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Emily Zurrer (FABRIZIO BENSCH/Reuters)
Emily Zurrer (FABRIZIO BENSCH/Reuters)

Emily Zurrer renews Olympic soccer quest Add to ...

Emily Zurrer is putting her left foot forward in a bid to represent Canada at the 2012 London Olympics.

The right-footed defender will suit up for Canada’s women’s soccer team in an international friendly against China on Wednesday in Moncton, N.B. Zurrer was held off the roster for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver in January and has been fighting to display her left-footed abilities since then.

“It’s mostly just a mind-foot game,” said Zurrer, adding she tended to use her dominant right foot previously.

A Vancouver native who grew up in Crofton, B.C., Zurrer plays left centre back, but coach John Herdman felt her left-footed skills were lacking when he took over the team last fall. So he left Zurrer off the roster for the qualifying tournament.

Zurrer got off on the wrong foot with Herdman by missing the Pan American Games because she was under contract with her Swedish club at the time.

“I think missing the Pan Ams was not the best for me timing-wise, but it is what it is,” she said.

Zurrer’s omission from the Olympic qualifier caught many by surprise, considering she is one of Canada’s most experienced players. Disappointed with the missed rare chance to play a major international competition in her hometown, she cheered with friends and family members from the stands while remaining determined to get back on the pitch and prove she belongs.

“It was a test of character, and she’s really come back strong and shows real leadership in the team,” said Herdman.

Zurrer returned to the squad for the Cyprus Cup in March and helped Canada reach the final against eventual champion France. She scored the lone goal in an earlier 1-0 win over Holland.

“My goal was to make a statement in that game,” said Zurrer, who has 52 national team caps to her credit. “I think I accomplished that.”

But the former University of Illinois standout refuses to discuss her chances of playing in the Games. Herdman coyly said she has a good chance — along with many others in the battle for Olympic jobs.

In the meantime, Zurrer continues to work on improving her left-footed shots and passes with the aim of being ready to use either foot effectively. She said the game against China will serve as a good test for the squad.

Since April, Canada, which is holding a three-month residency camp in Vancouver, has played mostly intra-squad contests as well as an abbreviated match against a Richmond, B.C., under-16 men’s team and a game against the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s club.

While Zurrer renews her quest for an Olympic team spot, veteran midfielder Diana Matheson will suit up for her first international contest since the Pan American Games final victory over Brazil last fall. Matheson, a 27-year-old Mississauga, Ont., native, missed six months with a knee injury that had bothered her for a year.

She underwent microfracture surgery and also had some loose cartilage removed in November.

“I don’t think it’ll be too different,” said Matheson, who has 130 national team caps. “The biggest challenge was getting back with the team and playing intra-squad.”

NOTES: Erin McLeod is expected to start in goal for Canada. No. 1 Karina LeBlanc remains out with an ankle injury suffered in training . . . Canadian under-20 team stopper Sabrina D’Angelo of Welland, Ont., has been brought in as a second goalkeeper for this game . . . McLeod and strikers Melissa Tancredi and Christina Julien have re-joined the team from their Swedish pro clubs for this game, but will head back overseas afterwards. Defender Sophie Schmidt has also come home from Sweden after filling in for an injured player there. She will remain with the Canadian squad from here on in . . . Defenders Bryanna McCarthy, 21, of Toronto and Shannon Woeller, 22, of Vancouver, were released last week. The club has 23 players, including the injured LeBlanc, in Moncton, but only 18 can go to the Olympics.