Speaking of Maple-Flavoured Sport…

While we’re on the subject of Canadian sporting stars, how about our remarkable Women of the Foot? They just knocked off Jamaica, emphatically, yesterday in the Gold Cup competition, which got them through to the next World Cup of soccer, something the Canucksky men haven’t managed in twenty years (and only once ever, I think). These girls are good.

This will be their fourth straight World Cup appearance, having missed only the inaugural women’s event in 1991. In 1995, they managed a tie with Nigeria in pool play and were blasted 7-0 by the eventual champion, Norway, who had narrowly lost in the Cup final to the USA in ’91. The following year, Canadian soccer did a bold thing, hiring away the architect of Norwegian soccer dominance, Even Pellerud, to lead our national team program. Results were similar in 1999 – another pasting by Norway, another round-robin draw (with Japan) – but the cavalry was coming. When Canada hosted the inaugural Women’s Junior World Championships in 2002, they shocked most observers by taking the silver, and budding superstar Christine Sinclair was the leading goal-getter and MVP of the tournament.

By the 2003 World Cup, Canada was a force. They lost to eventual champion Germany in pool play, but notched two convincing wins over Argentina and Japan to qualify for the quarter-finals, where they stunned China 1-0 on a goal by Canada’s most decorated international player, Charmaine Hooper. (129 caps. 68 goals. Stalwart career.) They lost to Sweden in a tight 2-1 semifinal, and finished fourth in the tournament after a 3-1 loss to the two-time champion Americans in the bronze medal match. Youth was served, as young stars Kara Lang and Sinclair provided the last two goals.

Let’s pause for this quick résumé on Ms. Sinclair, whose accomplishments are rather astounding. She’s 23. She’s within striking distance of Hooper’s international goals record for a Canadian, as she already has 53. In the NCAA, doubtless the best developmental level in the world, Sinclair was national Freshman of the Year, a three-time Conference Player of the Year, a two-time NCAA Player of the Year and star of two national championship teams at Portland, and in 2005 was only the third soccer player to be named NCAA Women’s Athlete of the Year. She’s special, and she’s not alone.

One of the few dark spots on this radiant success for women’s soccer in Canada is the controversy that may have ended Hooper’s national team career. In recent months, Mr. Pellerud’s expectations and Ms. Hooper’s sense of fairness have collided, and it appears that a younger team led by Sinclair is more than ready to move on. The next World Cup is in China in 2007, and Canada remains in the running to host the 2011 tournament. We largely ignore their male counterparts, but Canadian women are bringing a real northern lustre to the world’s game.

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