Photo courtesy of Canadasoccer.com Image by: Photo courtesy of Canadasoccer.com
She takes her teammate's pass at midfield near the right sideline and tears up the pitch. Fifteen feet into her run she's met by an opposing player. She stops on a dime, briefly juggles the ball between her feet, then explodes past her opponent's right shoulder, leaving the hapless defender looking left and staring at air. Now she cuts toward the centre of the pitch. Midstride, she pulls her right foot back, strikes the ball and watches as it heads to the top corner of the net, just beyond the keeper's outstretched hands. GOAL!
It's a scene played out on soccer fields across the country, even by those playing at the highest level. Let us introduce you to five members of our national women’s soccer team.
Christine Sinclair still laughs whenever she remembers stepping on the field for Canada for the first time. "Oh, I was so nervous!" she says. No doubt – she was only 16. Since then her career has been an almost unbroken string of honours and successes: At the University of Portland, in Oregon, she was twice voted the U.S.'s best college player, and she's been voted Canada's female player of the year for the past six years.
One of the most lethal strikers in the women's game, the Burnaby, B.C., native has scored 116 international goals – more than any man in the history of the sport. It's no surprise, then, that Sinclair was born into the game. By the age of four, she says, she "always had a ball at my feet." She was just following the family trade: Two of her uncles played professionally and represented Canada internationally.
Page 1 of 5 – What's Christine's advice to aspiring soccer players? Find out on page 2.
But, for Sinclair, 28, the praise she's won may be due as much to the growth of the women's game as to her own ability. "I think it represents the growth of female soccer, especially in Canada," she says. The stars of the women's game before her toiled in relative obscurity. "They weren't able to get the same number of caps [international games] as I have, just because the programming wasn't there. Women's soccer throughout the world just wasn't a priority, and it's good to see that has changed."
Advice for young players: "Have fun and love what you're doing. I was always playing soccer in my spare time in the backyard. Just love the sport you're playing."
Even at just 20 years old, Jonelle Filigno is already something of a comeback story. Just a year and a half ago, playing for Rutgers University, Filigno tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. It's the kind of injury that often ends careers.
Fast-forward to November 2010 – through surgery and months of rehab – and the Mississauga, Ont., native is back in the game with gusto, scoring four goals in five games to help Canada win the CONCACAF Championship and secure a World Cup berth.
Experiencing the depths of injury and the heights of victory has made for a roller-coaster ride, but Filigno remains humble and determined to earn her success. "You need to prove yourself on the field and be respectful as a younger player off the field," she says. "That's how you gain your respect."
With such focus on training and pushing herself in preparation for her first World Cup, Filigno has made sure to stop, every now and then, and appreciate what she's got and where she is. "Sometimes it's easy to forget how great this experience really is," she says. "But when I think about it, this is unbelievable to be living this kind of life."
Advice for young players: "I always like the quote about how it's what you do when no one's watching. Growing up, I practised with my club team every day, but one thing that helped me was being able to go out with my dad, my sister or a friend to do a couple extra shots, a couple extra passes. A little bit extra."
Page 2 of 5 – Get to know Melissa "the Tank" Tancredi on page 3.
Her teammates call her Tank. Don't worry: it's a compliment. "I like to think that it's from my last name being Tancredi," she says, laughing. "But I guess my style of play has been a bit more physical." That style of play – gritty and determined – has earned the Hamilton native 59 games and 13 goals for Canada's national team.
Since graduating from Notre Dame University, in Indiana, in 2004, Tancredi has enjoyed a career that's taken her across the U.S., from Detroit to Atlanta to Kansas City. Now she's back home in Canada, plying her trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Tancredi's international career is even more well-travelled: She's represented Canada on far-flung fields in Argentina, Cyprus, Singapore, the Netherlands and more. But one match in China sticks out most. "Scoring a goal against Sweden in the  Olympics was huge for me," Tancredi says of an impressive diving header in Beijing. "But just to be able to play in the Olympic Games was pretty big."
The 29-year-old, who has put her chiropractic studies on hold for her soccer career, is well aware of how lucky she is. "This is a dream come true for me," she says. "To be able to travel the world with my best friends is a huge opportunity and an honour."
Advice for young players: "It doesn't hurt to dream, and now your dream can come true. There are so many opportunities out there for women's soccer, whether it be in North America or even in Europe, to make money to have a living in the sport.”
Page 3 of 5 – Midfielder Diana Matheson dishes a funny memory of playing soccer as a kid on page 4.
Diana Matheson developed a taste for soccer success from her first days in the sport, in Oakville, Ont. "I vaguely remember my first year – I was on the white team," she says, laughing. "I won the MVP, I think... and a fluorescent pink Oakville Hydro hat!" Since then, she's carved out many more memorable moments, attending Princeton University on a soccer scholarship, and landing a professional contract with Lillestrøm SK Kvinner in Norway.
Matheson's small frame – she's just five feet tall – pits the physicality of the game against her. But the central midfielder's technical ability and personal drive have pushed her to unqualified achievements: With 117 caps she's second only to team captain Christine Sinclair in international experience. It's there, on the world stage, that Matheson counts her greatest successes. While still a teen, Matheson played every minute of Canada's 2003 World Cup campaign, earning a fourth-place finish with her teammates. She also recounts Canada's 2008 victory over Mexico, which secured Canada a place at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Now, in her third World Cup, Matheson hopes to add another winner's medal to her trophy case.
Advice for young players: "Work on the things you want to get better at. If you have a weakness or something you're kind of OK at, just work on it in your own time and practise it over and over again, and it can become a strength."
Page 4 of 5 – Get to know the woman described as the foundation of the national women's team, plus learn Canada's place in world soccer on page 5.
Karina LeBlanc has been the foundation of the national team since 1998, backstopping Canada in 86 matches. In the process, she's become one of the most respected players on the team and an example for aspiring players across the country. She handles the pressure with the cool grace characteristic of an elite keeper, always speaking in terms of the team, and keeping the bigger picture firmly in mind.
LeBlanc, who also works as a motivational speaker, is always mindful that, when she was young, female role models in sport "were few and far between." "We on the national team take it personally knowing that we are role models," she says.
The Atlanta, Ga., native – who grew up in Maple Ridge, B.C. – has had a career anyone would envy. As recently as November 2010, LeBlanc didn't allow a single goal as she led her team to victory in the Gold Cup, securing their spot in this summer's World Cup. It's been a long, happy road for the 31-year-old, who played last season for the Chicago Red Stars of the Women's Professional Soccer league. This summer will mark her fourth World Cup since she joined the national team at age 18.
"I want people to know that I appreciate their support," she says. "Because we're representing Canada, we're representing everyone in the country, but especially the young athletes who want to be like us."
Advice for young players: "The game is the time to enjoy all the hard work that you did in practice, so go out and enjoy it."
Wellness to World Cup
Does your little one dream of representing Canada? Want some help on how to guide him or her from the local field to the World cup finals? Check out the Canadian Soccer Association's "Wellness to World Cup," a document designed to steer Canadian boys and girls through the stages of long-term player development – from fun and informal to organized and competitive. The plan helps parents and coaches ensure that kids are getting the most out of the game and always having fun. To download a copy, head to canadasoccer.com/wellness.
Canada in the soccer world
• CONCACAF: The confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football – the governing body for soccer in this region.
• The Gold Cup: The CONCACAF regional championships, held every two years. The Canadian men's team won in 2000, and the women's team is a two-time winner and reigning champ.
• The World Cup: The world championship of soccer, held every four years (with the men's and women's tournaments held two years apart). Canada's women's team has competed in all but one Women's World Cup tournament since it began in 1991. Canada's men's team has made one World Cup appearance, in 1986.
• The Cyprus Cup: a prestigious women's tournament, held annually in Cyprus since 2008. Canada is a three-time winner.
• The Summer Olympics: Women's teams are eligible to represent their country at the Summer Games, while the men's competition is limited to players under 23 years old. Canada's women's team has made one appearance, in 2008. Canada's men's team has made three appearances, winning gold in the 1904 Games in St. Louis, Mo.
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