The Canadian women’s national soccer team will be throwing a party in Vancouver on Saturday.
Except the guest of honour isn’t Mexico — Canada’s on-field opponent — but three retiring veterans: Melissa Tancredi, Rhian Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault.
Prior to the match (6 p.m. ET) in Vancouver, the entire squad will celebrate Canada’s back-to-back Olympic bronze medals — a journey that has seen the team rise to No. 4 in the world rankings.
And yet Saturday’s festivities are as much about the team’s bright future than reflecting back. The last two Olympic Games have offered encouraging signs for Canada’s soccer women, who hope to reach unprecedented success in Tokyo 2020.
Feeding the passion
Wilkinson said as much when — along with Tancredi and Nault — announced her looming retirement in January.
“Our career has spanned a very unique time in women’s sport,” she said. “We played with the women who pioneered the game … [and] now we are teammates of women who are going to [take it] to another level.”
These veterans haven’t just inspired the next generation — that boat is already sailing strong — what they have done is raise the bar, according to CBC Sports soccer analyst Nigel Reed.
“If you have success you start to expect it,” said Reed. “It’s good that [the new] players have tasted it early in their careers as opposed to later, because now they understand the expectation and what they need to do to be competitive. It’s a self-fulfilling thing.”
A touch of luck
Once Tancredi, Nault and Wilkinson step down, only four players from London’s original bronze-medal squad will likely see significant minutes going forward: Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt, Diana Matheson and Desiree Scott (goalkeeper Erin McLeod is still recovering from ACL surgery).
And yet the optimism surrounding the Canadian camp is a direct result of systems that aren’t always self-evident, especially in a game where one mistake can…