Canada adds a Tank to it soccer weapons

Melissa Tancredi playing for Canada in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Ancaster native Melissa Tancredi is headed for London. And not just as a tourist.

The 30-year-old Tancredi is one of 18 players nominated for the Team Canada women’s soccer roster for the London 2012 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament.

In addition to Tancredi, Canada’s roster features goalkeepers Karina LeBlanc and Erin McLeod, defenders Candace Chapman, Carmelina Moscato, Emily Zurrer, Robyn Gayle, Lauren Sesselmann, Chelsea Stewart and Rhian Wilkinson, midfielders Kaylyn Kyle, Oakville’s Diana Matheson, Kelly Parker, Sophie Schmidt and Desiree Scott, and forwards Jonelle Filigno, Christine Sinclair, and Brittany Timko.

Tancredi, nicknamed “Tank”, has been a regular in the Canadian starting lineup since 2007. She is recognized as one of the best women’s football strikers in the world. In 2008, Tancredi led the Canadian women’s soccer team in at least two categories leading up to and including the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing: goals scored and broken noses. She was Canada’s top scorer during Olympic qualifying four years ago, scoring four times as the team earned its first Olympic berth; in Beijing at the Olympic Games, she broke her nose for the seventh time, colliding with teammate Kara Lang.

Tancredi burst on to the scene at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China, where she scored the second-fastest goal in World Cup history (just 37 seconds from the start of the September game with Australia). She also played at the 2011 World Cup, where she started three games for 199 minutes. Tancredi won a bronze medal at the 2007 Pan American Games.

Tancredi has been playing soccer since the age of four. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame in 2004, she played her most recent seasons professionally in Sweden.

Diana Matheson (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Midfielder Matheson is a 2008 Olympian, three-time FIFA Women’s World Cup team member and two-time Pan American Games medalist, capturing gold in 2011 and bronze in 2007.

Matheson made her debut for Team Canada in 2003. She is the third most-capped Canadian woman of all time, with 130 appearances for Canada, and who also holds the record for the most consecutive senior international appearances by a Canadian woman at 45. Matheson has been playing at the highest level internationally since she was 15 years old, and brings a wealth of experience, technique and “real midfield understanding” to the Canadian team. From 2008-2010, she played with Team Strømmen in Oslo, Norway.

In November 2011, Matheson was facing a six-week recovery period from micro-fracture surgery to repair torn cartilage in her right knee, which turned into six months – the longest down time in her career and causing her miss the 2012 Olympic Qualifying tournament in January, but she was part of the Canada’s off-field leadership group.

A major in Economics at Princeton University, Matheson was voted the 2007 Ivy League Player of the Year and the 2008 Princeton Women’s Athlete of the Year.

“These athletes give their everything to represent Canada,” said Canadian Olympic Committee President Marcel Aubut. “They are an inspiration to us all and I look forward to seeing them take the pitch in London.”

This marks Canada’s second participation in the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. Canada is one of 12 teams with medal hopes, with the competition split into three groups of four teams for the group phase.

Canada, a two-time CONCACAF champion, qualified for the London 2012 Olympics out of Vancouver in January. In front of a packed Canadian crowd at BC Place, Canada won a confederation silver medal after qualifying as one of two Olympic teams from CONCACAF.

Of Canada’s 18 players, 14 were CONCACAF champions in December 2010, including two-time champion LeBlanc. Canada’s most experienced players are Christine Sinclair (captain), Diana Matheson, Rhian Wilkinson, Brittany Timko, Candace Chapman and LeBlanc (all with more than 100 appearances at the international “A” level).

Seventeen players have participated in at least one FIFA Women’s World Cup, all but Lauren Sesselmann who is also Canada’s least experienced player (16 international appearances).

Twelve of Canada’s 18 players also have experience from the last Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at Beijing 2008. That was the year Canada reached the quarter-final phase of the competition, only falling in extra time to eventual champion and CONCACAF rival USA. The six players hoping to make their Olympic debut at London 2012 are Sesselmann, Chelsea Stewart, Kelly Parker, Desiree Scott, Kaylyn Kyle and Carmelina Moscato.

Seventeen of Canada’s 18 players also came up through the Canadian national youth program (all but Sesselmann). Six players won a silver medal at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2002: Sinclair, Timko, Chapman, Erin McLeod, Carmelina Moscato and Robyn Gayle. Six players won a CONCACAF youth title with Canada, be it in 2004 (Timko and Emily Zurrer) or 2008 (Jonelle Filigno, Kaylyn Kyle, Sophie Schmidt and Chelsea Stewart).

Canada faces Japan on July 25 in Coventry, South Africa on July 28 in Coventry, and Sweden on July 31 in Newcastle. Both Japan (champion) and Sweden (bronze) were medal winners at the most recent FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011.

Either two or three teams will advance from each group, with eight teams participating in the quarter-final phase. The quarter-final matches are on Aug. 3, the semi-final matches are on Aug. 6, and the final medal matches are on Aug. 9.