Four months on from a disappointing loss in the 2010 W-League Championship Final, captain Martina Franko was pleased with her first season back with Vancouver Whitecaps FC since 2006.
The former Canadian international played a key role in leading the Blue and White to a W-League Western Conference championship title. The native of Squamish, BC, provided important top-level experience to a young and talented squad that was assembled by first-year women's team head coach Hubert Busby Jr.
The 34-year-old's efforts were all the more impressive, as the centre back returned to action just months after giving birth to her son Micah. "Being able to play competitively again after having a baby, and enjoying the atmosphere on a team that was successful, proved really rewarding for me," Franko said of the 2010 season.
With Canada qualifying for next year's FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany, Busby's squad is sure to look very different in 2011 to the one that took to the pitch this year. With the 'Caps aiming for a return to the W-League Championship Final next season, Franko believes a more settled squad will be crucial to Vancouver's aspirations. "Our hopes would be to have an even more consistent team," said the defender. "When we went into the W-League Final Four this year, we had a number of players missing because of school commitments. Those changes dropped our level of play and consistency. If we have a squad that is together throughout the season, we'll be more consistent with our performances."
As a new mother, Franko's return to competitive soccer was helped in large part by the support of the Whitecaps Foundation, whose commitment to the women's program not only allows the 'Caps to remain at the forefront of women's soccer in North America, but inspire future women's soccer players. "As a new mother, having a caregiver support me with my new child during the season was a big help to me," Franko said of the support she received. "It made it easier for me to come back and play with Whitecaps FC. I would like to thank the club and the Foundation for their support."
Still, the defender had an interesting season juggling her time with young Micah and concentrating on her role as Whitecaps FC captain. "Time management was the big thing, as everything now revolves around the child," Franko said. "It's important for me to know that he's okay and having fun before I can think about playing soccer and having fun myself."
Inspiring younger players is a passion for Franko. Not only has the defender led by example on the pitch in Whitecaps colours, she is also passing on her knowledge and wisdom of the 'Beautiful Game' to student athletes at Quest University Canada in her hometown of Squamish.
The defender has been head coach of the Quest University women's soccer team since January 2008, with the Kermodes playing in the British Columbia Colleges Athletic Association. "I find it fun and rewarding to be coaching," Franko said. "The players in my team play for the fun of the game and are keen to learn a lot from my experiences, as well as learn something new as soccer players. It's made for a fun experience."