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Christine Sinclair leads young Canada squad as it targets Algarve Cup repeat

Christine Sinclair will lead a young Canadian national women’s soccer team at the Algarve Cup in Portugal.

PAULO WHITAKER/REUTERS

Captain Christine Sinclair leads a young roster featuring seven teenagers as Canada looks to defend its title at the Algarve Cup.

John Herdman's fourth-ranked team leaves Thursday for Portugal and the 12-nation tournament that runs March 1-8. Canada defeated Brazil 2-1 in last year's final.

With the tournament falling on a FIFA international window, Herdman has been able to summon European-based pros Kadeisha Buchanan (Olympique Lyonnais) and Ashley Lawrence (Paris Saint-Germain) for the first time since Canada won bronze at last summer's Rio Olympics.

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The Canadian women have had one camp and played just one game – a 3-2 win over Mexico on Feb. 4 in Vancouver that was more about the past than the future in feting three retiring players.

The storyline for this 22-woman squad is youth as Herdman kicks off the post-Rio quadrennial for real.

Jordyn Huitema, a 15-year-old forward from Chilliwack, B.C., seen as a future star, is joined by fellow teenagers Deanne Rose, Sarah Stratigakis, Hannah Taylor (all 17), Gabrielle Carle and Jessie Fleming (both 18) and Marie Levasseur (19).

Fleming and Rose were on the Rio Olympic team. Carle was an alternate.

Ten other members of the Algarve squad are 23 or younger.

The veterans are Sinclair (33), Stephanie Labbé (30), Desiree Scott (29), Allysha Chapman and Sophie Schmidt (both 28). The quintet has a combined 604 caps.

The Algarve roster features 14 of Herdman's 18 Olympians. Melissa Tancredi and Rhian Wilkinson have retired, Diana Matheson is injured and Josée Bélanger, who is no longer in the NWSL, was not picked.

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Playing in a relatively benign Group 1, Canada opens against No. 15 Denmark on March 1 before facing No. 23 Russia on March 3 and No. 38 Portugal on March 6.

Group 2 is made of No. 7 Japan, No. 11 Norway, No. 14 Spain and No. 20 Iceland and Group 3 is comprised of No. 6 Australia, No. 8 Sweden, No. 12 the Netherlands and No. 13 China.

"This tournament will be our first opportunity to play consecutive competitive fixtures since the 2016 Rio Olympics and a chance to get our whole squad back together," Herdman said in a statement. "The focus will be on winning the tournament, by firstly shaking off some rust and then pushing to recreate the tactical cohesion and off-field chemistry we saw in Rio.

"We have six new additions to our squad, players who showed well on our [January] assessment camp and who will add depth to key positions and challenge the Olympic core players for places. This is a fast-paced tournament where we will face one day-turnarounds between games, so we will need to hit the ground running and maintain a high pace if we want to win back-to-back Algarve titles."

Huitema, Taylor, 20-year-old Alex Lamontagne, and 21-year-old Lindsay Agnew are uncapped. Levasseur has two caps and Stratigakis one.

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