Canada's journey to the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in Uruguay was anything but simple. But the turmoil getting there appears to have only made the young team closer.
The regional championship that served as a World Cup qualifier lasted just six games in April in Nicaragua before CONCACAF, the governing body of soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, pulled the plug due to violence in the capital Managua.
Play resumed some 45 days later in Florida with Canada qualifying thanks to an 89th minute goal by Andersen Williams, off a Jordyn Huitema headed assist, that lifted the Canadians to a 2-1 win over Haiti in the third-place game at the CONCACAF championship.
"The journey to get here was pretty challenging. I think all the girls are just so excited to finally be here after all those stepping stones," said Williams. "I can't wait to show the country how much we've prepared and worked for this."
Canada opens Wednesday at the 16-team tournament against Colombia, which has never survived the group phase in its five prior appearances, before taking on 2010 champion South Korea on Saturday and reigning European champion Spain on Nov. 21.
"I just feel this team's never been more ready to go," said Huitema, who captains the side. "I'm excited to see what we produce on that first game."
Coach Rhian Wilkinson, a decorated former international, was an assistant coach during the qualifying tournaments but took over the squad after Bev Priestman left to join Phil Neville's coaching staff with the English senior women's team.
"I think she brings out the best in us," Williams said of the 36-year-old Wilkinson.
While there are six new faces from the team that originally opened qualifying in Nicaragua, Williams says the women are very close.
"We're very tight-knit ... it's like a family, we hang out all the time," she said.
"The mood among the team is amazing right now," added Huitema. "The connection has never been stronger. We're so unified on and off the field, it's amazing.
"I feel like everyone's super-energized to get going with this tournament. We've had a long pre-camp, so it's all just leading up to one moment and that's the first game of the tournament."
The 21-woman Canadian roster features four players who have already been called up by the senior side: Huitema, Jayde Riviere, Maya Antoine and Ariel Young. Huitema is a regular while the other three have been called into different camps.
Williams and Huitema are two of six team members from the Vancouver Whitecaps Girls Elite REX squads. The Ontario and Quebec REX outfits are also well represented with nine and six players, respectively.
Williams, a 16-year-old from Calgary who has committed to Texas A&M for 2020, comes from an athletic family. Her mother Trina plays and coaches water polo while her aunt Cora Campbell represented Canada at the Olympics in water polo. Williams' father, Andrew Williams, played North American football in Europe.
Huitema, meanwhile, is still pondering her future. She says she has narrowed her college choice to Stanford or UCLA but has yet to decide her future.
"I'm hoping to figure it out in the next few weeks," said the 17-year-old from Chilliwack, B.C., who already has six goals and 15 caps for the Canadian senior team.
Huitema was part of Canada's entry at the 2016 U-17 World Cup in Jordan where Canada (1-1-1) failed to make it to the knockout rounds.
Canada is one of only six countries to have qualified for every edition of the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup since its launch in 2008, alongside Germany, Ghana, Japan, New Zealand and North Korea.
Canada reached the quarterfinals in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
Asian conference teams have been the ones to beat at the U-17 World Cup with titles going to North Korea (2008 and 2016), South Korea (2010) and Japan (2014). France won in 2012.
Brazil opened the tournament Tuesday with a 0-0 draw with Japan.
Canada U17 World Cup Roster
Goalkeepers: Anna Karpenko, Richmond Hill, Ont., Ontario REX; Sophie Guilmette, Montreal, Quebec REX & Lakeshore SC; Kayza Massey, Ottawa, Ontario REX.
Defenders: Julianne Vallerand, Terrebonne, Que., Quebec REX & AS Varennes; Sonia Walk, Toronto, Ontario REX; Maya Antoine, Vaughan, Ont., Ontario REX; Ariel Young, Ottawa, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite REX; Leonie Portelance, Brossard, Que.; Quebec REX & AS Varennes; Jade Rose, Markham, Ont., Ontario REX; Isabella Hanisch, Ottawa, Ontario REX
Midfielders: Caitlin Shaw, Vancouver, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite REX; Lara Kazandjian, Kirkland, Que., Quebec REX & Lakeshore SC; Wayny-Natasha Balata Nguenign, Montreal, Quebec REX & Lakeshore SC; Jazmine Wilkinson, Nanaimo, B.C., Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite REX.
Forwards: Jayde Riviere, Markham, Ont., Ontario REX; Serita Thurton, Ajax, Ont.; Ontario REX; Jordyn Huitema, Chilliwack, B.C., Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite REX; Oluwateniola (Teni) Akindoju, Halifax, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite REX; Kaila Novak, St. Thomas, Ont., Ontario REX; Andersen Williams, Calgary, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite REX; Jessica De Filippo, Montreal, Quebec REX & Lakeshore SC.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press