The Canadian women’s soccer team made history when they captured bronze in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in England.
That 1-0 win over France, coupled with a controversial loss to the Americans in the semifinals captivated the nation. The attention the Canadian team received was off the charts.
“It’s starting to settle down a little now, but right after the Olympics it was crazy,” said Canadian team goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who was in Red Deer Monday for a clinic with a group of youngsters and a presentation “Make Every Second Count.”
“Before there wasn’t many people outside my family who knew my name,” said McLeod with a laugh. “But it was overwhelming . . . it’s been wonderful that that many people tuned in to see our team play and I’m proud of that.
“We have a conversation all the time that not that many people would have tuned in without the controversy. One in three Canadians saw parts of that game . . . it was second only to the men’s hockey team’s victory in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. For women’s soccer that was huge.”
For the few who may have missed it the Canadians missed an opportunity to go for the gold when they were defeated 4-3 by the United States in the semifinals in extra time.
The controversy came in the 78th minute when McLeod was called for holding the ball to long — over six seconds — and the US was awarded an indirect free kick. It was a penalty never called unless a keeper is obviously delaying the game. On the ensuing free kick Canada received another controversial call when a defender tried to turn from the ball and the ball unintentionally touched her arm. Abby Wambach was awarded a penalty kick and scored the tying goal.
“That comes up in speeches all the time and I still cry when I get to it,” said McLeod. “There’s something about the bitterness that drives all of us forward and for that we’re grateful. We got the bronze, but we’re still upset with that and it drives us to go back and do better.”
Still McLeod isn’t about to give the bronze medal back, although she says they were “lucky” to win it.
“All the things that went against us in the semifinal went our way in the bronze medal game,” she said. “We didn’t have much left after the loss, but what we did have we gave it all.”
Winning the bronze on a goal by Diana Matheson in the 90th minute and coming after the controversy, almost seemed like gold for Canada.
“I think we’re a bunch of softies and any time a team comes back from a heart-wrenching loss it’s special. We were all heart-broken, but came back with a win.”
Since then McLeod and a number of her teammates have toured across Canada.
“Because of what we accomplished I get to do this,” she said. “There’s some of the girls in Edmonton, in fact we’re all over the place promoting the game of soccer across Canada. I’ve been to Halifax, New Brunswick and all the way to Vancouver.
“It’s hockey country, but I think that’s changing a bit. I’m doing corporate now, which I never did before and there’s more coaching and art . . . more side jobs. I’m more active in it and people are paying attention.”
She believes the women are role models for young girls in Canada, something they needed.
“It’s great they have female role models, something that wasn’t always there. For us it’s not easy as we’re more recognizable . . . you have to wear a ball cap to hide, but really it’s wonderful for young athletes.”
Although she is in the spotlight at clinics and presentations, McLeod takes something from the young athletes she works with.
“It’s inspiring,” she said. “The young kids have that look in their eyes . . . a passion to do it because it’s fun and enjoyable. I do it because I can give back. I’m originally from Alberta (St. Albert) and don’t get a chance to come back that often, but it’s cool for me to be able to come home.”
The 29-year-old McLeod first joined the National senior women’s team in 2002. She also backed the U19 team that finished second to the US in the World Championship in 2002.
She has made 80 appearances on the international scene and started 77 games. She played with Vancouver in the W League and is presently preparing to play for the Chicago Red Stars in the National Women’s Soccer League.
“There will be 16 Canadians playing in that league, which is great,:” she said. “It will be a high calibre league with members of the Mexico national team, Canada and the US. The league will receive support from those countries’ programs, which will help the league’s budget.”
McLeod took creative advertising at Penn State University and uses that in a new coaching company. But she doesn’t plan on leaving the game just yet.
“I think everyone dreams of playing in the World Cup in their own country, plus I’m hoping to play through Rio (2020 Olympics).”
McLeod also enjoys one other aspect of playing with the national team — being a teammate with Christine Sinclair, possibly the premier player in the world.
“I let her score on me on occasion,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s an honour to play with her. She’s one of the coolest people. She won every award, but is so humble and a real leader.”