TORONTO — John Herdman talked up his players' tactical flexibility, pace and guile in naming his Olympic roster Monday. But the Canadian soccer coach was also blunt about the task that awaits them in Rio.
"The group stage is going to be challenge," he told a media conference call. "There's absolutely no room for error in any of the games."
Canada, ranked 10th in the world, is in a group with No. 2 Germany, No. 5 Australia and No. 95 Zimbabwe.
Herdman will tackle those teams with an 18-woman roster that features a veteran core surrounded by a lot of youth. The average age of the squad will be 25.4 come the Games in August.
Christine Sinclair, who captained Canada to a memorable bronze in the 2012 Games on London, is one of five players 30 or over. Nine women are 23 or younger including 17-year-old Deanne Rose and 18-year-old Jessie Fleming.
The Canadian team roster has a combined 1,295 caps with 978 of those belonging to Sinclair (243), Diana Matheson (183), Rhian Wilkinson (175), Melissa Tancredi (118), Sophie Schmidt (149) and Desiree Scott (110).
Fifteen of the 16 outfield players named have scored for Canada with a combined total of 266 goals. The 33-year-old Sinclair alone accounts for 162 of those, with another 48 coming from the trio of Tancredi, Matheson and Schmidt.
Canada is 5-2-0 since the CONCACAF Olympic qualifier in Houston in February but has only scored seven goals (while conceding five). Herdman acknowledges the offence is a work in progress.
To succeed at the 12-country Olympic tournament, teams will have to find "that bit of X-factor," he said.
"And some of that offence will come down to how these events are won, through transition and set pieces," he said. "That's a huge part of our preparation."
Janine Beckie may be a large part of that X-factor. The 21-year-old forward from the Houston Dash has nine goals in 18 appearances for Canada, including four of the seven goals since the qualifying tournament.
Goalkeeper Sabrina D'Angelo makes the squad despite undergoing surgery to repair a fractured wrist. She is expected to return to action in mid-July.
Teenager Gabrielle Carle, who has been out with a high ankle sprain of late, is one of four alternates along with goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, Marie-Eve Nault and Kaylyn Kyle. It has not been decided yet whether they will travel to Rio.
In the absence of the injured Erin McLeod, Stephanie Labbe is the No. 1 goalkeeper with D'Angelo as her backup. Labbe has 14 clean sheets in 30 starts for Canada while D'Angelo has two caps and one clean sheet.
The Canadian women have lost all 12 matches with Germany, are 5-7-3 against Australia and have never faced Zimbabwe.
On the plus side, the top two teams from each of the three groups and the two best third-place finishers advance to the quarter-finals.
Herdman's team will assemble July 2 in Vancouver before heading to France to play China in a closed-door game July 20 and the French on July 23 in their final Olympic warmup.
Canada will then head for Brazil where it opens play Aug. 3 against Australia, which he called arguably the most improved team in the field. The Canadians then face Zimbabwe on Aug. 6 in Sao Paulo and Germany on Aug. 9 in Brasilia.
Herdman said it's important to get something out of the Australian game before facing lower-ranked Zimbabwe, which he called "a team Canada can beat on any given day."
"When you see that (Germany) fixture as your last game, you don't want to be going into that with (a poor) record and a do-or-die situation. But we know this is how tournaments turn out," he said. "I've a group of players, many haven't played against Germany and would relish that opportunity. So it's a case of whatever it takes.
"And with the Germans you know you have to be at your best in Game 3."
Depth is an issue for Canada, he said, which means resting veteran players can be difficult especially in a tight tournament situation.
Canada Olympic Roster
Janine Beckie, Highlands Ranch, Colo.; Josee Belanger, Coaticook, Que.; Kadeisha Buchanan, Brampton, Ont.; Allysha Chapman, Courtice, Ont.; Sabrina D'Angelo, Welland, Ont.; Jessie Fleming, London, Ont.; Stephanie Labbe, Stony Plain, Alta.; Ashley Lawrence, Caledon, Ont.; Diana Matheson, Oakville, Ont.; Nichelle Prince, Ajax, Ont.; Rebecca Quinn, Toronto; Deanne Rose, Alliston, Ont.; Sophie Schmidt, Abbotsford, B.C.; Desiree Scott, Winnipeg; Christine Sinclair (capt.), Burnaby, B.C.; Melissa Tancredi, Ancaster, Ont.; Rhian Wilkinson, Baie-d'Urfe, Que.; Shelina Zadorsky, London, Ont.
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