Tag Archives: 2015 Women’s World Cup

Tough reality lies ahead with Diana Matheson’s injury

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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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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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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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Kadeisha Buchanan: Canada’s next sports hero

Kadeisha Buchanan / Photo by Canada Soccer

Kadeisha Buchanan / Photo by Canada Soccer

Remember this name: Kadeisha Buchanan. At just 17, she’s turning heads and has already made her mark against some of the world’s best players.

A little over a week ago, she was the talk of the press box, as the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team hosted the US in front of a capacity crowd at BMO Field in Toronto. Her task that game was a big one: mark Abby Wambach. The gifted American forward searched for a goal on her 33rd birthday, but Buchanan had other ideas. The young center back marked Wambach diligently and kept her off the scoresheet.

Media members, both Canadian and American, were absolutely buzzing about Buchanan and her fantastic performance. She looked like a seasoned veteran on that backline. In the second half, she single-handedly stopped two goals from finding the back of the net. One was a fantastic block on a shot by Alex Morgan and the second was a goal line clearance on a powerful Wambach shot. All you could hear in the press box was “Wow!” and “Can you believe she just did that?” with a bit of “She’s incredible!”.

Buchanan was named Canadian player of the game. Head coach John Herdman raved about her in his post-match media conference:

“She’s unbelievable. She owned Abby Wambach….A 17-year-old kid out there and did an unbelievable job.  I’m proud of her. She’s shined a light for any kid in this country to say, ‘Look, no matter what background or where you’re from, you can play in front of 23,000 people’.”

A throng of media waited for the players in the mix zone to get their thoughts after the homecoming match.  The largest crowd huddled around captain Christine Sinclair. It was Buchanan though who generated the second largest crowd. As she made her way down the line, I was standing by myself and I asked her if she had a moment. We chatted briefly. I asked her about the pressure of playing in front of Canadian fans and what it was like marking world-class players like Wambach:

Team Canada - June 2, 2013 / Photo by Canada Soccer

Team Canada – June 2, 2013 / Photo by Canada Soccer

“I felt honored to cover her. She’s a very good, talented player and I’m just lucky enough to get a chance to mark her. My next step is to inspire more fans.”

She also told me in her soft-spoken voice her next goal is to get her degree and set a standard at West Virginia University.  At this point, the other journalists joined me and the crowd around her began to grow. I’m sure it’s a scene she’ll get used to very soon.

June 2nd was Buchanan’s first game as a member of the senior squad on home soil. On that day in Toronto, she wore number 9, which is fitting. For the larger part of a decade, it has been worn by one of the best center backs in Canadian history, Candace Chapman. Buchanan is definitely following in Chapman’s footsteps.

Canadians will be seeing a lot of Buchanan in the future. She’ll still be eligible to represent Canada at the U20 Women’s World Cup next year and she’s well on her way to solidifying a spot on the 2015 Women’s World Cup roster.

Right now, Sinclair continues to be the face of the national team and Canadian women’s sports in general. There’s been plenty of discussion among fans and the media about an eventual passing of the torch. So, who will be Canada’s next soccer star? Say hello to Kadeisha Buchanan.

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Let the girls play: North America needs a pro league

Rumors are swirling about a new professional women’s soccer league in North America. The league would likely have teams in a number of U.S. cities with some squads based out of Canada. The potential is exciting, especially for Canadian players and fans with the Great White North hosting the 2015 Women’s World Cup. A new league would be the perfect preview and buildup for such a world-class event.

Most North American players have been on the sidelines since the WPS folded earlier this year. Although Canada’s Rhian Wilkinson and Diana Matheson are currently playing in Norway, the majority of the senior team is waiting. Of course the squad deserved a break after the Olympics considering the physical and emotional highs and lows they experienced, but it’s now late October. You can imagine they’re all ready to hit the pitch again.

A number of the girls have gone the coaching route. Carmelina Moscato is currently an assistant at the University of Wisconsin. Her squad features four Canadian youngsters, including forward Monica Lam-Feist who is having an exceptional year for the Badgers. The team is gearing up for the BIG Ten Tournament and are winners of five straight, including an impressive come from behind victory on Sunday versus Indiana. Desiree Scott is also coaching in her home, Winnipeg, at the University of Manitoba.

Jonelle Filigno and Chelsea Stewart have been busy this fall with their respective college clubs. Thanks to a full schedule of games, they’ll be ready for national squad fitness testing scheduled for December.

So, where does that leave the rest of the players?

These girls shouldn’t be waiting on the sidelines to play. The WPS provided an excellent outlet for players to hone their skills after finishing college or while on break from their national teams. When the Western New York Flash won the WPS title in 2011, they boasted a lineup of some of the world’s best: Christine Sinclair, Marta, Caroline Seger and Alex Morgan. Who wouldn’t want to watch those players on a weekly basis, especially with the chatter about women’s soccer so high right now?

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati spoke this week and mentioned they were in talks with the Canadian Soccer Association about a potential pro league. He, too, reiterated the importance of having teams where players will see steady time on the field. The interest is strong on both sides of the border. Women’s soccer in Canada is as popular as ever, while their American counterparts are equally embracing the sport.

The key will be focusing in on markets where teams can thrive, while having games on ideal days that will bring in decent attendance numbers.

My fingers are crossed and I know the same can be said for thousands of people on this continent. Hopefully this will come to fruition in the next few weeks. Simply put, North America needs professional women’s soccer.

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Road begins for young Canadian women’s soccer squad

In just a few days, Canada’s U-17 women’s side begins their journey at the World Cup in Azerbaijan.

Earlier this month, head coach Bryan Rosenfeld said his squad would be focusing on pacing themselves. So that means, rather than looking ahead, they are concentrating on playing one game at a time. Sure, that’s a common sport cliché, but in this case, it truly applies. The red and white find themselves in Group A, which includes the host nation, Nigeria and Colombia. All are formidable opponents, especially Nigeria. You can prepare as much as you want, but with players at this age, you never know what will truly transpire until after the opening kickoff. Emotions, nerves and preparation are all factors. Nerves. Nerves. Nerves. Did I mention nerves? They often make or break a game. The goal for Rosenfeld will be adapting to the different emotions of all of these young Canadians. It’s no doubt overwhelming wearing the maple leaf, hearing O Canada and squaring off against the world’s best. Rosenfeld and company will key in on those mentally tough players and those who can lead the squad both in the dressing room and on the pitch.

The good news is the team has plenty of momentum going into this world-class tournament. Earlier this year, they captured silver at the CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship. Seventeen of those same players are suiting up for Canada in Azerbaijan, which bodes well in terms of team chemistry and camaraderie.

The most experienced player is midfielder Ashley Lawrence of Ontario. The pressure will be familiar to her because she took part in the same tournament two years ago in Trinidad and Tobago. She’ll be one of the team’s key players. Also keep an eye on defender Kadiesha Buchanan, forward Summer Clarke and midfielder Valerie Sanderson.

A blessing in disguise for the Canadians is the fact no Asian teams are in their group. Asian countries have dominated the U-17 WWC since its inception in 2008. But, once you hit the knockout stage, anything is possible. The Japanese coach said it best during a recent interview, “in this type of competition – especially the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup – you can’t predict anything”.

Canada is one of eight countries that have participated in all three U-17 WWCs, but that’s a moot point now. Just qualifying isn’t good enough anymore. They want to reach the semi-finals for the first time.

You can bet that Canadian women’s senior coach, John Herdman, will have his eyes glued to all of the action. The meticulous and technically sound bench boss will look to bolster his squad in preparation for the 2015 Women’s World Cup hosted by Canada. Some of these U-17 players may have just what it takes to make the jump, because when it comes to skill and smarts on the pitch, age is nothing but a number. If this same tournament was around in the late 1990s, you have to know that Christine Sinclair would have been dominating it.

Canada’s first match is September 22nd at the Tofig Bahramov Stadium in Baku versus Nigeria. Broadcasts of the Canadian games will be available on CBC and Sportsnet.

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