The list has probably been submitted by John Herdman already but word does not seem to have leaked out. Still, soon everybody will know the 16 players that Herdmann has selected that will be automatically given roster spots and CSA-paid for contracts in the new NWSL starting next year.
In a very positive, bold step the CSA engaged with those organizing the league and negotiated a way to keep a pool of sixteen Canadian women playing and training almost full time in the third version of a top tier North American professional women’s league. Sharing the costs not only assures far more Canadians in the league than there would be if the CSA hadn’t struck this deal but it also helps with league viability as the inevitable financial losses will be shared amongst more people.
So Herdman gets to play a bit of Sophie’s Choice and figure out which sixteen make the most sense to pick in light of Canada hosting the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Interestingly, he’s made a few things clear at the start of the recent training camp. Primarily that he is definitely looking at how these spots can help the team do well in 2015 (if the league survives until then it will be a fantastic tribute to the organizers and funders) and what he is expecting that team to look like when 2015 rolls around. The goal, lofty to the point of inducing nervous laughter, is to play like Barcelona. The team has been watching Barcelona videos and each has picked a Barcelona player that approximates them as a player and to study them closely. To give them a sense of the task ahead, the team used ProZone stats to break down things like possession and passing stats. They found that Barcelona completed about 800 more passes than they do in a normal game. Not a typo.
Really though what Herdman is aiming for is not to turn Desiree Scott into Busquets, Candace Chapman into Pique and Matheson into Iniesta. Really, the goal is to make the team more like the Japanese women’s team but it sounds a bit sad to have to say that out loud. The problem with such a reinvention is that the Japanese women’s team is the result of a comprehensive development system that’s been in place for years and has just started reaping benefits in the last four years.
But Herdman has reached the same conclusion that Even Pellerud reached: we are nowhere near good enough to consistently compete technically with the best teams in the world. The difference between the time that Pellerud realized this and now is that Canada has spent the intervening years spinning its wheels, not developing technically proficient players, while the Japanese, French and even Costa Ricans were putting the time and effort necessary into making young women better on the ball and smarter in their decision making once they had it comfortably at their feet.
Pellerud’s unapologetic solution was to max out on physical play and set about putting teams together that were big, fast, tough and fit and were prepared to make life miserable for opponents. He was hired to win and that was the only shot he had with the players at his disposal. It led to some brutally ugly games at times but also some memorable results. Ultimately, as he probably knew himself, it was not enough to move Canada to the level that the USA, China and Germany were at.
Herdman knows this too. But he’s taking a different approach. He’s got a huge stack of personal equity (everyone loves him) and he’s got a team that has similar equity given their recent bronze medal at the Olympics. Coupling this with clear communication about his intentions and the need for patience as they move towards their goal of reinventing this team, he has 2.5 years and the ability to give 16 players the best preparation, potentially, that any Canadian coach has been able to provide for a World Cup.
Other parameters to consider.
- Anyone currently playing at an American university or planning to is not going to be eligible or want to play in the league for fearing of being ineligible to play NCAA soccer.
- There is a draft for the league in January at the NSCAA convention in Indianapolis. Same time and place as the MLS draft.
- The current squad that went to the Olympics is top heavy in experienced players but that also means some are getting a bit old. Three years from now in 2015 they’ll be more than a bit old.
- The current squad is far from top heavy in the type of technical player that Herdman needs to change this team from a counter-attacking team to a team that controls the pace of the game via possession.
So, do you put Christine Sinclair on your list or assume that she is taken in the draft? Are there some back room deals that have precluded such a move? Is there a cap on the number of Canadians that can be in the league and is that cap the 16 that the CSA are paying for? Do you take role players or players who are ‘good in the room’ but aging like Karina Leblanc and Melissa Tancredi (aged 33 and 31 respectively when NWSL league play starts)? How many young players who are just getting their first national team look can you afford to take a chance on?
So who does he pick? Here’s how it looks to me:
Erin McLeod. Why? >> Even though she’ll be 30 when NWSL kicks off that’s three years younger than Leblanc and having gained hegemony as far as being Herdman’s choice as starter, she will retain her spot through 2015 while Herdman likely looks for a younger understudy.
Emily Zurrer. Why? >> Even though she wasn’t selected for Olympic qualifying and was injured during the Olympics (didn’t play), she is only 25 and plays a position the team lacks depth in (centre back).
Carmelina Moscato. Why? >> Seemingly on the outs in 2012 she played her way back in at the Olympics when injuries set in. 29 in the spring but can play at centre back and outside back so will likely be retained.
Robyn Gayle. Why? >> If this team wants to play the type of game Herdman is insisting they do, they will need outside backs who can join the attack. None, at the moment, are capable of doing this effectively against top opponents but Robyn Gayle may be the one who has the most promise in this role. 27 years old.
Candace Chapman. Why? >> One of the easiest picks. Strongest defender on the team.
Desiree Scott: Why? >> I’d never seen Scott play before the Olympic qualifiers at BC Place and it took just one game, the first one, to see she was one of the most effective players on the team and every team that wants to attack in numbers still needs a Busquet/Makelele/Essien type player. Scott is clearly that player and no one is going to displace her in the starting lineup while she maintains current form. Plus she’s only 25.
Diana Matheson. Why? >> Good link player. Smart on the ball. A clear move to a possession style game will benefit her. 29 in the spring though.
Sophie Schmidt. Why? >> If she can maintain a high level of fitness she has shown an ability to adapt to different roles and be positionally sound. In other words, capable of growing into the attacking midfielder Herdman will need while providing cover for Scott as a holding mid.
Jonelle Filigno. Why? >> Wasn’t too impressed with her in Olympic qualifying but she was better when given her chance at the Olympics and the team lacks a speedy striker and at 22 years old she has the ability to become a bit more like Alex Morgan.
Brittany Timko. Why? >> It feels like she’s been around forever but she’s only just turned 27 in the fall. Needs to stay healthy but has experience and her ability to play multiple positions definitely increases her value.
Christine Sinclair. Why? >> Only if it’s been stipulated that Canada is limited to the 16 players picked by the CSA and the draft is for Americans only. Otherwise, she will most certainly get picked and putting her name on the CSA list is simply taking a spot away from someone else. Sadly the only other player on my list above who might be somewhat assured of getting drafted is Candace Chapman.
In the mix:
Karina LeBlanc: Why or why not? Just can’t see there being room for what will be a 35 year old back up keeper by the time the World Cup comes to town. Great ‘in the room’ player but not sure she’s going to add too many more to her 103 cap total.
Rhian Wilkinson. Why or why not? >> A warhorse for her country with 131 caps but will be 31 in the spring and may not be in Herdman’s 2015 plans. There’s room for a couple of defenders who can get forward and join the attack. Wilkinson would have to have convinced Herdman she is one of those players.
Lauren Sesselmann. Why or why not? >> 29 years old. Her Olympic qualifying was cut short early with an injury and had to play out of position at times in the Olympics. Committed but not convinced she’s shown that she can be that dynamic, attacking left back that she was brought in to be.
Melanie Booth. Why or why not? >> Again, one or two of Booth, Wilkinson and/or Sesselmann will likely be in the final 16 but can’t see all three on that list. Too similar and not the sort of players Herdman seems to be looking for in his future team. Also 29.
Kaylyn Kyle. Why or why not? >> I’ve never really seen what she brings to the team and my guess would be that the ProZone stats that the team is looking at would be particularly damning for her. Generally poor use of the ball.
Marie Eve-Nault. Why or why not? >> After a disasterous World Cup she rebounded at the Olympics where she got a second chance after a hatful of injuries. Did well but still a notch below those she’s already competing with and will be 31 in February.
Kelly Parker. Why or why not? >> I thought Parker was a player for the future when I saw her at the Olympic qualifiers. She had Megan Rapinoe qualities but seemed to lose favour between qualifiers and the Olympics. Factor in that she’s 32 in March and she could be on the outside looking in.
Melissa Tancredi. Why or why not? >> This will be a tough one. Played out of her skin at the Olympics but is 31 years old. Will be 33 at the World Cup. Has she convinced Herdman that her age is not going to be a factor? More importantly, to get to where they want to be can you play her with Sinclair up front or do you need a bit more technique and speed to complement Sinclair?
One of Rachelle Beanlands or Stephanie Labbe will likely get one of the 16 spots as Erin McLeod’s understudy if Herdman agrees that LeBlanc is out of the 2015 plans. I’d take Alyscha Mottershead but she’s at Syracuse University so not eligible if she wants to keep playing NCAA soccer. Shannon Woeller (Rutgers), Vanessa Legault-Cordisco (Marquette) and Chelsea Buckland (Oregon) are in the same boat.
Does Jodi-Ann Robinson, still only 23 but with 51 caps, get another look? Christina Julien, 24, may also get that look as Herdman looks at diversifying his attacking force.
Outside looking in:
Lastly, here’s the players who were invited to the December training camp in Richmond who are not already mentioned above. Do any of them have a chance? Definitely. They’ve been given a chance to play themselves into contention and undoubtedly one or two of them will. Either for future consideration for a national team roster spot or, if they aren’t NCAA-tied, a place on the coveted Sweet 16 List a la Theo Walcott’s inclusion on the England 2006 World Cup squad.
Buchanan, Kadeisha | 1995 | Mississauga, ON, CAN | Brams United SC
Cameron, Tiffany | 1991 | Mississauga, ON, CAN | North Mississauga
Clarke, Summer | 1995 | Richmond, BC, CAN | Richmond Girls SA
D’Angelo, Sabrina | 1993 | Welland, ON, CAN | Welland Wizards
Lagonia, Alyssa | 1989 | Kitchener, ON, CAN | Kitchener Minor SA
Lawrence, Ashley | 1995 | Calendon East, ON, CAN | Brams United SC
Leon, Adriana | 1992 | Maple, ON, CAN | Vaughan Azzuri
McCalla, Brooke | 1987 | Pickering, ON, CAN | Pickering
McCarthy, Bryanna | 1991 | Ajax, ON, CAN | Ajax Warriors
Oduro, Christabel | 1992 | Brampton, ON, CAN | Brampton United Flames
Prince, Nichelle | 1995 | Ajax, ON, CAN | Ajax SC
Richardson, Jenna | 1992 | Vancouver, BC, CAN | Semiahmoo
Zadorsky, Shelina | 1992 | London, ON, CAN | Kitchener
Anyone missing from consideration? Give them a mention in the comments.