In January, 25,000 soccer fans bought out the lower bowls of B.C. Place Stadium to watch Canada’s women’s soccer team play the United States in the final of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Olympic qualifying tournament. Among the crowd were a number of young soccer players from Squamish, including most of the then U-12 Squamish United girls travel team, of which yours truly is assistant coach.
Canada lost that game 4-0 in yet another demonstration of the world No. 1-ranked Americans’ dominance over Canada in the sport. But the Canadians had already qualified for the Olympics, and many of the players — including team captain Christine Sinclair and sparkplug Diana Matheson — stayed for more than an hour afterward, signing autographs and chatting with fans.
Well, “chatting” may be stretching it a bit. Here’s how one of the Squamish players breathlessly described her encounter with one of the world’s best soccer players: “I said, ‘Thank you,’ and she said, ‘You’re welcome’!”
How Canadian, eh?
More than six months later, those players acquitted themselves well in the culmination of that competition, winning a bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics, raising their game and earning a legion of fans with their grit and determination.
The final two games provide a shining example of what makes sport so fascinating to young and old alike. In the semifinal, Canada — which hadn’t beaten the U.S. in women’s soccer in a decade — pushed the favourites to the limit before suffering a heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss. Full credit to the U.S. team for their resilience in standing up to the Canadian onslaught, which included a hat trick by the incomparable Sinclair.
The Canucks were gassed and outplayed 2 ½ days later in the bronze-medal contest and needed a fair bit of luck — a fingertip save and a couple of balls smashed into thighs and goalposts — to keep France off the scoreboard. But resilience and belief in themselves — i.e. you may be on the ropes but if you’re still standing, you’re still in the bout — were also in plentiful supply for the red and white. Improbably, it was the diminutive Matheson who delivered the knockout punch.
This isn’t just about soccer, though. It’s about coming together — as a team, as a community — to overcome our challenges. From one excited soccer dad: Thanks, ladies, for the autographs and the inspiration.