Canada’s U23 National “Excel” Program: A New Beginning
by Ciara McCormack
Canada just wrapped up an U23 National Team camp in Tampa Bay, Fla., marking the first time Canada has held an official camp at this level. This has been a component of the Canadian development chain that has been missing through the years. With the acceleration of development in the women’s game in other countries allowing for a deep player pool, the necessity to fill this gap is one that the Canadian staff no doubt took into account as it looks towards a good performance at the 2015 World Cup on Canadian soil.
On one hand, the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) is a very positive development for the Canadian staff and established players as it will allow them the luxury of having a controlled, common schedule and a challenging daily soccer environment. On the other hand, since Canadian players outside of the allotted 16 are still considered internationals, it remains problematic for the Canadian staff to build a player pool compared to other nations with their own domestic league. Canadian players who have finished college, who are not picked up by NWSL teams will still have to look internationally to ply their trade if they have aspirations of making the full Canadian team or the U23 team.
“The youth focused camps will primarily feature players from the U-18 to U-23 age groups, and will also provide an opportunity to integrate players that have previously not been a part of Canada’s national team programs in recent months”, said U23 Head Coach Andrew Olivieri, who also was an assistant to John Herdman at the London Olympics,on the CSA website. “We will be exercising proper due diligence throughout these first few camps while we identify new players that have not yet been seen by our Women’s Excel staff over the past 18 months.”
The 23 players invited into this first camp were an interesting mix that could be divvied into four groups. Seasoned veterans, old faces making new appearances, college stars and U17/high school players. Of the seasoned veterans, players such as Brittany Timko, Christina Julien and Melanie Booth were on the roster for the 2012 Olympics, but with Timko and Julien not allotted NWSL slots, and Booth receiving limited minutes with the senior team, the camp was an opportunity to get reps at a high level and no doubt give the coaching staff an opportunity to assess the players against the up-and-comers.
Players such as Monica Lam-Feist (University of Wisconsin/2008 U17 Canadian Player of the Year) and Erin McNulty (Penn State/3x U20 World Cup member), were both attending full CWNT programming as high schoolers, but have fallen off the national team radar in recent years. The camp was an opportunity for both players, who are now seniors in college, to get a look. Players such as Sabrina D’Angelo (South Carolina) Shelina Zadorsky (Michigan) and Adriana Leon (Boston Breakers) are all players that have extensive recent youth experience for Canada that have just finished or are close to finishing their college careers. Finally, upstart high-schoolers such as Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence who were recently with the CWNT at the Four Nations Tournament in China, had a chance to remind everyone that a great deal of quality lies in Canada’s youth programs.
According to Erin McNulty, who recently finished off a stellar college career as one of only a handful of players that has played in two Final Fours for two different schools (Florida State, 2007 and Penn State 2012), the camp was very beneficial.
“Personally, the last two years have been very humbling for me, as amidst a transfer to Penn State, I was also in the beginning stages of overcoming an injury that I am still working to get over,” said McNulty.
“Although it did not seem so at the time, the way things shaped up have put me in a good spot going forwards, as I have a new perspective and new appreciation for the game. It was exciting for me to get a call back into national team camp as it provided me with the opportunity to learn the new system as well as gain a greater understanding of the technical requirements to advance through the program,” said McNulty. “There is no doubt in my mind that the program is headed in the right direction; the talent of the youth player pool is fantastic and the senior players continue to raise the standards of what it will take to wear a Canadian jersey on an international stage”
PLAYERS AT THE CWNT U23 CAMP
GK- Sabrina D’Angelo | CAN / Toronto Lady Lynx
GK- Erin McNulty | USA / Penn State University
GK- Kailen Sheridan | CAN / Pickering SC
CB- Kadeisha Buchanan | CAN / Erin Mills Mighty Eagles
CB- Shelina Zadorsky | CAN / Toronto Lady Lynx
FB- Lindsay Agnew | USA / Ohio Premier Eagles
FB- Melanie Booth | USA / Sky Blue FC
FB- Kylie Davis | CAN / Comètes de Laval
M- Charlène Achille | CAN / Longueuil
M- Jade Kovacevic | CAN / Toronto Lady Lynx
M- Ashley Lawrence | CAN / Erin Mills Mighty Eagles
M- Kinley McNicoll | CAN / Burlington Heat
M- Alyscha Mottershead | USA / Syracuse University
M- Rebecca Quinn | CAN / Erin Mills Mighty Eagles
M- Sarah Robbins | CAN / Comètes de Laval
M/F- Ashley Campbell | USA / University of Dayton
F- Nkem Ezurike | CAN / Comètes de Laval
F- Christina Julien | Unattached / sans-club
F- Monica Lam-Feist | USA / University of Wisconsin
F- Adriana Leon | USA / Boston Breakers
F- Amandine Pierre-Louis | CAN / Saint-Léonard
F- Valérie Sanderson | CAN / FC Boisbriand
F- Brittany Timko | Unattached / sans-club
Ciara grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and went to college at Yale University, and played a fifth year of eligibility and went to grad school at UCONN. From there she went on to play pro in Denmark for Fortuna Hjorring, where in 2003, she was the first North American to medal in the Champions League (along with her American teammate Stacey Peterson), with a silver. She went on to represent Ireland at the international level, played three years in the Norwegian Toppserien and spent time training in Australia and South America. She has three master’s degrees focusing her academic interests on women’s soccer, runs girlsCAN Football (camps and clinics run by pro female players), and started a college showcase in her hometown. She recently began winding down her playing career and is a volunteer assistant coach at Yale University.