Canada's Emily Zurrer adds offensive touch
Canadian defender is a dangerous weapon on set pieces
It was a goal seven years in the making.
Emily Zurrer made her debut for the Canadian women's soccer team as a teenager in 2004, but it wasn't until this past March that she finally scored for her country.
Zurrer, a 23-year-old defender from Vancouver, netted a pair of goals at the Cyprus Cup, including the extra-time winner in Canada's 2-1 win over the Netherlands in the final. Now that her scoring drought is over, she is looking to add to her tally at the upcoming FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.
"I've always gone up as a defender for corner kicks and free kicks because the aerial balls are one of my strengths and I've been lucky enough to score for previous teams in the past and I just hadn't been able to get one for the senior team," Zurrer told CBC Sports.
"When I finally scored an official goal for the [national] team, it was definitely a relief and I was excited to be able to contribute to the team offensively in that way."
Zurrer comes by her new-found offensive prowess naturally — she started as a striker before slipping into the back line as a centre back.
"Some people find it hard to believe I was a striker growing up and then my first under-19 camp with [Canadian coach] Ian Bridge he kind of converted me to central back," Zurrer explained. "At first it was very surprising and scary but since then I've never looked back ... I've been a defender pretty much since then."
Zurrer added: "I think it helps to be a defender because I've been on both sides of [set pieces] ... I've been the one defending on the corner and now I know what I don't like to defend and I try to emulate that when I go up for corners."
First and foremost, though, her responsibility is to anchor the Canadian defence, which she does with aplomb while often partnering with veteran Candace Chapman. It's an important role, one that requires her to do quite a bit of multi-tasking during the course of a match.
"I'm kind of a leader in the back... organizing and helping all of our team parts," said Zurrer. "As a defender and especially as a centre back, I can see everything in front of me so I take pride in communicating with [everybody] and being a strong and physical presence in the back."
Like many of her teammates, Zurrer credits coach Carolina Morace with turning the women's program around. Since the Italian took over in early 2009, Canada climbed to No. 6 by playing a more attacking and possession-based style.
Morace's tactics are far more technical and cerebral than that of her predecessor Even Pellerud, forcing her players to adapt and modify parts of their games, Zurrer included.
"I was always a tenacious, aggressive player and I've improved on that [by] owning that skill and being calmly aggressive," Zurrer said. "Carolina really brought in a new tactical mentality to our team and I think we've all thrived under that and been able to bring a few new elements to our game."
Confidence is riding high among the Canadian players ahead of the World Cup thanks in large part to the team's recent success — aside from winning the Cyprus Cup, Canada also won last year's CONCACAF championship in Mexico.
"Winning is addictive and it feels great to win and I've been on this team for few years now and we didn't always have that winning record... so now that we are on this roll, I think that we've gained confidence from every game," stated Zurrer.
Calling the opportunity to play at this summer's World Cup a "childhood dream come true," Zurrer thinks this Canadian team can exceed the feet of the side that finished fourth place at the 2003 tournament in the United States.
"I have so much belief and confidence in this team… and I honestly believe that if we go on to this tournament riding our confidence and playing the way we can play, I think we can bring a medal back to Canada and hopefully it's gold," Zurrer said.