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Analysis

Canada, Herdman buoyed by youth ahead of Olympics

Canada's Olympic preparations begin this week at the Algarve Cup in Portugal. (Photo Courtesy Canada Soccer)

Canada’s Olympic preparations begin this week at the Algarve Cup in Portugal. (Photo Courtesy Canada Soccer)

VANCOUVER, B.C – Canada held firm in a 2-0 loss to the United States to conclude the Rio Olympic Qualifying tournament in Texas last month. The objective of earning a spot at the 2016 Rio Olympics was achieved and Canada wasn’t really challenged as they went and accomplished that feat.

John Herdman’s primarily young team was impressive against the likes of Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. The World Cup champions offered a hard-fought match against a Canadian starting lineup that had Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson, Sophie Schmidt, and Erin McLeod on the bench. Canada didn’t fare too badly with an enthusiastic and exciting young lineup.

The growth of youth has helped Canada mesh together terrific up-and-coming talent with veteran players still looking to deliver at a top level. Going up against the U.S. gave Nichelle Prince, Rebecca Quinn, Ashley Lawrence, Kadeisha Buchanan and Shelina Zadorsky a great opportunity to pick up experience and show what they can bring to the pitch against the best in the world.

Canadian goalkeeper Steph Labbe is excited by the new core group of young talent that has Canada improving and looking forward to the next wave of new players.

“They are young, but what they bring to this team is incredible. The talent that these young kids have with us, it’s completely changed the team dynamic,” Labbe said. “Just the way that they’ve brought in a different type of possession to our team. You’ve got players who are doing these tricks that are getting people excited and we’re so excited to have that in our team now, to bring something different.”

Canada’s preparation for the Rio Olympics will see John Herdman’s team participate in the Algarve Cup in Portugal from March 2-9. Canada will play in Group A vs Denmark (March 2), Belgium (March 4) and Iceland (March 7). A final placement match will close out the tournament on March 9.

Going back to 1995, Canada has a 2-2-0 record vs Denmark. The previous meeting came May, 25 2005 in Copenhagen. Canada prevailed 4-3 in front of a crowd of 1,513. Sinclair had a brace. Matheson, Schmidt, and Melissa Tancredi also played in that match.

McLeod is recovering from a bone bruise with her new club team FC Rosengard and is not with Canada in Portugal. Labbe will could see her chance at an increased work load at the Algarve Cup.

“Yeah, I’m just looking forward to continue working hard,” said Labbe. “If I get the chances I’ll take them. I think just for this team to continue to develop now, we’ve got Rio to prepare for and I think Portugal’s going to be the first step to that.”

The Algarve Cup is a nice stepping stone, but it should be pointed out that the highest ranked team at that tournament is FIFA ranked no. 10 Brazil. Canada is ranked no. 11 while their Group A opponents are Denmark (15), Belgium (28), and Iceland (19).

Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and the United States have qualified for the Rio Olympics. The Asian Football Confederation will send two qualifiers from a final tournament currently being played in Japan. A UEFA spot is also up for grabs with Netherlands, Sweden, Norway or Switzerland vying for a spot at the Rio Olympics.

In order for Canada to reach that next level, scoring more goals and beating a tier 1 ranked team like a U.S., France, Germany, Brazil, or Japan is a must. Earning a victory over Australia, Norway or Sweden would also be a positive boost.

Canada’s goal is to beat a tier 1 team and the addition and success that Canada’s young players have shown gives Labbe belief that a big win vs a top-tier 1 team is right around the corner.

“Oh for sure, they’re taking us to new heights and like you said, it is only a matter of time.”

Canadian supporters will most likely get to see their team play a home fixture before the Rio Olympics. Canada Soccer General Secretary Peter Montopoli spoke to Equalizer Soccer in September and provided comment on future matches if Canada earned qualification for the Rio Olympics.

“The next Canada match will be after the Olympic qualifiers,” Montopoli said at the time. “We’re preparing right now a full slate of opportunities, looking to find international teams that have the same schedule in the FIFA window that we would in order to bring them to Canada. We’ll have a full slate of home matches. We’re just not ready to announce where and when they will be. Let’s get the team to qualify and then after they’ve qualified we’d be prepared to announce a series of matches.”

At the minute nothing has been confirmed, but rest assured if Canada Soccer does schedule a series of home matches for Canada they need to be against high ranked teams. You can only beat up on the minnows of CONCACAF for so long. The only way up is to improve and get quality results vs quality opponents that challenge players to be better. To be the best….. you’ve got to beat the best, (teams).

The players went out and earned a spot at the Rio Olympics and it’s now up to Canada Soccer to schedule more matches so John Herdman can see what his players have to offer ahead of the Rio Olympics.

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