When the Canadian women's soccer team won the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, Kadeisha Buchanan was just 16, and watched on television at home with her mom in Toronto. Jessie Fleming, then only 14, was also hanging on every play as she watched in London, Ont.
Neither imagined during those Olympics that, less than three years later, they would be rising teen stars on a Canadian roster playing in the Women's World Cup on home soil.
Canada's 23-player roster has a blend of experience and youth. It has nine players in their 30s who have been on the squad since they were teens. On the other end of the spectrum, Fleming is the youngest at 17, while Buchanan and childhood friend Ashley Lawrence are both 19. These players are projected as the backbone of the Canadian side in the future.
Fleming is a speedy midfielder with phenomenal field awareness. While others on the roster are pros or U.S college players, Fleming's bio shows she proudly hails from a club team, London Nor'West Soccer Club.
Right from her introduction to the game at age 4, she was fast and smart. "When there were a bunch of little kids all chasing the ball around in a group of 15 or 20, Jessie would wait outside, and when the ball popped loose, she'd be on it and taking it all on her own," said her, father John Fleming, who is also her long-time coach. "She figured out really early how the game worked."
Fleming also played boys' competitive hockey as a youngster, and honed her heads-up awareness as a reliable stay-at-home defender who never shied away from contact in the corners. The talented distance runner also won Ontario high school titles at 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres.
In 2014, she starred for Canada at the U-17 and U-20 Soccer World Cups, and was voted Canada's top female soccer player under 17. She has already made 15 appearances for the senior national team – 10 of them starts – and scored her first goal at the Cyprus Cup in March, on an assist from Christine Sinclair.
"The way I see it, when we get out on the field, age doesn't matter any more," said Fleming, who in January moved to Vancouver to train with the team.
Buchanan, a centre back, and Lawrence, a midfielder, have played together since they were nine-year-olds on Brams United in Brampton, Ont. Lawrence was also a swimmer and a dancer, while Buchanan was a standout in basketball, flag football, track and volleyball. They made the provincial team together, then Canada's U-17 and U-20 teams, playing in the U-20 World Cup in Canada last summer. They are now standouts at West Virginia University.
Canadian head coach John Herdman has called Buchanan "the Christine Sinclair of defence." In her three appearances so far against the United States, she has kept American superstar Abby Wambach scoreless. Buchanan even scored a goal of her own, a rocket past U.S. keeper Hope Solo last May in a Winnipeg friendly.
"She's a star and will be an absolute legend in the women's game if she continues this way," said TSN soccer analyst Luke Wileman. "She's earned the right to be the figurehead of this team's defence, in this World Cup and for the next 10 years."
The once-shy defender has blossomed since debuting with the national team back in 2013. While still humble, she has found a light-hearted but confident voice.
"I had no idea I would be called up to the senior national team six months after they won that Olympic bronze medal, but I was, and now I'm still here living my dream," Buchanan said. "I would say the biggest difference between the younger girls and the veterans is the dance moves. We have way better dance moves and rhythm. I'm the dancer on the team, so I try to teach them moves."