On Wednesday, Canada's women's national team coach, John Herdman, announced his 18-player roster for Canada's upcoming friendly on June 2 against the United States at BMO Field in Toronto.
The squad contains a few surprises (like the inclusion of American-born 21-year old defender Rachel Quon) but also some familiar faces; 14 players named were part of Canada's bronze-medal-winning team at last year's Olympic Summer Games in London.
One of those faces was Melissa Tancredi. If you watched Canada play in London last year, you'd expect Tancredi to be one of the first names on Herdman's list for a game against the number one ranked team in women's soccer. The problem is, Tancredi is currently finishing chiropractic school in St. Louis and hasn't played soccer since the Olympics.
This is not a criticism of Tancredi's abilities; in my opinion, she was one of the star players in Canada's miraculous bronze-medal run last summer. But how can a player whose club affiliation is listed as "unattached" be deemed ready to play international football against the best team in women's football?
That Herdman has called up Tancredi is neither a criticism of the coach nor of the player. It is an indictment on a broken, dysfunctional youth development system that does little, if anything, to produce a stream of talented players capable of playing at the elite level.
Herdman has included Tancredi – despite the fact that she has not played a competitive match since the bronze medal game against France in August last year – because there is no one else that he can call.
That's right. No one else.
"I'd love to be able to say that in the experience we've had over the last three months that there's a whole barrel of young players that are able to step in at this point and grab senior shirts, but the barrel is pretty empty," said Herdman to the media via conference call when the squad was announced on Wednesday.
In fact, such is the paucity of players coming through Canada's youth ranks that Herdman has had to turn to 21-year old Quon as an alternative.
To compete at the international level, players must be technically skilled, tactically intelligent, physically dynamic and mentally strong. And the brutally honest truth is that the system of youth soccer in Canada does not produce these players.
The win-at-all-costs system that is currently in place in most provinces allows youth coaches to recruit players to win trophies – as false a measure of success as is imaginable – rather than encouraging them to teach players the fundamentals they need to one day become the type of player coveted by coaches like Herdman.
The result is a pool of players who are ill-equipped to compete at the international level.
"The challenges at this stage are creating a youth system and a whole structure that can produce a conveyor belt of Canadian players that, when a player starts hitting the age of 30, we've already identified, tracked a Canadian player from as young as 13 through our system, prepared them with the right tools and skills to be the best that they can be.
I think that it's a major challenge for us all. Whether it's a parent, whether it's the provinces, whether it's the national body, to be able to align that system. Until that system is in place, we get a 30-year old that is starting to come to the twilight years of her career, and you actually have to start looking in the U.S. for a player, because there isn't a Canadian, either with a left foot or that skill set that can maintain the pace of the modern game; tactically, physically, technically, and I think that's the challenge we're facing," said Herdman.
That is as realistic and accurate an assessment of the state of youth soccer in Canada as one is likely to come across. It is also a brutal wakeup call that reform is urgently needed.
"In five, six years time, we should never have to do this, we shouldn't have to go and recruit players from other countries because our talent pool – our population base – is bigger than the majority of countries we play against. For me, it's a no-brainer that long-term, we should be measuring ourselves on not having to go and pluck players out of the USA, and that is a reality for ourselves at this stage," said Herdman.