All-time great Neil gets a sendoff - The Province

Marc Weber

Her 'amazing' contribution to soccer will be celebrated Saturday

Andrea Neil thought she retired in December. She's more than happy to do it all over again.

No, this is not about indecision or vanity. The Vancouver Whitecaps want to give their all-time great a proper sendoff and will honour her after Saturday's clash with the Seattle Sounders.

"I thought it was all signed and sealed," Neil said of hanging up her boots as the most capped player in Canadian soccer history on Dec. 4.

"But as much as I've loved representing my country, I've also bled blue and white for a long time and this is a really meaningful opportunity to say goodbye."

Neil's contribution to the Whitecaps' women's program -- and Canadian soccer as a whole -- is hard to overstate. She led the Caps to W-League championships in 2004 and '06, and captained the squad (originally called the Breakers) for their first six years, laying the foundation for a women's club that today is the envy of many.

"The one name on the women's side that was a constant from as far back as I can think is Andrea," said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi. "She is a pioneer. She was there long before there was real awareness. She was there when there was no money, when there was very little interest, but she kept plugging away. She's given much more than she's taken."

Unselfish to the core, she'll likely give a little more when she takes the microphone on Saturday, doling out praise as the Caps ready to retire her No. 5 jersey.

"When you get the chance to travel around North America and see different franchises," she said, "you just realize what the Whitecaps have here. The organization is first class and the show they put on is second to none.

"As much as I remember the championships and all the players and the coaches, I think of Bobby Lenarduzzi and having the commitment of someone like Greg Kerfoot," she said. "It's amazing."

Amazing is playing for your country for the better part of two decades. Neil, 36, made her debut for Canada's national team in 1991, played in four FIFA Women's World Cups and was capped 132 times.

She can be excused, then, for needing a little time to herself.

While many see a future for Neil in coaching -- and she acknowledges an interest -- she's in no rush to make any decisions. Besides, she's already a CEO.

"I think you need a title to justify things when you're taking some time off. Right now, I'm CEO of stuff," she quipped. "I've been busy -- taking time to meet new people, explore things, to sit down and read books.

"There's not too many opportunities in people's lives when they can take some time and breathe. I believe I'll know what it is [I want to do] when I come across it."

NEXT GAMES

Saturday double-header at Swangard Stadium

Women: (2-0-2) vs. Seattle Sounders (1-0-1), 4 p.m.

TV: Shaw

Need to know: Canadian national team captain Christine Sinclair has signed a one-day contract with the Caps as they look temper the loss of several under-20 national team players.

Men: (6-2-1) vs. Portland Timbers (4-3-4), 7 p.m.

Radio: TEAM 1040; TV: Shaw

Need to know: The league-leading Caps should be sharp with the memory of two Seattle goals in the first seven minutes still fresh from their last home game.

© The Vancouver Province 2008