To beat Canada, you have to beat her - Vancouver Sun

Miro Cernetig

'When I was five, I said I wanted to go to the Olympics and play on the national team'

As a girl, Erin McLeod had two sport passions: soccer, which she started playing at the age of five, and basketball.

Her parents finally gave her an order. One had to go.

"They said choose one, it was just taking too much time to play both," McLeod remembers.

"I chose soccer. I was a bit better at soccer, so I stuck to soccer."

It was no surprise, really. Even at a young age McLeod seemed to sense her athletic career was on the soccer pitch. Before she even hit her teenage years she expressed a dream, not unlike other women on Canada's Olympic soccer team, that some day she would play for the gold -- even though women's soccer wasn't then in the Games.

"Every year, when I was growing up, my mother used to ask me to write down my goals," says McLeod, taking off her thick padded gloves as she flashes back to her childhood in Calgary.

"When I was five, I said I wanted to go to the Olympics and play on the national team. ... I just wanted to play with the best and be one of the best."

But it wasn't minding the net she had in mind. Back then, McLeod's goal was, well, scoring goals.

The idea of being stuck on one end of the soccer field, spending much of the time watching and anticipating the play, wasn't what she saw herself doing.

"I wanted to be a midfielder or a goal scorer," she says. "Like every soccer player, no one ever wants to play defence or goalie."

But one day, a team was short someone in net. She was spotted by the coach.

"That was the day I got totally stuck in goal ... .

"I wasn't too happy about it," she laughs. "But I was good at it. Then I noticed all the cheering, from the parents and spectators, and I thought, 'Hey, this goalie thing isn't really too bad'."

Since then, McLeod's soccer career has taken off.

She made her international debut on March 3, 2002, against Wales at the Algarve Cup. She chalked up a shutout.

Aside from playing on Canada's national team, McLeod also signed with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2003. And while in the United States, where she attended Penn State, she was named an All-American in both the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

But for now McLeod -- who's been known to sing O Canada for an entire stadium of fans before games -- has her attention focused firmly on Canada.

"This is a dream for me, going to Beijing to represent my country in the Olympics," she says. "I think our team is going to do fine."

After Beijing? McLeod hopes to join the professional women's soccer league expected to start up in the United States next year.

"I love the game. And I still love playing goal."

ERIN McLEOD

Hometown: Calgary

Age: 25

Position: Goalkeeper

Notable: Recorded three straight shutouts at the 2008 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualification Tournament to secure Canada's place in Beijing; in the final, held the United States -- the No. 1-ranked team in the world -- to a single goal through regulation time, forcing the game to overtime and then penalty kicks.

KARINA LeBLANC

Hometown: Maple Ridge

Age: 28

Position: Goalkeeper

Notable: Was part of the Canadian team that finished fourth at the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003; won a bronze medal with Canada at the Pan American Games in Rio in 2007.

EMILY ZURRER

Hometown: Crofton

Age: 21

Position: Defence

Notable: Played for Canada at the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship in Thailand in 2004; represented Canada at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship in Russia in 2006.

CLARE RUSTAD

Hometown: Saltspring Island

Age: 25

Position: Defence

Notable: Helped the Vancouver Whitecaps win the W-League title in 2004; won a silver medal with Canada at the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship in Canada in 2002.

RANDEE HERMUS

Hometown: Langley

Age: 28

Position: Defence

Notable: Was an original player with the Vancouver Breakers; won W-League championships with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2004 and 2006.

WHEN TO WATCH

The Olympic women's soccer schedule:

Aug. 6: Canada vs. Argentina

Aug. 9: Canada vs. China

Aug. 12: Canada vs. Sweden

Aug. 15: Quarter-finals

Aug. 18: Semifinals

Aug. 21: Medal games

ABOUT CANADIAN WOMEN'S SOCCER

Attention is now on the Olympics, but our women's team came into its own at the FIFA Women's World Cup.

Canada qualified for its first World Cup in 1995 but never won a game. Canada missed the second round again in 1999. Then, in 2003, a breakthrough. A new generation of players, such as Christine Sinclair, Kara Lang and Brittany Timko, took the sport to a new level. The women beat China in the quarter-finals 1-0. They lost 2-1 to Sweden in the semi-finals to finish fourth overall.

ONLINE

To watch a video about Erin McLeod, and to view a photo gallery on the women's soccer team, visit: VancouverSun.com/BeijingBound

© The Vancouver Sun 2008