The Players: Melissa Tancredi

Melissa Tancredi knows she is blessed to live the life of a international footballer. As she puts it, she gets to travel the world, spend time with her friends (teammates), and play a sport that she loves.

Melissa Tancredi knows she is blessed to live the life of a international footballer. As she puts it, she gets to travel the world, spend time with her friends (teammates), and play a sport that she loves.

“I get to do a lot of things (of which) many people dream,” said Melissa Tancredi. “I am honoured to be a soccer player for my career.”

Tancredi is not only blessed in her pursuit, but blessed in her talent, too. A regular in the Canadian starting lineup since 2007, Tancredi will take part in her second FIFA Women’s World Cup this June and July at Germany 2011. “Tanc,” as she is affectionately known, is one of the best women’s football strikers in the world. She has the speed and strength to take on any opposing defence, not to mention the uncanny ability of scoring goals in the biggest matches and on the biggest stages in the world.

Four years ago, Tancredi burst onto the international scene at the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007. She had been part of the national program for a few years, but at last her transformation was complete from centre back to midfield to striker. She officially scored one goal in three matches, although in truth she will remind you that she scored two, with an opening match score against Norway called back by the referee.

One year later, she scored with even greater regularity, starting with a goal-per-game pace at the 2008 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualification Tournament in Mexico. She was the lone goal scorer against Mexico in the semi-final stage, thus ensuring Canada’s first-ever qualification for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament.

“Everyone on this team loves playing in Mexico in front of Mexican fans,” said Tancredi. “It is an environment that no one has ever duplicated for us. It is so hostile, it is the game you have to win to get into the Olympics… for me to be able to score that goal (where) thankfully they made a mistake on the back line, it was an honour.”

That winning goal was scored in the 25th minute after centre back Rubi Sandoval slipped with the ball at her feet. Tancredi collected the ball, broke in alone on the goalkeeper Sophia Perez, and scored what turned out to be the only goal of the match. With 20,000 supporters in the stands, Mexico pushed hard until the end, but the Canadian defence along with goalkeeper Erin McLeod stood tall for the 1:0 victory.

“It was amazing for our team to experience the Olympics for the first time,” said Tancredi. “It was a full team effort. We stood strong for 90-plus minutes (against Mexico).”

Since 2009, Tancredi’s career has taken a turn for the better. Hampered at first by injuries, she has since found the necessary balance to be healthy and ready for her next big tournament in 2011. She is also enjoying the team’s recent success, with more than 20 wins in the past two seasons leading up to Germany 2011.

That run includes a continental crown from last year’s 2010 CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifier. This time, Canada knocked off Mexico twice in front of Mexican crowds, at first in the group stage (a 3:0 win) and then again in the championship final for the CONCACAF trophy (a 1:0 victory).

“Through this whole transformation with the team, it has been incredible,” said Tancredi. “To come from where we were four years ago to where we are now and (our) belief in ourselves, it is an amazing feeling.”

A blessing, indeed.

From forward to centre back to forward again

It was, believe it or not, teammate Christine Sinclair that suggested Melissa Tancredi should come up front on the attack. Asked by then-coach Even Pellerud, Sinclair envisioned the potential chemistry with the defender turned midfielder who was itching to get up front on the attack.

Tancredi actually grew up playing forward before she carved out a niche as a dominating centre back with the University of Notre Dame. By the team she debuted with the national team in 2004, she was still playing defence, but after a few years she made her way up onto the Canadian attack.

By 2007, she was playing full time up front as a striker, scoring goals at the Pan American Games, FIFA Women’s World Cup, CONCACAF championship and Women’s Olympic Football Tournament.

“I definitely enjoy playing up front,” said Tancredi.

With 13 goals in 61 matches, Tancredi ranks second amongst active players behind captain Sinclair. She now ranks seventh all time, having recently passed Randee Hermus (12) with a goal against the world’s number-one ranked USA on 23 January 2011.

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