VANCOUVER - Christine Sinclair's post-Olympic suspension has prompted a search for new offensive talent at the upcoming Four Nations Cup in China.
Canadian women's soccer coach John Herdman will be searching for more scorers as Sinclair watches from the sidelines while Canada takes on China, South Korea, and Norway.
"It's never a blessing to have Christine out of your team," Herdman said Friday on a conference call. "She scores goals because she can. But the reality is, it does give some players (an) opportunity to get some game time."
In other words, Canada will soon find out whether it can score without Sinclair. The squad's leader and star striker will serve the first three games of a four-game suspension over the tournament.
FIFA punished her for an incident with an official following Canada's heartbreaking semifinal loss to the U.S. at the London Olympics. But Sinclair, in accordance with Soccer Canada's budgeting practices — and for "public perception," said Herdman — was still named to the roster for the tournament.
"I didn't really have an option — Christine wanted to be there," said Herdman. "That speaks volumes. ... She knows how importance (her presence) is from a leadership perspective."
He said the event will give some young Canadian players their only chance to have Sinclair "set their passion" for being part of the team.
Sinclair's absence will certainly be felt. She scored a Canadian-record 23 goals in 2012, including six at the Olympics, and won a host of awards including the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as The Canadian Press female athlete of the year.
Despite the setback against the Americans, Canada still won a bronze medal with 1-0 win over France, marking the first time since 1936 that a traditional Canadian team took home Olympic hardware.
Canada's other top striker, Melissa Tancredi, will also sit the tournament out. Tancredi was excluded from the roster because she is taking most of this season off to complete her chiropractic studies.
Accordingly, Herdman is expecting new offensive talent to start to emerge as his squad prepares for the 2015 Women's World Cup, which Canada will host, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He is specifically looking for wingers, which he said the club has lacked since he joined Soccer Canada in September 2011.
"We're certainly going to take the shackles off of our front to players to find those players that can make things happen up front," he said.
While there is an onus on scoring, there is less emphasis on winning as Herdman tries to shift the team's "DNA" and develop tactics and strategies that stress ball possession and offensive play. Even with Sinclair's scoring prowess, he noted Canada routinely trails teams in shots and scoring chances at major international events.
At this point, the coach is focusing on the process rather than the result.
"Things are new and mistakes are going to happen," he said. "So we've got to create a safe environment for these players where mistakes are accepted at this time, because you're learning some new things. But later on, in 2015, those mistakes won't be tolerated anymore — because they can't be."
In conjunction with the rebuilding process, Herdman is only taking 12 members of Canada's Olympic squad to China.
Seven players will make their first appearances with Canada's senior side. The newcomers include defenders Kadeisha Buchanan and Shelina Zadorsky and midfielders/forwards Tiffany Cameron, Ashley Lawrence, Adriana Leon, Christabel Oduro and Nichelle Prince.
The choices were made largely on the youngsters' performance at a December evaluation camp in Richmond, B.C.
Veterans named to the team include goalkeers Eric McLeod and Karina LeBlanc, along with defender Emily Zurrer, and midfielders Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt, Kaylyn Kyle, and Diana Matheson, who scored Canada's lone goal in the Olympic bronze-medal win over France.
Herdman said he deliberately left veterans at home in order to give young players a chance to shine, get required game time at the top international level, and "get on the bus" for the trip to the 2015 Women's World Cup and 2016 Rio Games.
"It's a very young group, but it's the start of a new journey," said Herdman. "When you turn a new page, you're trying to give people opportunities."
Notes: Canadian defenders Carmelina Moscato (hand) and Candace Chapman (knee) were left off the roster because they are recuperating from injuries. Chapman's knee damage required surgery. ... Former Canadian women's coach Even Pellerud will guide the Norwegian squad for the first time since he rejoined his homeland's program in December. Pellerud, who will continue to live in Vancouver until at least June, is in his second stint at Norway's helm.