Road To The Olympic Games

Josee Belanger adjusts to new position for Canada's national soccer team

After playing most of her international career in the attacking third of the field, Josee Belanger is now getting accustomed to life at the other end of the field for Canada’s women’s soccer team.

The former attacker made the transition last year

Canada's Josee Belanger has switched positions, and her new role as a defender has been a success. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

After playing most of her international career in the attacking third of the field, Josee Belanger is now getting accustomed to life at the other end of the field for Canada's women's soccer team.

Belanger, from Coaticook, Que., made the transition to defense just prior to last summer's 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada. Prior, she had been playing forward her whole career. 

She's evolved as a player and taken to her new position well, adding her value to the Canadian team as they look to get back to the Olympic Games on Friday when they play Costa Rica in the semifinals of the 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship. If they win that game, they book their spot in Rio.

The move was initially one made out of necessity when both Rhian Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault were injured at the start of the World Cup, but it's been a success and has stuck.

"I really enjoy it. I think it goes with my skillset so I think I'm more impactful when I have the ball facing forward," Belanger said on Wednesday. "I can be more alive. It's helped me to express more the player that I am.

"I'm enjoying it so it's all about what we can bring depending on the opposition. I'm in a good space and I'm ready for whatever the team needs."

Still attacking

Her new assignment doesn't mean her days joining the Canadian attack are behind her. Far from it, in fact.

Head coach John Herdman encourages his defenders to not only join in the attack, but act as instigators of attacking moves. It's a big part of his tactical plan where these 'modern fullbacks' are just as adept going forward as maintaining shape at the back.

The main difference for Belanger is that instead of being in the penalty area on the receiving end of crosses, she's now the one providing them.

"I'm high enough to be a wide forward. But most of my work is on the wing instead of cutting inside to go to goal," said Belanger. "I would be the one creating the width or the crosses instead of being in the box to be at the end of it."

Belanger started in Canada's 5-0 win to open the Olympic qualifiers and as Guyana sat back against the Canadian attack, Belanger worked in tandem with Diana Matheson on the right side to create all kinds of havoc on their opposing defenders.

She also started in the 6-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago before being rested in the 10-0 win against Guatemala on Tuesday.

Her success playing the new position hasn't surprised Herdman, who wlecomed Belanger back into the national program in 2014 (initially as a forward) after she took a three-year hiatus to tend to an ankle injury that was once thought to have ended her career.

"She's just relentless," said Herdman. "I really enjoy watching her play because there's an honest performance to it. There's no ego." 

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