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Next Generation Impressing For Canadian Women's National Team at Rio Qualifiers

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The next Christine Sinclair has yet to emerge from Canada's youth crop, but that hasn't stopped the group from proving the women's team has a promising future.

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When Canada won their bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics it was celebrated from coast to coast. But while it also felt like the peak, with an uncertain valley to follow. This was a golden generation after all, and when Christine Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi and co. retired who would be there to carry the flag?

But this line of thinking seems to have underestimated the true effect that this golden generation had on Canadian soccer. Not only were they able to get the country to new heights on the field, they also became role models for the next generation.

Four years removed from London, with Canada one win away from making the 2016 Rio Olympics, the generation they have inspired have grown up. They are now helping the golden generation in their final hurrah: a quest for back to back Olympic medals.

So far this Olympic qualifying tournament has done a lot of damage to the theory that Canada's future is bleak in the women's game. The biggest concern with this team was always that when Sinclair, and to a lesser extent Tancredi, retired, the goals would dry up.

It was a fair question: in major tournaments (Olympics and World Cup) since 2007 Sinclair has almost 50 per cent of Canada's goals. Combine her totals with Tancredi and the pair make up 69 per cent of the Canadian offense over that span.

So far in qualifying, however, Canada has put goals in the back of the net for fun. The team scored 21 times in the group stage, and did not concede once. Sinclair only had one of those goals, while Tancredi had two. In fact Sinclair hasn't even played consistently this tournament, and did not play at all in a 10-0 victory over Guatemala.

Instead, it is players 21 and under who have scored 17 of Canada's 23 goals. Ashley Lawrence, Rebecca Quinn and Nichelle Prince all recorded hat tricks. Janine Beckie and 16-year-old Deanne Rose, meanwhile, each have two goals.

This may come as a surprise to most, but perhaps not those who watched Canada at the Pan Am games last summer. A young Canadian team, coached by Daniel Worthington, held their own against some of the region's best while playing essentially a U-23 side. Many of the players now dominating Olympic qualifiers had strong performances in that tournament.

To be fair, Canada has hardly been playing strong opposition so far this tournament. But it is still worthwhile to point out that they have scored 10 more goals than they did in the group stage of the last Olympic qualifying campaign in 2013. Keep in mind that was the golden generation in their prime, playing in front of a home crowd and with Sinclair scoring 7 group stage goals.

It's certainly not worth heaping major praise on anyone for the youth movement in Canada before an Olympic berth is secure, but some credit is due. It evidently starts with John Herdman and his staff who have identified and developed talent relentlessly. With the help of the CSA and provincial soccer federations they have been able to do this effectively.

Efforts like League1 Ontario have also been important, and will continue to pay more dividends going forward into the next World Cup cycle. Having professional environments for young Canadian players is crucial to the success of the program.

So as the golden generation of Canadian women's soccer carry the torch for one last time, they can do so confidently. They can know that their efforts not only brought this country to new heights, but ensured that those heights might be sustainable.