Goodbye, Christina Pedersen. Welcome back, Sydney Leroux.
The Voyageurs, that group of fans who aren’t often rewarded for their loyalty and travel in support of Canada’s national teams, might have spent much of Sunday’s friendly loss to the United States counting off the seconds every time U.S. goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart clutched the ball, but now that’s so yesterday.
A new countdown is on: to the FIFA women’s World Cup in 2015, when Leroux, who spurned playing for Canada to throw her lot in with the United States, will be target A-1 for Canadian fans.
That status was ensured when she scored the third goal for the United States – straight into the maw of the Voyageurs – then raced over to put her finger to her lips in a shushing motion, before pulling at the U.S. badge on her jersey. The 23-year-old dual citizen, who grew up in Surrey, B.C., received a yellow card; others saw red.
U.S. striker Abby Wambach saw it as being a good thing for a good rivalry. And know what? She’s right.
“I’d love Sydney to be playing for Canada, wouldn’t you?” Canadian head coach John Herdman asked later, a look of bemusement on his face. “Imagine her playing in front of Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi. That would make a big difference. But she’s not, so I think we just have to let it go, eh? We’ll let her enjoy her time in the U.S., and just respect her as a player.”
Ah, but where’s the fun in that, eh? As the coach of Canada’s Olympic bronze-medal-winning women’s team, Herdman is tasked not only with the responsibility of preparing his aging team for the world showcase, he’s also by default in charge of closing the talent gap in Canada between the ages of 18 and 27.
Once Rachel Quon’s FIFA clearance is given, the Los Angeles native (whose father was born in Rosetown, Sask.) will suit up for Canada. She’ll most likely be joined on the backline by 17-year-old Kadeisha Buchanan, a Mississauga native who was the player of the match for Canada on Sunday.
But Herdman must surely realize he has serious issues on attack. This time there was no blaming a referee who was in over her head, as was the Norwegian Pedersen, who allowed herself to be bullied by the United States and had a hand in costing Canada a shot at Olympic gold at the 2012 London Olympics.
Sinclair shuttled back and forth from attack to midfield, but with Tancredi showing a lack of game conditioning – she is not under contract to a team in the National Women’s Soccer League – Sinclair received no service and little support until Tiffany Cameron came on to replace her in the 61st minute. Herdman was not indicting Cameron when he noted that she fired her one shot into the crowd while Leroux, who for awhile was all over Twitter as an item with Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, came on in the 74th minute and buried her chance in injury time for a goal.
“Come on,” Leroux, who has 17 goals in 35 games with the U.S. senior squad, told a media scrum later. “How many U.S.-born players does Canada have? I thought I dealt with it well.”
Canada’s program does have an American flavour – Lauren Sesselman is a native of Marshfield, Wisc., for example – and Herdman made clear this week that players of dual citizenship will be vital in replenishing the Canadian program. The increased profile and funding the program has received under Herdman might make it a destination.
As for the gesture?
Sinclair referred to it as “probably, not the classiest of moves,” and added that she wouldn’t have done it.
Wambach shrugged. “I was proud of her. If you knew some of the things some of the Canadian folks tweet at her? For her, it was a special moment [and] it was her saying: ‘Hey, look. I’m on the U.S. team.’”
Point taken; rivalry rejoined.