Canada's proactive development plan bearing fruit
Canada has implemented a development plan for women's football
The country's women's national teams have reaped the benefits
Canada are set to appear at the U-17 Women's World Cup in Uruguay
Canada have taken a proactive approach to women's football in recent years, pursuing a vigorous development plan since the launch of the Women's EXCEL Program in 2014. That initiative has already produced excellent results, with Canada's qualification for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Uruguay 2018 offering the latest proof of its success.
While the country's senior team continues to grow as a global force, Canada now boasts stronger and deeper pools of talent in younger age groups. Few players sum up that dynamic better than Jordyn Huitema, Jayde Riviere, Maya Antoine and Ariel Young. Now hoping to represent their country with pride in Uruguay, all four have already taken their first steps at senior level.
As the world's second largest country after Russia, Canada faces a stern challenge when it comes to discovering new prospects. "It's a question above all of identifying the most talented players across the nation," said Kenneth Heiner-Moller, Canada's senior women's team coach and director of the Women's EXCEL Program, which targets every age category between 14 and 20.
Nor is the task simply limited to uncovering potential. "Our programme allows us to keep an eye on all the female players in the country, with special attention paid to the biggest talents," added Rhian Wilkinson, the new coach of Canada's U-17 side. "They then get the chance to develop in our three largest training centres."
With 181 senior caps under her belt, the former defender is thrilled by the idea of seeing Canada's finest young gems follow in her footsteps. "I believe in this U-17 team and I can't wait to work with them and help them succeed on the pitch and learn from this experience, so that they can go on to have a career in the senior national team."
Retired since February 2017, Wilkinson can pass on a vast well of knowledge from her own playing days, which included four trips to the FIFA Women's World Cup™ and two bronze medals at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament (London 2012 and Rio 2016). "Our goal is to give young talents access to infrastructure and professionals working in every aspect of their lives so that football can help them develop as young women."
The U-17 coach is also taking part in the inaugural FIFA Coach Mentorship Programme. Wilkinson has been paired with Hope Powell, who has held the reins of WFC Brighton & Hove Albion since 2017 after taking charge of England's senior women's team between 1998 and 2013.
Turning progress into results
Canada will travel to the U-17 Women's World Cup having never reached the semi-finals since the tournament was first launched in 2008. Kicking off with a first test against Colombia on 14 November, their mission will be to break historic new ground – and lay down further evidence of Canada's growing strength in women's football.
Before they can reach that symbolic threshold, the Canucks must first seal a place in the quarter-finals by clinching one of the top two spots in Group D. "Taking on Colombia, Spain and Korea Republic in Uruguay will expose the players to a large variety of playing styles and will be an enriching experience in terms of their development," said Heiner-Moller.
"For us, the World Cup is not merely a question of performance," he added, keen to see the philosophy and values of the Women's EXCEL Program put into action once again on the world stage. "It's essential that we adapt our game in any given context while also maintaining our identity."