Category Archives: Canada

Professional women’s soccer on the horizon in Calgary

Foothills WFC first practice - April 16th 2015

Foothills WFC first practice – April 16th 2015

A year ago, I never thought a professional women’s soccer team in our city would be possible. I chalked it up to lack of interest and had basically resigned to the fact that it was just a pipe dream. I looked at other North American cities with envy. Why is a city like Calgary, with a population of a 1.2 million plus and a massive number of registered players, struggling with that next step of soccer?

Things have now changed.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the driving forces behind Calgary Foothills SC. The group is working hard to embark on the goal of bringing professional women’s soccer to Calgary. They are fielding a squad this summer for an exhibition season to prepare for a debut in the W-League for 2016.

The roster consists of players from the ages of 16 to 30. Some have represented Canada at U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups, while others have completed storied college careers south of the border.

The skill set is nothing short of impressive. I had the opportunity to observe their first practice session and was floored at the talent. It’s inspiring to see the amount of passion going into this project by the players, coaching staff and management. When I left that evening, I realized something special was on the horizon.

It’s going to be an exciting ride.

Follow Foothills WFC on Twitter for the latest on their exhibition season.

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Tough reality lies ahead with Diana Matheson’s injury

Embed from Getty Images

It’s been awhile since I wrote any sort of editorial piece. That changed this week when I received a tweet, which has since been deleted, stating the loss of Diana Matheson to an ACL injury wouldn’t be “that big of a deal”. Someone must’ve had second thoughts, because before I had a chance to respond, the message was gone.

You know that old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”? This situation is a perfect example. When someone is reliable for so many years, aka over a decade, you never really think about the day they’ll no longer be in that starting 11. You just assume they always will.

To more recent fans of the team, she’s known as a Canadian Olympic hero. Diana potted the game-winning goal in the 92nd minute against France to secure a bronze medal finish at London 2012. Her goal was historic. The image of her celebrating and kissing the maple leaf on her jersey will never be forgotten. However, the diminutive midfielder is so much more than just that goal.

The evidence:

  • During Canada Soccer’s centennial year, she was named to the All-Time XI women’s team.
  • She’s second overall in all-time appearances, starts and minutes played for Canada. She only trails Christine Sinclair in each of those categories.
  • She celebrated her 150th cap on April 7th, 2013, only the second person in Canadian history to do so.
  • She’s a two-time Olympian and 2012 bronze medal winner.
  • She’s a gold medal winner at Pan American Games and a CONCACAF champion.
  • She was named 2013 Washington Spirit MVP.

And it’s not just stats and accolades. The 30-year-old is a vocal leader and role model, you always get 100 per cent from her regardless of the score, she’s dependable, reliable and always has time to share her thoughts with the media.

Here’s to wishing Diana a speedy recovery. After everything she’s given Canadian soccer throughout her career, she deserves a chance to represent her country at a World Cup on home soil.

Not a big deal? No, it’s a very big deal.

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To Russia, with love: My Sochi experience at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games

I love the Olympics. One of the reasons I got into journalism was because of the Olympics. It’s a phenomenal event that brings together people from every corner of the world. When I was asked to work in Sochi, I didn’t even bat an eyelash.

I had wonderful experiences in both Vancouver and London and I expected the same in Russia. However, when the 30-day mark rolled around before my departure date, the headlines were filled with information on terrorist threats, the Olympic host being a massive target, and basically that anyone going to the area would be at risk. All of the focus on this wonderful sporting event was gone and instead, the focus was on safety. It’s something I was not used to.

Three days before I was supposed to leave, the headlines intensified. I registered with the Canadian government in case I needed to search for an embassy during my time in Sochi. South of the border, safety dominated American newscasts. Athletes said they didn’t want their families to come with them. There was even talk of the United States sending their own Navy ships to the Black Sea in case a quick escape was needed.

I had absolute stomach turning anxiety on the day I left, but the good news was, I already had colleagues in Sochi. They sent me pictures and gave me briefings about the surroundings and security presence. They felt safe. Maybe they didn’t put my mind at ease 100%, but it definitely helped.

IMG_2932

Welcome to Sochi!

My journey to Sochi was simple one: Calgary – Frankfurt – Sochi. When I arrived in Russia, I was greeted by one of the many friendly volunteers. These people were superstars. They were always smiling and ready to help if you had any questions.

When we arrived in the media village, it was as expected. Forget all the stories you saw on Twitter, the accommodations were just fine. It was clean. There was plenty of space. It was quiet. There was Internet. We were in a secure area that was surrounded by a gate that was guarded by police.

I was covering figure skating this time around. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I always knew figure skating was a popular Olympic sport, but I never really knew how fanatical people were about it until I got to Sochi. The Russians had strong skaters in every event. There’s a reason they took the gold in the inaugural team portion. They were just that good.

It was phenomenal to see the kind of drive the skaters had. They spent countless hours day in and day out perfecting their routines for the four minutes the eyes of the world were on them.

The Canadians had a strong showing in figure skating. They left Russia with a silver in the team event, silver in men’s and silver in ice dance. There was plenty of controversy along the way. Did I feel that Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir deserved gold? Of course I did, but I wasn’t a judge. It was fascinating learning about all of the different elements and finally knowing what a proper twizzle was supposed to look like.

Kevin Dineen and women's hockey team

Kevin Dineen and women’s hockey team

In my spare time, I focused on the other Canadian athletes. Our country not only impressed in the field of play, but off of it too. Other journalists were constantly commenting on the friendly and polite nature of our athletes. That’s something to be very proud of.

One of the highlights of my journey to Russia was the success of the women’s hockey team. They went into the tournament as the underdogs. The team must have used it as a rallying point, because they looked stronger than ever. Head coach Kevin Dineen had a game plan and he stuck to it. The final versus the US is one of the most exciting games I’ve ever watched. The resiliency and drive helped them bring home their fourth consecutive gold. Amazing.

Olympic Park

Olympic Park

Olympic Park itself was lovely. All of the venues were top class and they will be for years to come. Sadly, it’s just window dressings. The area outside the park is obviously struggling economically. It really saddens me to think that all of these people who worked at the Olympics are going back to being unemployed and have to wait for the next event to roll around. You could see how much it meant to the workers and volunteers when you spent time talking to them. They were all so genuine.

I left Sochi with a better appreciation for the country I live in. I’ve always been a very proud Canadian and now, even more so. We are very lucky. When I arrived home in Calgary, I had this sense of pride and calm wash over me as I waited in the Customs line.

A big thank you to everyone in Russia. Spasiba.

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Rhian Wilkinson looks back on a decade of soccer

Rhian Wilkinson / Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer

Rhian Wilkinson / Photo by Canada Soccer

When Rhian Wilkinson headed south of the border this fall, it wasn’t to put on her cleats. Instead, she picked up some hardware and was named to the 2013 Hall of Fame Class at the University of Tennessee.

The accolade is a perfect way to remember her college career, which almost didn’t come to fruition, because joining an NCAA program wasn’t necessarily at the top of her list as a teenager.

“I never thought I would go play in the United States,” she admits. “Both of my parents were teachers in Quebec and I was expecting to stay there. I ended up getting a few scholarship offers at 17, which is quite late.”

She says she changed her mind once she met the Tennessee coaching staff and athletic director. They expressed a desire to move the Lady Vols soccer program up the NCAA rankings and said she would play a key role in the team’s future.

Rhi with the Lady Vols

Photo by utsports.com

They were right; it was a perfect fit. The Vols went on to make three NCAA Tournament appearances and capture a pair of SEC Eastern Division and Tournament titles. Even a decade after her graduation, Wilkinson continues to lead in a handful of statistical categories. She remains first in single-season assists (15), first in career assists (32), second in career points (88) and third in career goals (28), making her one of the best offensive players to ever suit up for Tennessee.

“It’s definitely an honour to see your name,” she says. “I’m very proud of my assists stat because I’ve always prided myself on being able to create goals.”

Although the 31-year-old is best known as a fullback, she actually grew up playing forward. She adapted to a backline role at the request of then-national team head coach, Even Pellerud.

“I wouldn’t say I immediately fell in love with the defensive position,” Wilkinson admits. “But, teams appreciate learning a new position and I really enjoy fullback now. In Tennessee, I was very lucky to have a very good first year and to be an important member of the team. It was nice to be relied upon for scoring.”

One of the reasons for her success on the scoresheet was because of her speed, as Wilkinson jokingly says “it certainly wasn’t because of my technique”.

When asked about the toughest competition she ever faced in college, her answer is no surprise: Abby Wambach. “I remember her dragging me down the entire field,” she recalls with a laugh. “She was a strong girl even then.”

Although much of the current Canadian roster is made up of former NCAA players, Wilkinson believes times are changing. She identifies midfielders Desiree Scott and Kaylyn Kyle as two Canadian Interuniversity Sport success stories. She advises players looking to join a NCAA or CIS program to be aggressive.

“Do your due diligence,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you go. Just make sure you’re going to a program that’s right for you. Be confident and be assertive. If there are schools you want to go to, approach them. Go after something if you really want it.”

Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer

Photo by Canada Soccer

2013 marks Wilkinson’s 10-year anniversary as a member of the Canadian squad. She was 20 when she made her debut for the red and white and has been a key contributor ever since. She’s played in 143 games, scored seven goals and won an Olympic medal, but it’s important to note her tremendous leadership, experience and focus on teamwork continue to make her a very important player as Canada works toward the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

She’s a true role model for soccer players at any level and has a decade of hard work to prove it.

You can follow Rhian on Twitter or visit her website to read her incredibly insightful journal entries.

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Sochi is how many days away?!

77. It’s hard to believe we are on the cusp of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. It seems like only yesterday Canada was preparing to welcome the world in Vancouver. Now, it’s Sochi’s turn.

sochi-2014-logoRegardless of the event or sport, expectations for Canadian athletes are high. The team will be looking to duplicate and hopefully exceed their outstanding efforts in 2010, where Canada finished at the top of the medal rankings with 26 (14 gold, 7 silver, 5 bronze).

The Opening Ceremony flag bearer will soon be announced. I’m predicting hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser gets the call. This will likely be her last go at the Olympics. It would be a fitting way to honour an athlete who has done so much for her sport, not only in Canada, but around the world. She’s also one of the proudest Canadians you’ll ever meet. Her teammate, Danielle Goyette, carried the maple leaf in 2006.

As we inch closer to February 7th, here are some key links to get you up-to-date with what’s been happening with the red and white, in each discipline:

Alpine Canada

Biathlon Canada

Bobsleigh Canada Skelton

Canada Snowboard

Canadian Curling Association

Canadian Freestyle Skiing Association

Canadian Luge Association

Hockey Canada

Nordic Combined Canada

Skate Canada

Ski Jumping Canada

Speed Skating Canada

Official links:

Canadian Olympic Team Website

Canadian Olympic Team Collection (Hudson’s Bay)

Sochi Games 2014

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Another step in the right direction for Canadian women’s soccer

Canada continue to prepare for the 2015 Women’s World Cup both off and on the pitch. Most recently, the Canadian Soccer Association announced the hiring of Daniel Worthington. His role is two-fold: Women’s Excel U-23 Program Director and assistant coach with the Women’s National Team.

Canada Soccer logoHead coach John Herdman often speaks of a massive gap that continues to trouble the women’s program in Canada. There are promising teenagers (centre-back phenom Kadeisha Buchanan, Summer Clarke, Nichelle Prince) along with talented, reliable veterans (Christine Sinclair, Erin McLeod, Diana Matheson), but what about the players who don’t fall in those age groups? What happens when Sinclair retires? No one is denying there are many unanswered questions, but the hiring of Worthington is a step in the right direction.

Worthington will be Herdman’s eyes and ears in the U-23 group. He’ll be able to see who can make the progression to being a key contributor and mesh with the already solidified group on the senior squad. A player like Sophie Schmidt was able to make a seamless transition from youth soccer to the senior ranks, but every player is different. Worthington, along with Beverly Priestman the Women’s U-14/U-17 Excel Program Director, will be able to pinpoint the girls who can take the next step in their soccer careers.

The addition of Worthington to the coaching staff is a great fit for Herdman. “From previous collaborations and encounters, we found that Daniel had the right skills set to serve as the link between our group of U-20 players and our Women’s National Team athletes and will be a great asset in leading the U-23 program,” he said.

The hiring also allows Herdman to focus the majority of his attention on the group he’s preparing for 2015 and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Worthington’s resume is impressive: Director of High Performance and National Training Centre Atlantic Director for Soccer Nova Scotia, Canadian Soccer Association National “B” Coaching Licence, UEFA “B” Licence and he’s in the process of completing his Canadian Soccer Association National Licence “A” certification.

It’s also important to recognize that Worthington is Canadian. He knows the intricacies of soccer in our country and where the biggest struggles lie.

This fall is a busy one for all of our women’s programs:
– U-14/U-16 camp
– CanWNT residency camp in Vancouver
– CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship (Jamaica)
– CanWNT friendlies versus Korean Republic (Edmonton – October 30) and Mexico (Vancouver – November 24)

Tickets are available for both friendly matches through Ticketmaster.

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Bright days ahead for Canadian goalkeepers

In a few days, we’ll mark the one year anniversary of the Canadian women’s soccer team winning bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Over the last year, they’ve grown as a unit and while many of the faces from that team remain with the squad, there have been some changes.

Goalkeepers Erin McLeod and Karina LeBlanc are still very much in the fold, with McLeod as the team’s starter and LeBlanc a close second. Both are poised veterans who have been key contributors to the national program, both on and off the field, for the last decade. Currently, they’re playing well south of the border in the inaugural NWSL season with their respective clubs.

Because they’re both in their 30s, some fans are wondering who will follow in their footsteps when they decide to move on from soccer.

With all that said, there are impressive names as you look down the list of keepers coming through the ranks. Canada currently boasts great depth in this position. The timing’s perfect with the U20 Women’s World Cup next summer and the Women’s World Cup in 2015.

Stephanie Labbe / Photo by Canada Soccer

Stephanie Labbe / Photo by Canada Soccer

Stephanie Labbe
After taking a hiatus from the national team in 2012, the Alberta native is now back in the fold. She backed up McLeod in Germany for a friendly this past June and saw her first playing time in over a year when she faced Finland at the Cyprus Cup on March 3rd. At 26, Labbe still has plenty of time to be an important member of the national squad. She’s honing her skills in Sweden right now as the starter for KIF Örebro. Her height is one of her biggest weapons because she does a tremendous job of nabbing high balls on corner kicks and crosses. Right now, Labbe’s in the best position to challenge for the backup spot on the national team. She has the experience and maturity to be a key contributor going forward.

Erin McNulty / Photo by Canada Soccer

Erin McNulty with CanW20 / Photo by Canada Soccer

Erin McNulty
She’s an accomplished youth and college player. After graduating from Florida State, she headed over to Penn State as a graduate student where she was an absolute powerhouse. She backstopped the Nittany Lions to the 2012 Big Ten Championship and was runner-up in the 2012 NCAA National Championship. McNulty spent the last few months as a member of the W-League’s Seattle Sounders. Although they didn’t make the postseason, McNulty played in 11 games, was tied for second in GK wins, had three clean sheets and made the top ten for GAA. She most recently attended an EXCELeration camp in February.

Sabrina D'Angelo / Photo by Canada Soccer

Sabrina D’Angelo / Photo by Canada Soccer

Sabrina D’Angelo 
Her list of accolades over the past few years is exceptional: 2012 Canadian U20 Female Player of the Year, 2012 U20 CONCACAF Championship Team, 2011 Soccer America All-Freshman First Team,  2011 SEC Freshman of the Year, 2011 NSCAA First Team All-South Region and 2010 U17 CONCACAF Championship Team. She had a solid year for South Carolina in 2012, starting 16 of 17 matches. As a junior this fall, she’ll again be the number one goalie for the Gamecocks. On the national team front, she’s at a point in her career where she’ll soon be taking the step to the senior squad after being the starting keeper at the 2012 U20 Women’s World Cup.

Kailen Sheridan / Photo by Canada Soccer

Kailen Sheridan / Photo by Canada Soccer

Kailen Sheridan
It’s going to be a big year for the Whitby, Ontario native. She’s headed to Clemson University, where she’ll be a member of the Tigers. This will give her some valuable college experience. That said, Sheridan is no stranger to high pressure situations in goal. She was the starter for Canada at the recent U17 Women’s World Cup, where the red and white reached the quarterfinals. She’s been a member of the youth programs since she was 15. Sheridan’s positioning is one of her strong suits and never shies away from playing the ball. One of her best skills is dealing with the back pass and helping the develop the play from her team’s third. In July, Sheridan traveled to Norway with other U20s for a 12 day camp. She’ll likely be Canada’s starter when the country hosts the U20 Women’s World Cup next summer.

Genevieve Richard / Photo by Canada Soccer

Genevieve Richard / Photo by Canada Soccer

Genevieve Richard
Richard made her mark this year, thanks to exceptional play for the Laval Comets of the W-League. Richard led the league with six shutouts, was second in both GAA at 0.545 and wins with seven and was crowned Goalkeeper of the Year. She also led the Comets to the championship final where they unfortunately fell short, 1-0. Richard was a member of the 2012 U20 Women’s World Cup. She spent last year as a backup at the University of Wisconsin and played in six matches. This fall, she’ll have the opportunity to challenge for the Badgers’ starting job.

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