The biggest tournament in women's soccer is heading to Canada.
It's only fitting that the hosts kick things off with the opener on Saturday, June 6 against China (6 pm ET, FOX Sports 1 and Telemundo in USA and CTV in Canada). The only question is whether the home-field advantage can help the Canadians in their quest to make their first World Cup podium.
ROAD TO VANCOUVER
“Big Red” automatically qualified as the host nation for 2015, but they're regulars, making it to every Women's World Cup since 1995 (they did not qualify in 1991). Their best result came in 2003, when they finished in fourth place. And that was also the only time Canada have ever made it out of the group stage at a World Cup. In the last edition in 2011, they finished dead last in their group with only one goal.
The 2011 disappointment prompted the hiring of John Herdman as coach in late 2011 and the Englishman has completely transformed the Canadian women's team. With the help of assistant coach and ex-USWNT boss Tom Sermanni, Herdman has injected new spirit into the group which resulted in a bronze-medal finish at the 2012 London Olympics and hero status back home in Canada.
Canada's run in that Olympic tournament fell just short in a memorable semifinal that USWNT fans will never forget. The two nations clashed in an epic match that featured a Christine Sinclair hat trick and a late Alex Morgan goal in extratime to clinch a 4-3 US win at Old Trafford:
Ranked No. 8 in the world heading into the 2015 tournament, Herdman’s team has something to prove. The recently released documentary "RISE" captures Canada's emergence as a dark-horse contender in 2015:
Herdman's squad is a mix of youth and experience, including three players under the age of 20 and nine in their 30s. Known for their physically dominant and aggressive style, the Canadians can throw possession and rhythm-oriented teams off their game. They don't have a deep bench, which means a lot will rest on the shoulders of these players:
Christine Sinclair, FW (photo, right) – One of Canada’s most famous athletes, and the country's darling, Sinclair was the flag bearer in the 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony and even found herself on a commemorative stamp.
Back in 2013, she and US forward Abby Wambach battled head-to-head in pursuit of Mia Hamm's 158 goal-scoring record. Sinclair, with 223 appearances, finds herself in second place all-time among active players with 153 goals, trailing Abby Wambach by 25.
Making her fifth World Cup appearance, Sinclair is the heart and soul of the team: the captain and powerful, tenacious goalscorer who gets the job done when it matters most.
Sophie Schmidt, MF – Led the team in goals last year after transitioning into a more attacking-midfielder role. She not only serves well, she can finish, too.
Check out her game-winning goal from last week in the send-off match against No. 6-ranked England:
Melissa Tancredi, FW – A fierce striker who loves to get stuck in, she will be a key target for her team (and Schmidt's passes) in the final third.
Kadeisha Buchanan, DF – At only 19, Buchanan will be making her first Women's World Cup appearance. The West Virginia University product may be young, but you would never know it based on her composure at center back.
Erin McLeod, GK (photo, right) – Although Canada has three goalkeepers all vying for minutes and all capable of holding down the posts, McCleod has earned the starting spot for now. She has competed in three WWCs and started in two.
As the longest serving player in Canadian soccer history, goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc will retire after the tournament. The player known as "KK" made her international debut in 1998 and has earned 110 caps for the senior team.
Canada will compete in Group A with matches against China on June 6 (6 pm ET on CTV), New Zealand on June 11 (9 pm ET on CTV) and Netherlands on June 15 (7:30 pm ET on CTV).
But it's another Canadian woman who officially kicks off the tournament. Grammy-award winning Canadian artist Sarah McLachlan is the headliner of Saturday's opening ceremonies, where she'll be joined by Alberta twins Tegan & Sara ("Everything is Awesome!!!" from The LEGO Movie).
There are a few players on Canada's World Cup roster from MLS sister clubs Portland Thorns and Houston Dash, namely Kaylyn Kyle, Rhian Wilkinson and Sinclair (Portland) along with Allysha Chapman, Lauren Sesselmann and McLeod (Houston).
The six are important members of the multi-talented Canadian team. Here's proof below in the form of an emotional rendition of Celine Dion's "The Power of Love":
With optimism around the team at an all-time high, the host cities are getting behind the Canadian women:
That's a sample of the kind hearts and friendly nature that Canadians are renowned for around the world. And the national team is no exception. Just this week the CanWNT welcomed their opening match foes on their arrival to the Twitterverse like only Canadians could:
For more of those good vibes, here are the hashtags and handles you need to follow the CanWNT on Twitter during this World Cup: #CanadaRED, #canWNT, #Canada2015, @CanadaSoccerEN and @CanadaSoccerFR in French.
We've arrived Edmonton!!!! pic.twitter.com/HxJv24kSsB— Kaylyn Kyle (@KaylynKyle) June 3, 2015