Any chance for a trial run in the stadium where members of the Canadian Women’s National soccer team will play one of the biggest games of their careers is a welcome opportunity.
But for six members of this 23-member team, it’s also a homecoming.
This Sunday, the Canadian team faces Mexico in a friendly game as part of the lead-up to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. When the team last played in Vancouver in January, 2012, more than 25,000 fans crowded into BC Place.
For Maple Ridge goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, the fans are a huge part of the game.
“I mean, they’re loud, passionate – we’re playing for our country so that passion is shared by just about everybody in that stadium,” she said in a recent interview. “[It takes] me back to my childhood dreams when you dreamed of playing in an environment, in a stadium that was sold out and people are cheering your name.”
Captain Christine Sinclair, a Burnaby native and Olympic superstar, is set to lead the team Sunday. Other local players include Emily Zurrer, Karina LeBlanc, Brittany Baxter, Sophie Schmidt and Kylla Sjoman.
Playing in their home province is very motivating for B.C. players, said head coach John Herdman.
“It’s a huge significance,” he said. “For all of these players it’s just a great place to be. They love BC Place. I know that Christine, she’ll want to pump a few goals out on her home patch. So fingers crossed that she’s pumped and ready to roll.”
During their training time in Vancouver, the team has been staying at Burnaby’s elite Fortius Sport and Health, the coach said.
“It’s been fantastic,” Mr. Herdman said. “It’s been a real game changer. One of the players described it as athlete’s Disneyland. We genuinely feel that we’re full-time professional athletes in one of the best facilities that Canada’s got to offer. At this stage, everyone’s pretty happy.”
The chance to come together as a team and train together in Vancouver is invaluable, Ms. LeBlanc said.
“It’s a great thing because we can work on the things we need to work on as a team,” she said. “There’s not many other teams in the world who will be doing that – we will be one of the most prepared teams in the next World Cup. If you aim low you’ll end low – so we’re aiming high.”
The team has also been visualizing every aspect of their performance at BC Place in preparation for the World Cup final they hope to play in, Mr. Herdman said.
“We keep showing the picture of BC Place glowing red and visualizing us being there in 2015 playing that all-important game,” he said. “And we know what that’s going to mean to our country. So just to keep coming back to that place and familiarizing and getting good experiences is key.”
Limited tickets are still available for Sunday’s game, and Mr. Herdman is calling for more B.C. fans to come support the team – loudly.
“There will be times in this Mexico game when we need the crowd’s support,” he said. “We need the crowd to get loud and get behind the team and not be quiet.”
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