This is pretty much entirely a good thing. For all the Twitter jokes, the Canadian women’s national team really does look like the #MostConnectedTeam and that is to their advantage. They know each other, are happy for each other when things go well, and fight for each other when things go badly. When you’re less talented than the Olympic podium contenders that’s an important edge. No, of course personal chemistry and being intimately familiar with your teammates doesn’t make up for a skill deficit, but it helps, and the example of London 2012 shows that sometimes that help is enough.
However, this approach has downsides. We saw one of them last summer. Lauren Sesselmann had been through the wars with her friends and adopted countrymen, was one of the biggest reasons we won the London bronze medal, had suffered a horrible knee injury, worked like hell to recover for the World Cup, and in every moral sense deserved a chance to play Canada 2015. But only in the moral sense. A year later, respect for her past achievements makes it cruel to dwell on this, but had Herdman been relentless rather than loyal, a Mourinho rather than a mentor, Sesselmann would have been out, replaced by Rebecca Quinn say, and Canada would probably have beaten England in the quarterfinal. It really was that important. (This is without even entering into the Iacchelli question.) That said, Herdman had form with bringing a much-loved, hard-working player struggling to recover from a knee injury who, on form, arguably should have been left at home, and Diana Matheson did okay in London. Moreover, we can never know whether a team run by the sort of person single-minded enough to cut Sesselmann would have achieved anything. Carolina Morace was that sort of coach and her teams always, always let you down.
This is relevant because of that one surprise on the friendly roster: goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo. I like D’Angelo. In fact I believe that, with Erin McLeod’s nightmarish multi-year injury, D’Angelo should start the Rio Olympics as Canada’s number one ahead of the more experienced Stephanie Labbé. However, a couple weeks ago D’Angelo fractured her left wrist during warm-ups with the Western New York Flash. The current word from the Flash is that she’ll probably be healthy by the Olympics but is unlikely to play any league games before then. When signing autographs with teammates at a Toronto Sportchek yesterday, D’Angelo still had her cast on. This is not a case of “well, if the doctors clear her and she trains well we might get her in for a half.” D’Angelo is injured and will not play. This has been obvious to the public for a week, and hopefully has been known by John Herdman for longer than that.
A fractured wrist is a simple injury but a goalkeeper sort of needs it to be 100%, complications happen, and the margins here are extremely tight. If, God forbid, D’Angelo is unfit for Rio, 20-year-old Kailen Sheridan will back up Labbé. In light of Herdman’s aforementioned unsurprising rosters we may take this as a given. However, Canada will need to carry a third goalkeeper on the so-called “taxi squad.” This goalkeeper will not normally be available but, if Labbé or Sheridan is hurt, will step in to the eighteen-woman roster. Who will that goalkeeper be?
Marie-Joëlle Vandal, who backed up Sheridan at the 2014 Women’s U-20 World Cup, recently with the Université Laval and now starting her professional career in lower-division Sweden? Rylee Foster, our 17-year-old starter at the most recent CONCACAF U-20s and FIFA U-17s? Erin McNulty or Justine Bernier, who attended senior camps as late as December 2014, have relatively recent professional experience, and were mentioned by Herdman on a press call just this morning? Rachelle Beanlands, unseen for a few years but whose clean sheet at the 2011 Pan-American Games was the last senior appearance by a keeper other than McLeod, Labbé, D’Angelo, Sheridan, or Karina LeBlanc? Hell, what about Karina LeBlanc? Fans keep asking her to unretire, if it gets that desperate maybe she’ll say yes! She’s going to be in Rio anyhow, may as well bring her gloves!
Of the three favourites, Foster hasn’t even attended a senior training camp yet and is an unknown quantity at this level. McNulty and Bernier are obviously still in Herdman’s contacts list but it’s been a year and a half since they spent time with the team. Alternate goalkeeper is not a high-pressure duty and any of those three would probably discharge it fine. But as the current injuries to McLeod and D’Angelo should remind us, you never need your third-string goalkeeper until you really really do, and this is the best opportunity John Herdman could ask for to run the rule over one. Two home friendlies with a week of training in the middle, a pair of good games guaranteed even if the third goalkeeper only watches them from the bench, both coach and player would learn a lot, and if the first choice fails there’s just time to test another. Instead, Herdman calls upon D’Angelo, who right now can contribute nothing besides friendship and connectedness. She could have hung out with the team had Herdman named another goalkeeper anyway, but instead our strategy seems to be “D’Angelo will be fine and if she isn’t it won’t matter.” At this late stage better not to add a stranger to the mix, even if that stranger might be nominally needed.
And you know, that strategy is probably right. If by some mischance D’Angelo does miss out then in five years we probably won’t even remember the third goalkeeper’s name. Foster, if Foster is the heir presumptive, has plenty of time to show her stuff. (Though a Bernier, a McNulty, or a Vandal would probably have killed for a few days in the shop window.) Still, we don’t often get to expand the player pool without cutting a sister from this happy few while protecting ourselves against a remote but real contingency. We’re missing out.
EDIT, 10:30 AM: thanks to Eric de Sousa via Twitter for informing me that Marie-Joëlle Vandal has recently signed with Swedish third-division side P18 IK A.