After a few of months of heartbreak, handwringing and uncertainty, the Canadian women's soccer team has something to cheer about.
Canada claimed its first ever Pan American Games gold medal in thrilling fashion Thursday in Guadalajara, Mexico, in a match that took 120 minutes and was decided by penalty kicks.
Team captain and Canada's all-time leading scorer Christine Sinclair scored in the 88th minute to tie the game 1-1 as Canada went on to a 4-3 shootout win over two-time defending Pan Am champions (and Marta-less) Brazil.
It marked the first major win for new coach John Herdman and a morale boost for the national team, which crashed out of the FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany this summer with three straight losses.
"This story is perfect," said veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, who stopped two penalties in the victory. "We were knocked down after the World Cup, we fell down, and John came in and he said: 'What do you guys want? We said: we want a gold medal.' To go down and to show the resilience our team has. ... The message moving forward: you know what, you can knock us down, but we'll find a way."
So, who were the women behind this golden moment?
The usual suspects, of course, including team leaders Sinclair, LeBlanc, midfield maestro Diana Matheson (she of 130 caps) and centre back Candace Chapman (97 caps) and regular starters Rhian Wilkinson (103 caps) and Sophie Schmidt, one of the bright spots on Canada's World Cup in Germany.
But Herdman, who himself is a new face after succeeding Carolina Morace in early September, used the Pan Am Games as an opportunity to inject new blood into the side.
Here's a look at a few names you may not be familiar with:
Herdman: Let's start with the boss. The former New Zealand coach now has a 4-1-2 record since taking over from Morace. Two of those matches, a draw and a loss, came against the U.S. in a two-game friendly series before the Pan Am Games. When he was hired, he said he was sticking with the same style Morace preached - a technical style focused on passing and possession - which is the way the women's game has evolved.
Christina Julien: Not a new face to the national team, but the 23-year-old native of Williamstown, Ont., did enjoy a breakout tournament at the Pan Am Games, scoring two goals and looking like a threat at other times. Aside from the group stage game against Brazil where she played one half, Julien played every tick of the clock in Mexico - a change since she was used sparingly under Morace.
Shannon Woeller: The 21-year-old Vancouver native saw plenty of the pitch in Mexico. She was only one of three to play every minute of every game (fellow central defender Chapman and midfielder Kelly Parker were the others). She represented Canada at the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Chile and is a mainstay with the Vancouver Whitecaps in the W-League.
Lauren Sesselmann: When Herdman named his squad for two friendlies against the U.S. in September, Sesselmann's name popped out. One, because she'd never been capped for Canada at any level; and two, she was born and bred in Wisconsin. So what gives? She's an American-born Canadian, who has ties to Stephenville, Nfld., through her father. She's figured into Herdman's plans on defence, where he used her at left back. She plays with the Atlanta Beat of Women's Professional Soccer (along with Saskatoon-native Parker).
The teens: Herdman used all 18 players on his roster at the tournament, including four teenagers - goalkeeper Rachelle Beanlands, defender Vanessa Legault-Cordisco, midfielder Diamond Simpson and striker Amelia Pietrangelo.
So what's next?
Canada's next scheduled match is an international friendly against Sweden (World Cup bronze medallists) on Nov. 22 and of course, there's the all-important CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament January in Vancouver. The top two teams at that event advance to the 2012 London Summer Games.
Of the 32 players currently in the senior national team pool - not including any U-20 or U-17 age players mentioned above - only half were members of this gold-medal winning squad in Guadalajara.
With several veterans left off the roster at home and potential new players tied to their NCAA teams this fall, it will be interesting to see just who will be wearing the Maple Leaf come January in Vancouver.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?