Canadian team of the year: Women's soccer | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerCanadian team of the year: Women's soccer

Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 | 09:15 AM

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Members of the Canadian women’s soccer team get ready to receive their bronze medals at the London Olympics. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Members of the Canadian women’s soccer team get ready to receive their bronze medals at the London Olympics. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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The Canadian women's soccer team captivated the country with its bronze-medal win at the London Olympics, achieving something that transcended the sport.

That's a major reason why they've been voted by the CBCSports.ca staff as the Canadian team of the year.
Prior to the London Olympics this past summer, it had been 76 years since Canada won a medal in a traditional team sport at the Summer Games.

To put that in perspective: in 1936 you could buy a loaf of bread for about eight cents, an average home cost $550 (the same price as your Studebaker car) and the BBC was just starting the first public broadcasts out of London.

That year, Canada's basketball team, made up primarily of players from the successful Windsor Ford V-8s, lost 19-8 in the Olympic final to the United States, capturing a silver medal for their country.

Not a single member of that '36 team was alive this summer to watch Canada's women's soccer team break the nearly century long curse, as they captured an Olympic bronze medal.

But those who did witness the women's team win, saw a squad that captivated Canadians with their play and achieved something that has transcended their sport.

That's a major reason why they've been voted by the CBCSports.ca staff as the Canadian team of the year.


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Grown men cry

For head coach John Herdman and his team, it has taken some time but they've finally come around to the full gravity of what they've accomplished.

"It's nice to get these accolades. When we're in the Olympics we didn't really get a sense of what we achieved. And I'm not talking about bronze medals. This has nothing to do with medals. I'm talking achieving something that makes Canadians feel great to be Canadian," Herdman said.

"You can't put it into words, the emotions that people back here felt when we won. But you know what you've done for a country."

Since returning from England, Diana Matheson, who scored the bronze medal-winning goal in the dying moments against France, has seen first hand the impact that the win has had on Canadians.

"Getting stopped in the street, asked for a photo, being recognized, it's no longer just little girls or soccer fans," Matheson said. "I hear from grown men now about how they cried their eyes out when we won, about how great it made them feel.

"When we were in London I'm not sure we really knew what was going on here. But when we landed back in Canada, with all the media and all the people waiting for us, it was like nothing I've ever seen."

TSN's Luke Wileman, the man who called the play-by-play of the game, will be forever linked to the Matheson goal. His single-word cry of "Matheesssson!" as she calmly finished the ricocheted shot put an exclamation point on one of Canada's great sporting moments.

"When I realized that would be the moment the team would win bronze, there was a great sense of pride in what they had managed to achieve. It was an incredible story after the controversial, heartbreaking way they lost to the United States [in the semifinals] a few days earlier," Wileman said.

"It was fantastic to see how the performance from the team throughout the Olympics brought the nation together, and having the honour to call that moment in Canadian soccer history was such a privilege and one of the most special moments in my broadcasting career."

Pressure on

Former national team player and assistant coach Andrea Neil was on hand for the disappointment of the 2011 Women's World Cup, where Canada lost all three of its matches, and viewed this year as a holistic, cleansing moment for the squad.

"A lot of times, to find success you have to first go through struggles. And there is no doubt that at the World Cup we struggled," Neil said. "But having said that, the beautiful success of last summer was not just a success on the field. It got people enraptured by the moment and it became a water cooler conversation.

"What makes it even more remarkable was it didn't matter if it was men's or women's soccer -- it was just a proud Canadian moment."

Herdman said that, more than anything, that's what the team set out to do.

"They felt like they had something left to prove after the World Cup," Herdman  said. "This sounds corny but this team genuinely wanted to leave a legacy."

With legacies come big expectations, and heading towards the next World Cup, one that Canada will host, the pressure will be on this team.

Herdman, for one, welcomes it.  

"I think the attitude now is 'bring it on.' I think that's going to be the mindset from here on in. Forget your fears. We've shown we can do it now. We've broken through that barrier. So as far as the World Cup is concerned, bring it on."

The star of the Olympic tournament and now a celebrity in her own right, Christine Sinclair (who was the pick of CBCSports.ca readers for Canadian athlete of the year, and the choice of Canadian sports media members as the Lou Marsh Award winner) shares the sentiment and adds that the team will not rest on its laurels.    

"As a team, and as a country, we still have a long way to go. We brought home an Olympic medal but the challenge is to do that consistently," Sinclair said.

"We have a great opportunity coming in 2015 when we host the Women's World Cup, and that will be an opportunity to change the game in an even bigger way."

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