It is a narrow seam in world sport, but Canada has mined it well with Olympic and world championship medals in women’s soccer, rugby sevens and ice hockey to become a leader in female team sports. The Canadian women’s basketball has also become a contender.
The process of restocking these national teams is always ongoing, with the soccer team completing its recent U-20 training camp in Burnaby for the CONCACAF qualifiers Jan. 18-28 in Trinidad and Tobago for the 2018 FIFA U-20 World Cup next August in France.
Among the 26 players invited was emerging 17-year-old backline/midfield player Ashley Cathro of Victoria, who is expected to figure in Canada’s future. So is defender Hannah Taylor of Edmonds, Washington, a dual citizen with strong roots in Victoria, whose eligibility came to the attention of the Canadian team after a great deal of lobbying by her family and supporters on the Island. Taylor could make up for losing Sydney Leroux, the Surrey-raised dual citizen who has won gold medals for the U.S. in the World Cup and Olympics.
Cathro and Taylor started on the backline for Canada at the 2016 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Jordan. They both also started for the U-20 Canadian team that defeated the U.S. 4-1 before losing to the Aussies 1-0 this summer on a tour of Australia.
It is no accident that among those closely watching the U-20 national camp in Burnaby last month was Canadian senior team head coach John Herdman. The immediate goal for these players is the U-20 World Cup, yet it’s all tied into the bigger picture. The stream feeds the river. After all, Christine Sinclair can’t play forever.
“Each time we come together, it is about maximizing the opportunity to add the necessary jigsaw pieces that will help us on our journey toward the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2018,” said Canadian U-20 head coach Bev Priestman, in a statement.
“We have to keep pushing these players to new levels, not only to maximize the potential of the group, but also to maximize the potential of individuals in their journey to the women’s national team for France 2019 [senior World Cup] and Tokyo 2020 [Summer Olympics].”
Cathro began playing soccer with Prospect Lake at age five and advanced to the Vancouver Island Wave rep program. She has always studied the game and thought it through on the pitch, and does not panic on the ball. And as a former distance track and cross-country runner out of Claremont Secondary, her motor rarely stops.
“I am calm on the ball and make good, weighted passes,” she said recently, of her strengths as a player.
But there are sacrifices to make at this level. The Rio 2016 Olympic bronze-medallist Canadian women’s rugby sevens team players uprooted their lives to move across the country to relocate to Greater Victoria because the Rugby Canada Centre of Excellence is in Langford. The Soccer Canada women’s team programs, meanwhile, are largely headquartered on the Lower Mainland, so Cathro moved to Burnaby two years ago to join the Whitecaps FC Girls Elite REX program in partnership with B.C. Soccer. Cathro and Taylor are also part of Soccer Canada’s EXCEL program, which brings together the best players at the youth levels.
Cathro is in Grade 12 at Burnaby Central and has committed to play NCAA Div. 1 soccer for the University of Illinois Fighting Illini of the Big Ten beginning next fall, following in the cleat steps of Fighting Illini-alumnus, fellow-Islander and retired national-team Olympian and World Cup veteran Emily Zurrer of Crofton.
“I did talk it over [with Zurrer about the Illinois experience],” said Cathro.
Taylor, meanwhile, is a year older and headed this month to the Pac-12 and the University of Oregon Ducks.
They will likely be Canada teammates for a long time through Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.