With the Women's World Cup just around the corner, it's an exciting time for women's soccer in Canada

WFC Girls Elite program helping produce top Canadian talent

VANCOUVER, BC – While all eyes are on Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, it’s easy to forget that there’s another World Cup just around the corner. And it’s happening right in our own backyard.

The soccer world’s attention will shift to Canada, and ultimately Vancouver, next year for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Games will be played in six different Canadian cities: Edmonton, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.

BC Place, the home of Whitecaps FC, will play host to the Women’s World Cup final on July 5, 2015.

"Not very often does a country actually get a Women’s World Cup coming to their hometowns," Canadian women's national team head coach John Herdman told whitecapsfc.com. "Women’s soccer is the most popular sport in female participation, a lot of women and girls follow this team, and we’re bringing the biggest event in women’s sport to this country so we have a lot to celebrate. We’ll be taking this team across the country so young kids can see their heroes. It’s just going to be phenomenal. I hope that people do buy in and part of buying in is the team performance. And we’re well aware of that."

Fans can get a taste of what’s to come on Wednesday night, when the Canadian women’s national team hosts second-ranked Germany in an international friendly at BC Place (7 p.m. PT, Sportsnet ONE).

The Germans, who have never lost to Canada, won back-to-back World Cup titles in 2003 and 2007. Third-ranked Japan are the defending champions, while Canada currently occupies the seventh spot in FIFA’s world rankings.

"We’ve brought the best teams to Canada this year and we intend to keep testing ourselves on home soil against the top teams," Herdman told whitecapsfc.com. "If you want to win a World Cup in Canada, you’re going to have to beat these teams en route ... these steps now are about how close can we get in 2014 so we’re ready in 2015."

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be the seventh edition of the tournament. Canada’s best result was a fourth-place finish in 2003. But Herdman is confident that the 2012 Olympic bronze medalists will be in a position to better that result next year on home soil.  

"We have to be," he said. "Look, this opportunity will never come around in our lifetime again. So what are we going to say? We’re going to try our best and give it a crack? Well, of course we are. We have to. We’ve got no choice. If you win a World Cup in Canada, you know what impact that’s going to have on our sport. So why not shoot for the stars with our goals? When I sit and talk to this group of women, we’re not talking about just getting to a quarter-final or semifinal, we’re talking about going all the way and being at BC Place in that final."

And Wednesday's friendly against Germany is just another step towards reaching that goal. There could be as many as eight former Whitecaps FC women's players who feature for Canada in Wednesday's fixture. The club has producing players for the Canadian women's national team for years and it continues to do so through the Girls Elite program – a full-time, funded program for U-17 and U-18 players.

Girls Elite defenders Simmrin Dhaliwal and Rachel Jones, for example, both helped Canada reach the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. And Girls Elite graduate Emma Fletcher was called up to the recent Canadian women’s U-20 national team camp as they ramp up preparations for the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, which Canada is also hosting in August.

And at an even younger level, six BC Soccer Premier League players who have been training at the Whitecaps FC Vancouver Academy Centre recently took part in a U-13 to U-15 talent ID camp – part of the Canadian women’s national team’s EXCEL program.

“One of our main objectives is trying to connect and produce players for youth national teams to hopefully reach what the Canadian Soccer Association is looking for, and that’s the gold medal standard player,” said Whitecaps FC Girls Elite head coach Jesse Symons. “We’re really trying to establish players that have the goal, objective, and passion to play at that level and do well at that level.”

Symons said he’s in regular communication with Canadian women’s U-17 head coach Bev Priestman and U-20 head coach Andrew Olivieri to make sure Whitecaps FC and the CSA are working together to produce to next generation of Canadian talent.

“It’s huge just to learn what types of players they’re looking for and what they feel the players need within the BC region maybe in relation to other parts of the country,” Symons said. “And even more so, up against the Germanies, the Japans, the USAs, the benchmarks. It’s making sure we’re producing players that can not only fit in the national team environment, but excel there.”

And Herdman, who applauded the philosophy of Whitecaps FC's Girls Elite program, said that type of collaboration fits into the two mandates he established when he took over the women's national team head coaching position back in 2012. Those mandates were building an infrastructure that leads to the women's national team and establishing a fully aligned system at the national, regional, and provincial levels. 

"It’s a big task, a big undertaking," Herdman said, "but I think in two years time everyone is going to see the fruits of our labour."

In the meantime, soccer fans in Canada just have the U-20 Women's World Cup and Women's World Cup to look forward to. And all the excitement surrouding these events is really starting to put “elite level women's soccer on the map” in Canada, Symons said. 

“It’s going to really open everyone’s eyes as to what’s out there and what kids can strive for.”