Christine Sinclair leads World Cup squad featuring both experience and youth

Canada’s 23-player roster for the Women’s World Cup is a blend of experience and youth, with a solid defence and heavy reliance on captain Christine Sinclair for scoring.

Sinclair, who will equal Karina LeBlanc’s Canadian record of five World Cups, leads the team’s experienced spine. But coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller is also bringing a new generation to the 24-team tournament that starts June 7 in France.

The roster totals 1,368 caps with 609 belonging to Sinclair (282), Sophie Schmidt (184) and Desiree Scott (143). In all, 12 players have 50 or more caps. There are also eight players with 20 or fewer caps.

The Canadian team held a surprise ceremony at its training base in San Sebastian, Spain, on Saturday to honour the roster. The players thought they were attending the second half of a review session of the team’s final pre-tournament tune-up match, a 0-0 draw Friday with Spain.

Instead they walked into a room with their pictures and official tournament jerseys hung on the wall while team officials applauded. The roster had been submitted to FIFA on Friday’s deadline.

“No matter if they’re going to their fifth World Cup, as Sinclair is doing, or going into their first, I know every single player has been looking forward to this moment,” Heiner-Moller said in an interview.

The team motto is “Together we rise.”

The fifth-ranked Canadian women open their World Cup campaign June 10 against No. 46 Cameroon in Montpellier before facing No. 19 New Zealand on June 15 in Grenoble and the eighth-ranked Netherlands on June 20 in Reims.

Canada’s best World Cup finish was in 2003 when it placed fourth after losing 2-1 to Sweden in the semifinal and 3-1 to the U.S. in the third-place match.

Heiner-Moller, the former Denmark coach who was an assistant under former coach John Herdman, had two decisions made for him earlier this month when veteran midfielder Diana Matheson (toe) and goalkeeper Erin McLeod (foot) were ruled out through injury. The two have a combined 321 caps for Canada.

Defenders Jade Rose and Vanessa Gilles, who were on Canada’s 21-woman roster for the 3-0 win May 18 over Mexico in Toronto, drop off with European-based players Kadeisha Buchanan, Sabrina D’Angelo, Jenna Hellstrom and Shannon Woeller rejoining the squad.

Rose and Gilles did not travel to Europe with the team after the Mexico match. The four European-based players joined the team at its training base in Spain.

Heiner-Moller has used 27 players this year, drawing from a tight player pool.

The World Cup roster is essentially the same as the 23-woman squad called up for the 1-0 win over No. 3 England in Manchester in April. Kailen Sheridan replaces the injured McLeod and Rebecca Quinn, who was injured for that game, has been recalled at the expense of Gilles.

Sinclair goes into her fifth World Cup on 181 goals, three off retired American striker Abby Wambach’s world record of 184.

The 35-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., is one of nine returning veterans from the 2015 team that exited in the quarter-finals four years ago on home soil, beaten 2-1 by England. The others are Buchanan, Schmidt, Scott, Stephanie Labbe, Allysha Chapman, Jessie Fleming, Ashley Lawrence and Adriana Leon.

Schmidt is making her fourth World Cup appearance while Labbe and Scott are attending their third tournament.

Canada is unbeaten in 2019 with a 5-0-3 record, having outscored its opposition 8-1. Canada’s last loss was a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the top-ranked United States in the final of the CONCACAF Women’s Championship last October.

The squad has 288 international goals to its credit — with 181 or 63 per cent of those coming from Sinclair. Janine Beckie has 25 with Schmidt (19) and Leon (15) the only others in double-digits.

Sinclair has scored four of the team’s seven goals this year.

“If you look at our spring, we’ve been struggling a little bit to score goals,” Heiner-Moller conceded. “And when we’ve scored them it’s mainly been Sincy who’s been scoring them. We’ve been better in putting that responsibility on more players the closer to the World Cup.”

Schmidt and Beckie scored in the 2-1 win over Nigeria in April while Fleming and Leon joined Sinclair with goals in the 3-0 win over Mexico on May 18.

Heiner-Moller argues that Sinclair, given her quality and role at the tip of the Canadian spear, is bound to lead the attack.

The defence, in the words of Heiner-Moller, is “very solid.” Canada has conceded just four goals in its last 14 matches, including nine World Cup teams. Two of those goals came in the loss to the U.S.

Heiner-Moller says his roster essentially gives him two players at every position although he has more wide forwards — a decision made because of the workload they will carry in the tournament.

The average age of the squad is 24.7.

Of Canada’s 14 World Cup debutantes, half were teenagers four years ago when Canada hosted the tournament — Quinn, Sheridan, Jayde Riviere, Gabrielle Carle, Julia Grosso, Jordyn Huitema and Deanne Rose.

Grosso, Huitema and Riviere are still teenagers at 18 years old.

McLeod’s injury leaves No. 1 Labbe, Sheridan and Sabrina D’Angelo as Canada’s three goalkeepers.

Nine of the 23 are with European clubs and nine play in the NSWSL with four at NCAA schools and one from a local Canadian team.

Heiner-Moller prizes the character of his squad, saying any company or corporation would benefit from the group’s team-first mentality.

“The amount of work they put in, the hours doing all the right things — even the little things when no one’s watching — yeah, it’s a big privilege being coach of this team and these individuals.”

The Canadian women plan an intra-squad game before departing for France on June 4.

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