TORONTO — Record-chasing captain Christine Sinclair will be joined by 15-year-old starlet Olivia Smith in Canada's 22-player squad for a two-week preparation camp in Texas ahead of the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship.
The Canadian women, ranked eighth in the world, are preparing for the eight-country tournament that runs Jan. 28 through Feb. 9 in Texas and California. The camp starts Monday in the Lone Star State.
Canada has been drawn with St. Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica and Mexico in Group B with games in Edinburg, Texas. The U.S., Costa Rica, Panama and Haiti will contest Group A in Houston.
The top two in each group advance to the semifinals in Carson, Calif., with the semifinal winners booking their ticket to the Tokyo Olympics. The Canadian women are looking to add to an Olympic resume that includes back-to-back bronze medals in London and Rio de Janeiro.
Coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller will trim his roster to 20 ahead of the qualifier.
"It's a crucial period for our women's national team as we prepare for our opportunity to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games," Heiner-Moller said in a statement. "It's an exciting time for our players knowing the year that could be ahead for them. We want to qualify for Tokyo 2020 and deliver a massive performance at the Women's Olympic football tournament in Japan."
Sixteen players at camp were part of the bronze-winning team in Rio while Sinclair (289 caps), Sophie Schmidt (191) and Desiree Scott (148) also won bronze in London in 2012.
All eyes will be on the 36-year-old Sinclair at the qualifier given she is one goal away from tying retired American Abby Wambach's world record of 184. Canada opens play Jan. 29 against St. Kitts, ranked 129th in the world, before facing No. 51 Jamaica on Feb. 1 and No. 26 Mexico on Feb. 4.
Sinclair, a native of Burnaby, B.C., who captains the NWSL Portland Thorns, was named Canada's player of the decade last month.
The veteran forward has also led the Canadian team in scoring 16 years and has won Canada Soccer's female player of the year award 14 times.
The Canadian women climbed to fourth in the world after the Rio Olympics. But they dropped to No. 7 after exiting in the round of 16 at last summer's World Cup in France. They fell another spot in the December rankings after going 1-1-0 at a tournament in China where they were blanked 4-0 by No. 9 Brazil and beat No. 23 New Zealand 3-0.
Sinclair scored goal No. 183 in the win over New Zealand.
Smith, at 15 years three months, became the youngest to play for the senior women's team when she came off the bench in the 86th minute of the loss to Brazil in China. The winger/forward from Whitby, Ont., won a second cap three days later when she was introduced in the 83rd minute of the victory over New Zealand.
The Canadian women lost 4-0 to No. 10 Japan in October in their only other international since the early World Cup exit.
The camp roster includes 10 players from the NWSL, six from teams in Europe and five from the NCAA. Smith is with the developmental Super REX Ontario program.
Canada has finished runner-up to the U.S., currently the top-ranked team in the world, in the last three CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournaments. The Canadians failed to make the 2004 games in Athens, finishing third behind the U.S. and Mexico in qualifying.
Canada also missed out on the 2000 and 1996 games, when the U.S. was the only CONCACAF representative.
Brazil, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden have already qualified for Tokyo. Asian qualifying in February will produce two more teams to join host Japan.
Cameroon faces Zambia in a March playoff to determine Africa's representative. The loser will face South American runner-up Chile in an intercontinental playoff in April to decide the final participant.
Goalkeepers: Stephanie Labbe, North Carolina Courage (NWSL); Kailen Sheridan, Sky Blue FC (NWSL); Sabrina D'Angelo, Vittsjo GIK (Sweden).
Defenders: Allysha Chapman, Houston Dash (NWSL); Kadeisha Buchanan, Olympique Lyonnais (France); Shelina Zadorsky, Orlando Pride (NWSL); Rebecca Quinn, Seattle Reign (NWSL); Ashley Lawrence, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Jayde Riviere, University of Michigan.
Midfielders: Julia Grosso, University of Texas; Desiree Scott, Utah Royals (NWSL); Sophie Schmidt, Houston Dash (NWSL); Gabrielle Carle, Florida State University; Jessie Fleming, UCLA.
Forwards: Deanne Rose, University of Florida; Jordyn Huitema, Paris Saint-Germain (France); Christine Sinclair (capt.), Portland Thorns (NWSL); Nichelle Prince, Houston Dash (NWSL); Janine Beckie, Manchester City (England); Adriana Leon, West Ham (England); Jenna Hellstrom, Washington Spirit (NWSL); Olivia Smith, Super REX Ontario.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 10, 2020.
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