Olympic soccer roster has mixture of veterans and young players - Canadian Press

A year ago Clare Rustad was working on HIV-AIDS research at a Vancouver hospital and planning on going to medical school. On Tuesday the defender/midfielder was thinking about packing after being named to the Canadian women's soccer team roster that will compete at next month's Olympics in Beijing. Rustad, 25, joins a team that mixes together veterans like Christine Sinclair and Randee Hermus plus some new faces in defender Emily Zurrrer and 17-year-old forward Jonelle Filigno. "I wasn't expecting this to happen," said Rustad, a native of Salt Springs Island, B.C., who has a masters degree from Cambridge University in England. "At this time last year I had a full-time job working on a desk 9-5. It's been a pretty amazing experience." Coach Even Pellerud said the team is healthy and confident heading to China. "I am very positive because a year ago we had a lot of injuries and half-injured players," said Pellerud. "They are all back, very fit and very healthy. That has been the case for almost a year. "The number of international games leading up to this event has been considerably high and we have been quite successful. I think the confidence level is very good." Sinclair, the powerful striker from Burnaby, B.C., remains the anchor of the team. Her 92 goals in 120 international games is more than any other player in Canadian soccer history. Pellerud said while Sinclair is often the focus, players like Melissa Tancredi, Kara Lang and Hermus are part of the team's big picture. "Christine can lift every team she is on to a new level," said Pellerud, who will step down as coach after the Olympics. "That is what stars do. We need her special quality to shine in China. "The other players have closed the gap to her considerably. We now have a lot of players that are very close to her level in different positions on the field." Sinclair said opposition teams can no longer concentrate on her alone. "We have so many people that can put the ball in the back of the net," she said. "It tends to leave me a little bit wide open because teams have to focus on the other players as well." Just over a year ago the Games weren't even on the radar for Rustad, Zurrer or Filigno. Rustad was a member of the under-20 team that played at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg. She did an undergraduate degree at the University of Washington in Seattle, then went on to Cambridge where she studied philosophy and epidemiolgy. She returned to Vancouver in 2007 to take a job studying HIV-AIDS. It was at that time she began working out with the Vancouver Whitecaps of the W-League. "It was like I rediscovered the game," Rustad said. "I had such an amazing time playing for the Whitecaps. I just started training again and loving it. "They really brought it back for me." Sinclair said the team has already nicknamed Rustad "Science." "She knows everything," chuckled Sinclair. "If you have a question, ask Clare." Rustad brings more than brains to the pitch. "She is a huge impact player in our midfield," said Sinclair. "She wins every air ball. It is a perfect fit." Zurrer, 21, of Crofton, B.C., and Filigno, of Mississauga, Ont., also both came up through the development system. Zurrer has played just eight international games. "She had to work on her fitness and athleticism," said Pellerud. "She came back strong this spring and impressed us. "She has really added quality to our defence." Filigno caught the eye of the team's staff in Ontario. "She was a hit," said Pellerud. "She had done very well for us a young player." One surprise is veteran Kristina Kiss, a defender/midfielder from Kanata, Ont., only made the team as an alternate. Kiss, who has 74 international caps, struggled to recover from knee surgery after last fall's World Cup, where Canada failed to advance to the playoff round. "It's a bit frustrating," said Kiss, 27. "I've just really felt good the last two months. "It takes a lot to get back on the team." Canada opens the Olympic tournament Aug. 6 against Argentina in Tianjin, 120 kilometres from Beijing. They play China on Aug. 9 and Sweden Aug. 12. The women's soccer final will be held Aug. 21 at Beijing Workers' Stadium.