The Players: Erin McLeod

Erin McLeod may not have known it so well then, but nearly 10 years on she understands it perhaps just a little bit better today.

Erin McLeod may not have known it so well then, but nearly 10 years on she understands it perhaps just a little bit better today.

“I remember someone said I would not understand it until later,” said McLeod. “It was a pretty amazing time… the number of people that came out, still to this day it baffles me.”

McLeod was a FIFA silver medalist at the inaugural FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2002. She was the goalkeeper with the Canadian-inspired red and white hairdo. Some 47,194 packed Commonwealth Stadium for the championship final, the pinnacle of a two-week championship in which the young Canadian girls won a handful of games and a nation of followers.

Today, McLeod doesn’t need to look further than the half dozen teammates across from her in the locker room to understand how far that group has journeyed. McLeod, Christine Sinclair, Melanie Booth, Candace Chapman, Robyn Gayle, Carmelina Moscato and Brittany Timko are all part of that silver age in Canadian soccer history.

That core on the Canadian team spreads further than the silver seven from 2002. Other key players like Diana Matheson and Rhian Wilkinson have been around nearly as long, both of whom helped Canada to a fourth-place finish a year later with the full national team at the FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003.

“For 10 years, these are people (with) whom I’ve grown up,” said McLeod. “We all get together so well on and off the field, which I guess makes us a unique group.”

This will be McLeod’s third run at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. After a fourth-place finish in 2003, the team finished seventh in 2007. After a quarter-final finish at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the team then re-energized itself with the introduction of a new staff and new training methodology. In 2011, the team is ready to put forth its best performance yet.

“We’ve never given up so much for this program,” said McLeod.

Canada’s team has organized several lengthy camps in Europe in advance of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011. The last camp runs from 1 May to 19 June, the day Canada arrives in Berlin before the 26 June opener. The latest camp has allowed Canada to organize several international friendly matches against European opponents in the weeks leading up to the big event.

On the flip side, McLeod has been away from her family for much of this year. Family is and always has been a big part of McLeod’s life. They are a part of her inspiration every time she steps out on to the pitch for Canada. Fortunately, she can count her teammates as part of a larger family that helps her prepare for the world’s biggest women’s sporting event that only comes around once every four years.

“Every once in awhile, I let myself think of that opening match against Germany,” said McLeod of the upcoming 26 June match at Olympiastadion Berlin. An expected 73,000 fans will be in attendance that day.

Two-time champion Germany, however, will only be the first of hopefully six tests at this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. Should all go well and Canada advances ahead of France and Nigeria, Canada will play in the second stage from 9-17 July. If both Canada and Germany remain undefeated in the quarter- and semi-final stages, then the two teams will meet again on 17 July for the championship final at Frankfurt Stadium.

Now that, from family and friends, is one match we can all only wish McLeod will get to experience before she comes home.

The Goalkeepers

Erin McLeod and Karina LeBlanc have been Canada’s top-two goalkeepers for much of the last 10 years. Throw in relative “newbie” Stephanie Labbé and you have one of the best goalkeeping trios in the world.

McLeod and LeBlanc have played together since 2002. They were together for each of the last two FIFA Women’s World Cups in 2003 and 2007 as well as the recent Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in 2008.

“It has been a real honour to be able to train day in and day out with one of the best in the world,” said McLeod of LeBlanc.

Since 2009, Canada’s three goalkeepers have elevated their games under the instruction of goalkeeper coach Max Colucci. They also have each other to thank for their constantly improving performances on the international stage: they are also learning from each other at the same time.

“It is competitive, but at the end of the day there is such a mutual respect,” said McLeod. is the new home for official Canada Soccer apparel and fanwear, including customized National Team jerseys