TORONTO — Captain Christine Sinclair and six other veterans of the Canadian women's soccer team that won bronze at the 2012 London Olympics will lead the charge in Texas next month to qualify for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Coach John Herdman's 20-woman roster for the Feb. 10-21 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship also features 13 players from the World Cup team that finished sixth on home soil last summer, when Canada lost to England in the quarter-finals.
Herdman has infused youth into his squad with seven players 20 years old and under.
Players range in age from 16-year-old midfielder Deanne Rose to 34-year-old forward Melissa Tancredi.
"The team we have selected today represents the best of Canadian soccer, consisting of a subtle blend of youth and experience," Herdman said in a statement.
"We are really excited about this squad and the confidence, determination and skill they bring to the pitch," he added. "We had a strong group of players to select from, which made final selection extremely challenging, but we have put together a team that will go out there and get the job done, which is simply to make this country proud by qualifying for Rio 2016."
Playing in Group B, 11th-ranked Canada opens against No. 89 Guyana on Feb. 11 before facing No. 48 Trinidad and Tobago on Feb. 14 and No. 76 Guatemala on Feb. 16.
Group A play, featuring the top-ranked Americans, No. 26 Mexico, No. 34 Costa Rica, and No. 108 Puerto Rico, takes place in Frisco outside Dallas.
The top two teams in each group play in the crossover semifinals Feb. 19 with the winners booking their ticket to Rio de Janeiro as representatives of North and Central America and the Caribbean. The championship game goes Feb. 21.
Canada will play all its matches at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, home to Group B and all the playoff games. Group A matches will be played in Frisco in suburban Texas.
Herdman had summoned 23 players to camp in January, while filing a 35-woman initial roster list to CONCACAF.
Of the camp invitees, 16-year-old defender Kennedy Faulknor, 18-year forward Marie Levasseur and 32-year-old defender Marie-Eve Nault — a London Olympic veteran — did not make the final tournament team.
The 32-year-old Sinclair and Tancredi are joined by fellow Olympic veterans Diana Matheson, Erin McLeod, Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt and Rhian Wilkinson. Together they have 1,035 caps for Canada.
Herdman had to reduce the World Cup roster of 23 to 20 for the CONCACAF qualifying.
The Canadian women have qualified for the last two Olympics. In both instances, Canada beat Mexico in the semifinals to earn its Olympic berth, before being defeated by the U.S. in the qualifying tournament final.
Canada reached the quarter-finals at the 2008 Games in Beijing before winning bronze in London.
Canada missed out on the 2004 Games in Athens, upset by Mexico in the CONCACAF semifinals. The Canadian women did not qualify for the 1996 or 2000 Games when the U.S. was the lone regional representative.
Host Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, South Africa and Zimbabwe have already qualified for Rio. They will be joined in the 12-country field by two teams from Africa, either Papua New Guinea or New Zealand from Oceania plus one more European team from the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden or Switzerland.
Goalkeepers: Erin McLeod, St. Albert, Alta.; Stephanie Labbe, Edmonton; Sabrina D'Angelo, Welland, Ont.
Defenders: Kadeisha Buchanan, Brampton, Ont.; Rebecca Quinn, Toronto; Shelina Zadorsky, London, Ont.; Josee Belanger, Coaticook, Que.; Allysha Chapman, Courtice, Ont.; Rhian Wilkinson, Baie-d'Urfe, Que.
Midfielders: Jessie Fleming, London, Ont.; Ashley Lawrence, Caledon, Ont.; Diana Matheson, Oakville, Ont.; Deanne Rose, Alliston, Ont.; Sophie Schmidt, Abbotsford, B.C.; Desiree Scott, Winnipeg/.
Forwards: Janine Beckie, Highlands Ranch, Colo.; Gabrielle Carle, Levis, Que.; Nichelle Prince, Ajax, Ont.; Christine Sinclair (capt.), Burnaby, B.C.; Melissa Tancredi, Ancaster, Ont.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press