felt he was facing with his team.
"He was fantastic," Herdman said. "He just answered honestly and came at it from his philosophy. And asked some great questions. Good leaders do that, they ask good questions."
He also went to Croatia where his 10-year-old son had a tryout with Dinamo Zagreb. Herdman was able to see the team in action at all levels.
"For me it was like a soccer holiday," he said.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press