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  1. After a narrow 2-1 defeat to the host Germans—in which captain Christine Sinclair shook off a broken nose to score on a world-class free kick—Canada was mercilessly picked apart by France, who announced itself to the women’s soccer world with a 4-0 victory. The Canadians then slumped out of the tournament with a 1-0 loss to Nigeria, whereupon manager Carolina Morace followed through on a pre-tournament promise to resign upon its conclusion. The turnaround from World Cup doormats to Olympic medalists in the span of just 12 months has been largely attributed to head coach John Herdman and his staff. Indeed, just months after Herdman was hired in the wake of the 2011 World Cup flameout, Canada stood atop the podium as champions at the Pan-American Games (a tournament that, it’s worth noting, did not include the U.S.) One of Herdman’s first priorities upon being hired was rebuilding the team psychologically after the World Cup disappointment. He swooped in to work with a team whose core had been through nearly a decade together at that point—the likes of Sinclair, fellow striker Melissa Tancredi, midfielder Diana Matheson, defender Rhian Wilkinson and goalkeepers Erin McLeod and Karina LeBlanc. The script for redemption played out perfectly at London 2012. Tancredi’s four goals in the group stage pushed Canada into the knockouts; Sinclair’s memorable hat trick nearly saw Canada past their long-time American rivals in the semis; McLeod’s stellar goalkeeping and Matheson’s last-gasp goal gave Canada revenge on the French and a spot on the podium. Now, with the eyes of the world focused on Canada, and its national-team core set for one last hurrah right in its own backyard, it would appear that the script for triumph is about to be written. But is it realistic? Since Herdman took over, Canada has won a little over half of the games it’s played: 37 wins against 10 draws and 21 losses. Notably, though, none of those wins came in the four home friendlies the team booked against Tier I opponents in 2014—Canada managed a draw against the U.S. in Winnipeg before losses to Germany (in Vancouver) and Japan (in Edmonton and Vancouver). Canada (ranked No. 8 in the world) did post a convincing 1-0 win over England last Friday in its World Cup send-off match in front of nearly 24,000 fans in Hamilton, Ontario. But that was the Canadians’ first victory against England (ranked No. 6) in five tries, having lost to (and failed to score against) the English in its previous four matchups, dating back to March 2013. None of this suggests that Canada is incapable of a deep run in this year’s Women’s World Cup. Indeed, the Canadians were hardly played off the park in any of the aforementioned encounters with the world’s top sides (with the possible exception of a 3-0 loss to reigning world champions Japan). With the tournament having been expanded to 24 teams, Canada is a virtual lock for the knockout stages, at which point all other mattes—prior results, world ranking, subjective ideas of absolute relative quality—become irrelevant in the face of the performance of those two teams on that day. It is not unreasonable to suggest that, if the stars align properly, Canada has the potential to defeat any team in this tournament in a knockout game. The question, of course, is whether the stars will align in the same way they did in 2012. Herdman, for his part, hasn’t been relying on astrology in the run-up to the tournament. Amidst his repeated claim that Canada aims to be in the World Cup final on July 5, he has instead taken a detail-oriented approach to every facet of the team’s preparation. On the macro level, he’s taken steps to ease newcomers into the first team, with some very positive results. Kadeisha Buchanan, still just 19 years old, has already made 35 appearances for the senior team and is the rock in the centre of defence. Strong, tough and never one to shy away from a challenge, she also possesses speed and awareness that will see her as one of the team’s building blocks for the next decade. Jessie Fleming, just 17, is the focus of a hype machine that’s waiting to burst into overdrive should she do well at this tournament. Watching her play, it’s easy to see why she’s so highly touted – she’s a quick, aggressive, attack-minded midfielder with a nose for goal and an on-field intelligence befitting someone far beyond her years. Ashley Lawrence, 19, and Adriana Leon, 22, are two other newcomers who’ve ingratiated themselves into the lineup and could have prominent roles to play at this World Cup. But it’s not just promising youngsters; Herdman has also been getting the most out of key veteran players as well. Sophie Schmidt was the undeniable player of the match for Canada in its win over England last week, scoring a highlight-reel half-volley and proving herself a menace for the entire match. The 26-year-old was also Canada’s top scorer in 2014 (with six goals) and will be an integral part of the team’s efforts to expand its focus of attack beyond Sinclair. Lauren Sesselmann wasn’t even part of the Canadian set-up during the last World Cup, having just acquired her Canadian citizenship the year earlier. But Herdman called her into camp at his first opportunity, and the versatile 31-year-old was an indispensible part of the medal-winning Olympic side. Having only recently returned from a torn ACL, Sesselmann’s health could have a big part to play in Canada’s World Cup ambitions. Josée Bélanger emerged as the star of Canada’s qualifying campaign for the 2011 Women’s World Cup, but then missed the tournament with an ankle injury. A years-long exile from the national team followed, until Herdman convinced the 29-year-old to rejoin the fold last year. She hasn’t yet recaptured her goal-scoring form, but demonstrated her flexibility last week, unexpectedly (and impressively) filling in as a right-back against England. Allysha Chapman was a virtual unknown until Herdman called her into the national-team setup last year. But Herdman, who has repeatedly spoken of his desire to have attack-minded fullbacks, saw something in the 26-year-old, whose dogged play and seemingly endless energy have—in very short order—earned her a spot as Canada’s starting left-back. But the roster news isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Matheson continues to recover from a knee injury (and subsequent broken foot) of her own; her name is on Canada’s roster, but whether she’ll be able to play any part remains to be seen. More recently, injury concerns have also arisen for defenders Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault, as well as striker Jonelle Filigno. Meanwhile, Canada’s two top scorers of the past decade, Sinclair and Tancredi, are no longer at the peak of their powers. Sinclair—Canada’s top scorer of all time with 153 goals—scored just once in 11 games in 2014. Despite a hot start to 2015 (five goals in nine games), it would be foolhardy for Canadians to assume the 31-year-old will singlehandedly bulldoze through opposing teams, despite her storied history of doing exactly that. Tancredi, meanwhile, was coaxed out of semi-retirement (she took a year off following the Olympics to pursue her education) to provide some attacking support to Sinclair. But since having the tournament of her life in London, the 33-year-old has been held off the score sheet in 12 games for Canada. With goalkeeper LeBlanc having announced that she will retire following the World Cup, and fellow veterans Candace Chapman and Melanie Booth having also announced their retirements, the page appears to be turning on a golden age in Canadian women’s soccer, an era that began with the massively successful 2002 FIFA Under-19 Women’s Championship. That tournament saw the host Canadians—led by the likes of Sinclair, McLeod, Chapman and Carmelina Moscato (as well as Kara Lang and Clare Rustad, who’ll both be providing on-air analysis of this year’s World Cup)—play a thrilling final in front of nearly 50,000 fans at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium. (That game ended in a 1-0 extra-time loss to, you guessed it, the U.S.) On Saturday, Canada will return to Commonwealth Stadium to open its World Cup campaign against China, a former global powerhouse in the women’s game. They’ll stay in Edmonton to face Herdman’s former side, New Zealand, before travelling to Stade Olympique in Montreal to combat a side that some are picking as a dark horse favourite, the Netherlands. Where they’ll go from there remains to be seen. But that path won’t be determined by history, or narratives, or television advertisements. It will be determined by how well the women on the pitch can handle the pressure, do what’s needed and step up when it matters most. Whatever happens, Herdman will be sticking around beyond the tournament. He’s under contract to be Canada’s coach through 2020, giving him ample time and opportunity to shepherd the next generation of stars into the spotlight. But the spotlight will never be brighter than during this World Cup. Nothing is impossible for the Canadian team at this tournament—but the players will ultimately need to be the authors of their own destinies.
  2. We kick off our chats with the players with our first ever CWNT "Teammates" section, as Emily Zurrer shares some insights and home truths about the team. Who has the worst dress sense? Who's the most intelligent? And who takes the longest in the shower and in front of the bathroom mirror? All this and more inside info! One name that cropped up a few times in Emily's "Teammates" section (and Karina Leblanc's which you'll hear in another episode) was midfielder Rhian Wilkinson. Now, I have to admit here, Rhian was my particular favourite player we spoke with for these two podcasts. She was great fun to chat with (not the others weren't, but we could have chatted with her for way longer than we did!) and we covered a whole host of topics including what playing a World Cup in Canada means to her, the learning process from tournaments past and whether a coaching role is in her plans after she finishes playing. Away from the playing side we find out about her podcast habits, her childhood without television and playing so many other sports, whose Panini sticker she carried around and we try and get her to write for us here at AFTN (the offer of which is still open Rhi!!). Taking a break from the players for a few minutes, we chat with one of the leading lights of the Voyageurs supporters' group of west, Curva Collective member Zachary Meisenheimer. Zach talks to us about what having the tournament here means to the fans and how they plan to support not just the CWNT but the whole tournament. One of the newest faces in the squad is Allysha Chapman. After only getting her first senior cap last October, the 26-year-old is now set to play a World Cup on home soil. We talk to Allysha about her journey, what it was like coming into such a close knit group, playing in Sweden, how hard it is to keep hold of mascots hands, her love of Maple Leafs and maple butter, and we find out who sent her an email saying "we're watching you"! A player who was touch and go to make the World Cup roster was one of our particular favourite players, Diana Matheson. The midfield dynamo talks to us about her recovery from her two injuries, the x-factor John Herdman brings to the team, what the girls learned from the 2011 World Cup and 2012 Olympic experiences, dealing with the mental pressures and advantages of playing a World Cup on home soil and her Netflix habits. And there's still time for some more jam talk, this time with Erin McLeod and Karina Leblanc, the youngest player on the squad, striker Jessie Fleming and midfielder Desiree Scott. Have a listen! You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  3. But does the roster announcement tell us anything about Canada's chances that we didn't already know? Short answer: Nope. Fifteen of the 23 players on the 2015 World Cup roster were also on Canada's 2012 Olympic roster. That Olympic roster had 20 players, and of the five who aren't on the 2015 WWC squad, three have retired since those Olympics. (In other words, their exclusions aren't surprising.) As for the eight players on the WWC2015 squad who weren't on the Olympic team? Well, their inclusions come with varying levels of surprise (between 0 and 10): Kadeisha Buchanan Surprise level: 0 We could call the 19-year-old central defender's rise meteoric, but that wouldn't quite be accurate, since there are probably meteors that don't move as quickly as she has up the ranks of Canadian soccer. She already has 34 senior caps, is already an established starter on the squad and might already be one of the team's best players. A strong candidate to take the captain's armband once Christine Sinclair retires. Yeah, she's that good. Stephanie Labbe Surprise level: 0 Absent from the 2012 roster only because Olympic rosters call for two goalkeepers rather than three (and Canada has its 1A and 1B keepers in Erin McLeod and Karina LeBlanc), Labbe was always going to be on the roster for this tournament. The 28-year-old had an outstanding season for Orebro in Sweden last year, and has been part of the Canadian senior team since 2008. The only question now is, with McLeod ensconced as Canada's go-to starter, could Labbe challenge LeBlanc for playing time at the World Cup? Jessie Fleming Surprise level: 0.5 She's quick, she's aggressive, she's got great on-field intelligence, she's got a nose for goal... and oh yeah, she just turned 17 last month. There's no doubt that Fleming, if she continues on her current trajectory, will be a great one for Canada. The only question was whether, at her age, she'd be ready to step into the spotlight of a World Cup on home turf. But she's answered every challenge presented so far and hasn't looked out of place with the senior team yet... perhaps this tournament will be her chance to announce herself to the world. Adriana Leon Surprise level: 1 Back in the summer of 2012, Leon was preparing for a transfer from the University of Notre Dame (for whom she'd scored the national championship winning-goal in 2010) to the University of Florida. That December, a few months after the bronze medal win, Leon made her first appearance for the senior national team. Since then, the 22-year-old striker has scored five times for Big Red, and was basically a lock to be part of a squad that is in dire need of goal-scoring diversification in the years ahead. Ashley Lawrence Surprise level: 3 Herdman has attempted to integrate a quartet of teenagers into the senior national team lineup over the past 24 months; two seemed like sure things to make the World Cup cut (Buchanan, Fleming) and two seemed like outsiders for this year (Sura Yekka, Rebecca Quinn), leaving Lawrence as a bit of a question mark. She's shown promise in her years rising up the youth team ranks but plays in the midfield where Canada's starting lineup is relatively set. Whether or not the 19-year-old gets significant minutes in this tournament, it'll undoubtedly give her plenty of valuable experience. Josee Belanger Surprise level: 3.5 Speaking of a need for goal-scoring diversification... that's essentially the reason Herdman coaxed the 28-year-old out of national-team retirement. Belanger, however, hasn't been able to recapture the goal-scoring form she had in 2010, when she was the star of Canada's World Cup qualification campaign. In fact, she hasn't scored a goal since returning to the team last year. Ultimately, Herdman likely had to choose between whether to include Belanger or 20-year-old Janine Beckie, who's come on strong in the last 12 months... and as it happened, experience won out over youth on this occasion. Allysha Chapman Surprise level: 5 Like Belanger, Chapman returns to the senior national team after an extended absence. Chapman's ascension to a World Cup roster spot (and possibly even a role in the starting XI) has been nothing short of remarkable, given that prior to October 2014, her only experience with the senior team was one training camp back in 2009. But Chapman filled a position of need in Herdman's team (as Lauren Sesselmann was recovering from a knee injury) and her determined play in the last six months has earned her a role. She also gives Herdman some flexibility in how he uses Sesselmann (who has played as LB and CB, but who may not yet be at 100% herself). Selenia Iacchelli Surprise level: 6 Much like Chapman, Iacchelli had only a brief fling with the senior national team (one camp back in 2010) before Herdman came along. But the 28-year-old has hardly been a regular since returning to the fold in 2013; she's made just four appearances for Canada since November 2013. Her inclusion hits a 6 on the surprise meter due to the exclusion of Rachel Quon (a 23-year-old whom Herdman lured away from the U.S. system) and Brittany Baxter (a 29-year-old with 132 career appearances for Canada). But in a short tournament like the World Cup, team chemistry and positivity are vital; perhaps Herdman felt Iacchelli (who co-owns a business with Canada teammate Emily Zurrer) brought some "glue" to the locker room that could be important in the heat of the competition. While none of the decisions were overly surprising (Herdman's player pool is relatively set, after all), at least now we can move beyond speculation and focus on what's just weeks in front of us -- Canada's quest to make history at home in the Women's World Cup. Canada's 23-player Women's World Cup roster GK- Stephanie Labbé | unattached / sans club GK- Karina LeBlanc | USA / Chicago Red Stars GK- Erin McLeod | USA / Houston Dash D- Kadeisha Buchanan | USA / West Virginia University D- Allysha Chapman | USA / Houston Dash D- Robyn Gayle | unattached / sans club D- Carmelina Moscato | unattached / sans club D- Marie-Eve Nault | unattached / sans club D- Lauren Sesselmann | USA / Houston Dash D- Rhian Wilkinson | USA / Portland Thorns FC D- Emily Zurrer | unattached / sans club M- Jessie Fleming | CAN / London NorWest SC M- Selenia Iacchelli | unattached / sans club M- Kaylyn Kyle | USA / Portland Thorns FC M- Ashley Lawrence | USA / West Virginia University M- Diana Matheson | USA / Washington Spirit M- Desiree Scott | ENG / Notts County Ladies M- Sophie Schmidt | unattached / sans club F- Josée Bélanger | unattached / sans club F- Jonelle Filigno | USA / Sky Blue FC F- Adriana Leon | USA / Chicago Red Stars F- Christine Sinclair | USA / Portland Thorns FC F- Melissa Tancredi | USA / Chicago Red Stars
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