Stratigakis, Canada’s captain and beating heart

The strategist lays out a fundamental and goal-orientated plan towards the achievement of her objectives.

Drawing together the threads of a game, thinking a step ahead and executing her tactical instructions, all while retaining an elegant style of play, are traits synonymous with Sarah Stratigakis. “Sarah is the heartbeat of our game. When she has the ball at her feet, we’re dangerous,” coach Beverley Priestman said of her skipper.

The Canucks' No8 is her team’s central figure. Following their opening game at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016, spoke to a young woman with maturity and confidence far beyond her years. Indeed, it is not just on the pitch but also in front of a microphone that she exudes authority.

“We hope that with her experience, Sarah will continue to be an extremely important player for us in the tournament,” said Priestman. Yet where does Stratigakis’ maturity come from, given that she is still only 17? And how can it be that her coach uses the word ‘experience’ when talking about such a young player?

“Sarah is a perfect example for the new direction we’ve taken in training and developing our youth,” explained John Herdman, coach of Canada’s women’s national side and director of the country’s youth programme. “We want players for whom we can see a pathway to playing in the senior team. Sarah has that intuition of knowing when to pass and when to run with the ball, and on top of that, she also has technical ability with both feet. That’s why she’s already training with the seniors,” added the Englishman, who has made the long trip to Jordan just to observe Stratigakis and Co.

Sarah has that intuition of knowing when to pass and when to run with the ball, and on top of that, she also has technical ability with both feet.

The youngster’s experience extends further than a few training sessions with her elders, however. Aged just 15, the centre midfielder was in the squad for the U-17 World Cup in Costa Rica in 2014, and as a 16-year-old, she played in the U-23 side at the Pan American Games 2015 in Toronto alongside the likes of established internationals Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan. If everything goes to plan, Stratigakis will also be named in the squad for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016.

Considering all that, ‘experienced’ is a description that fits perfectly for one of Canada’s most promising young players. “I try to be a leader on the pitch and take responsibility,” said the Scarborough, Ontario native, under no illusions about her role as captain. “It’s really important to me that, as a team, we stick together as best we can.”

The 5'3 (1.61m) midfielder was able to show her leadership qualities and ability to hold her nerve in her team’s very first game in Jordan. In a “chaotic match” according to coach Priestman, Canada squandered an early lead and were 2-1 down to Cameroon until late in the second half. A goal from open play did not look like materialising in Irbid, and so the North Americans were relieved to be awarded a penalty on 78 minutes.

“We were behind and it didn’t look good for us, and I knew that would be a turning point,” said Stratigakis. Some players may have shied away from the responsibility, but not the precocious right-footed talent. “I wanted to help the team and I knew they were behind me. We knew we had to score the penalty if we wanted to get back in front in the game. So I took the ball myself. I wanted to smash it in.” Stratigakis came, saw and converted, impressively placing the ball into the top-right corner, out of the goalkeeper’s reach.

“These tournaments are very important for the young players. They’re put into a pressure situation at the top international level and they can get great experience,” continued Herdman. His words rang true for Canada U-17s; the squad, and their skipper Stratigakis, experienced the feeling of holding their nerve in a difficult World Cup match to get off to the best possible start.

It certainly seems that we can expect big things of Canada’s talismanic captain at this tournament, and in the years to come.