It's two dreams come true and counting for Nicole Setterlund after the Semiahmoo soccer standout captained Canada to a historic win at the CONCACAF zone Women's U-17 World Cup qualifying tournament in Costa Rica last weekend.
When Setterlund, 17, was invited to attend Canada's selection camp last fall, her dream was to play for her country. After achieving that goal, the dream became winning an international event. After Canada upended Mexico 1-0 in the CONCACAF championship game in Costa Rica Saturday, the bubbly teen could cross another dream off her list while adding a new one.
"It seemed so unreal at the moment," she said of the win over Mexico. "Later on in our room with the big trophy I had the oddest feeling; I felt so complete. We had accomplished something I had dreamed of doing -- I had gone into an international competition and won. It felt so awesome and now I want to do it again at the World Cup so badly."
Setterlund has been playing organized soccer since age five and progressed up the rep team ranks. As a 15-year-old, Setterlund played at the U-16 level before moving up to play U-18 soccer with the Whitecaps when she was just 16. That Whitecaps team won the Canada Games tournament last year where Setterlund caught the eye of national team selectors.
She was invited to the national team tryouts where, despite being hobbled by injuries at two separate camps, the talented midfielder showed enough skill and cool thinking to not only earn a place with the team, she was selected as the captain of the girls representing the home and native land.
"I was really excited when I found out I made it because it was a dream come true," she said. "I cried and I had to tap my mom on the shoulder to show her the email on the computer. I really didn't know what to think at first because it seemed so unreal. I never really imagined myself on a national team."
Last month the Canadian team convened in Florida for a short training camp before heading to Trinidad for a warm-up tourney prior to the CONCACAF qualifying event. When the team finally arrived in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, Setterlund and her teammates found out the climate and altitude -- San Jose is at an elevation of 1,161 metres above sea level, 1,160 metres higher than Vancouver -- was much different than they were accustomed to.
Canada won their opening game 4-1 over Jamaica and then edged Panama 2-1 in their next outing. After falling to Mexico 1-0, the Canadian girls wound up second in their pool with a semifinal date against the powerhouse U.S. team.
Setterlund said the Canadians knew they had their hands full after watching the U.S. demolish Costa Rica 10-0 earlier in the tourney.
"We watched goal after goal after goal," Setterlund said. "Don't get me wrong, Costa Rica is a good team. They played Mexico in the semifinals and lost in overtime. When I saw we were going to play the U.S. I thought, 'Oh my goodness, we're done.' Then I thought, 'Hey, the underdogs have done it before so why not us?'"
Adding to the pressure was the knowledge that only the two finalists of the CONCACAF tourney would qualify for the World Cup tourney later this year.
Knowing the Americans could score a lot of goals in a short amount of time, the Canadians employed a defensive strategy combined with timely counterattacks to create scoring opportunities. The game plan worked as Canada and the U.S. played to a scoreless tie through regulation and overtime. The game was settled on penalty kicks where Canada won 5-3.
With the U.S. eliminated and the Canadians assured of a berth in the World Cup, there was just one task left to accomplish -- beat Mexico. Canada had lost to the Mexicans twice already, once in Trinidad and again in the preliminary round.
The third time was a charm as Kinley McNicoll scored 12 minutes into the contest to break a Canadian scoreless drought that stretched back almost three games. Canada received a scare in the second half when a defender was sent off with her second yellow card of the game. Playing with 10 players for the final 35 minutes, the Canadians reverted to the game plan that worked so well against the U.S. The defense held once again and Canada captured its first CONCACAF U-18 title.
As captain, Setterlund accepted the championship trophy but the language barrier delayed another pleasant surprise.
"I didn't know I had won the MVP because they announced it in Spanish," she said with a giggle. "They said something about 'el capitano' and I was already accepting the big championship trophy. This guy came and shook my hand but I thought it was for winning the tournament.
"Later on the bus ride home, a coach asked me how it felt to be MVP of an international tournament. That's when I found out I was the MVP."
With her first taste of international success, Setterlund is now focusing all of her energy in building on that at the World Cup in Trinidad in September.
"We had a saying on our team -- one day, one game, one step, one moment at a time," she said. "Now I know what I'm working for and I have incentive to keep working hard all summer."
© Surrey Now 2010