By Philip Raphael - South Delta Leader
Published: February 01, 2008
Soccer legend Pele did it at 16 for Brazil. Former Manchester United legend Norman Whiteside performed the same feat for Northern Ireland at 17.
But Ladner’s Julie Armstrong has them both beaten.
The 17-year-old forward made her debut for Canada’s senior women’s national team in China recently without being selected for the national side at any other level.
And no one is more shocked at what has transpired than Armstrong who has seen her career sky rocket in such a short time.
“It’s been pretty incredible,” says the lanky, five-foot 10-inch tall, Grade 12 Delta Secondary student. “It was kind of surreal sitting on the plane going to China with the rest of the team.”
Armstrong, who is part of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ residency program which identifies elite players, says the enormity of her accomplishment only began to sink in when the national anthems were played before Canada’s first game against the U.S. in the Four Nations Tournament in Guangzhou.
Canada’s senior women’s team is ranked ninth in the world by FIFA, soccer’s governing body. And the chance to suit up for Canada was an honour, although Armstrong admits she did suffer a little from nerves when summoned from the bench just over an hour into the game against the U.S.—the sport’s second ranked side behind Germany.
“I was pretty nervous and my legs felt dead,” Armstrong says smiling shyly. “But as the game went on I got more confident and started to play my game.”
While Canada lost 4-0 to the powerful Americans, Armstrong says she was happy with her performance as her squad’s “target man”—a forward whose job is to collect and retain the ball upfield.
“That’s my strength,” she says, “holding up the ball and waiting for other players to arrive, then passing it off.”
Although she did not get on the scoresheet in Canada’s remaining two games in which she started—a scoreless tie with host China, and a 1-1 draw with Finland—Armstrong says her confidence has been given a huge boost knowing she is now part of Canada’s pool of upcoming young talent.
It’s a goal she has been dedicated to for a long time and one that has delighted her parents Susan and Gordon who packed up their family and moved to Canada from Dundee, Scotland, 15 years ago.
“We’re very proud of what Julie’s been able to accomplish,” says mom Susan. “She’s worked very hard for this.”
“It’s fantastic what’s she’s done,” adds dad Gordon who coached his daughter at an early age when it was plain to see the youngster had talent.
“She could kick a ball well, even when she was little,” Susan says. “She’d get the ball on her own half and be able to kick it back over all the players and into the goal.
“But I reckon Julie would do well in any sport she put her mind to.”
Luckily for Canada’s women’s team Armstrong opted for soccer and in the past few months says she concentrated on giving it her all.
And it paid off.
“I guess I really improved a lot in the last four months or so,” Armstrong says, adding she told herself that if she wanted to advance, a higher level of commitment and determination had to spring from within.
She managed that and it got the notice of Whitecaps’ women’s head coach Bob Birarda, who got in touch with Canada’s coaching staff.
“He told them that there’s a girl here who’s got some talent,” says Susan. “And that was it, she was on the team.”
And it looks as though Armstrong is going to stick after being invited to continue training with the national side for an upcoming tournament.