Belanger opts to hang up soccer cleats

MONTREAL — Josee Belanger, who helped Canada to a women’s soccer bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics, has decided to hang up her cleats.

Belanger, 31, announced her retirement on Monday.

“Coming back from the Olympics, of course it was something I was thinking about,” said Belanger. “Do I have the energy and motivation to pursue that for another (four-year) cycle?

“I needed to think what I really wanted to achieve, what were my next goals. I think I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to keep that momentum going forward to really inspire the next generation. To be involved in soccer and make women’s soccer grow.”

The Coaticook, Que., native plans to start a soccer school for girls and help promote active lifestyles.

Belanger pondered retirement when ankle and back injuries forced her to miss the 2011 women’s World Cup and the 2012 Olympics, where Canada also won a bronze medal.

At the urging of national team coach John Herdman, she opted to return and helped Canada to a sixth place finish at the 2015 World Cup, where her game-winning goal against Switzerland before 53,855 at B.C. Place was the first scored by a player from Quebec. The fullback/forward then got bronze at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, where a highlight was facing host Brazil.

In all, she played 57 times for Canada, 44 as a starter, and produced seven goals and eight assists.

She played pro soccer Sweden in 2015 and last year with the Orlando Pride of the NWSL.

Belanger also won gold at the 2004 CONCACAF under-19 championships and 2010 CONCACAF tournament.

She is the second national team veteran to retire in the last month, following midfielder Kaylyn Kyle, who earned 101 caps.

Belanger has no worries about the future of the national squad, especially with Herdman in charge since 2011.

“Since I started in 2009, as a team we’re trying to play more positional,” she said. “For a long period Canadian soccer was playing kick and run.

“Now we’re trying to change and be more sophisticated and organized. It took a while. It’s not easy. Now, with John, we have a structure where the U15s try to play the same tactical plan as the senior team. We’re building from younger now.”

She hopes Canada can start its own women’s professional league to help develop more elite players.

“We have great young ones coming up so I think we’ll continue to grow and play at the highest level,” she said.

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