Canada's Kaylyn Kyle living her soccer dream
Saskatoon-born midfielder is a key player for the Reds
Kaylyn Kyle still pinches herself to make sure she isn't dreaming.
It wasn't that long ago she was kicking a ball by herself in the park across the street from her childhood home in Saskatoon. Fast forward to the present, where the 22-year-old midfielder is preparing to play at this summer's FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.
From Prairie girl to participant in the biggest women's sports event in the world — it's a remarkable life journey that Kyle still can't believe.
"I was home at Christmas, and my mother and I were going through a box of old photos. There was one of me posing with a soccer ball in my living room, with these big glasses and these big bangs. Looking at that picture to where I am today, it's crazy to think that I'm going to be playing in a World Cup when it seems like I was just playing for the Silverwood Rangers as a kid," Kyle told CBCSports.ca.
How does a young girl who grew up in the heart of junior hockey country, and in a province where CFL football is a second religion, end up playing soccer?
Kyle explained she tried a number of sports as a youngster, but it was when her parents enrolled her in soccer as a six-year-old that her passion was ignited.
"You couldn't drag me away from the soccer field," she recalled. "I remember my parents giving me my first soccer ball and I would take it across to the park by myself and just play on my own. All my friends would be playing floor hockey on the rink beside me while I was juggling the ball.
"They would always ask me to play hockey with them but I kept playing on my own with my ball."
Her love affair of the game grew — so much so that she convinced her parents to driver her to Edmonton to watch Canada play at the inaugural FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship.
At that tournament, Kyle watched the likes of Christine Sinclair, Carmelina Moscato and Candace Chapman compete for Canada. Today, those same players are her teammates.
"When I was little, I remember watching Christine and Carmelina, and never even imagining myself playing for my country, and now I'm playing beside them," said Kyle. "I'm extremely lucky not only to represent my country, but also to be given the opportunity to be able to say I'm part of the national team."
Kyle had pictures of Sinclair on her bedroom walls while growing up, and admitted she's still in awe of the Canadian captain.
"She's just an incredible person. Before I played with her, people kept asking me if she's as really as good as everyone says. I never really had an answer for that. Now I find that every day she gets better and better. It kind of disgusts me because it doesn't even look like she tries," Kyle joked.
Given a shot
It wasn't always smooth sailing for the Saskatchewan native. Largely ignored by former coach Even Pellerud, Kyle has only established herself as a key player and a regular starter for Canada under Carolina Morace, who took over coaching duties in 2009.
"She's very smart and willing to work with young players because once being a player herself she knows that once you get older you retire and the younger generation comes in and fills those roles," Kyle of the Italian coach.
"She's very smart that way, where she is taking younger players into training camps, giving them opportunities and getting them into games just to give them experience. They may not be ready but she's giving them that experience to know what it takes to be an international player and what you need to do."
With long blonde hair and runway model looks, Kyle is anything but a dainty flower on the soccer field. The youngster is a bulwark in midfield, furiously chasing down the ball all over the field and fearlessly tackling opponents to win possession for Canada.
She's also looked dangerous on attack, providing quality service for Sinclair and the other forwards.
You'll never mistake Kyle for Anna Kournikova — all flash and no substance to her game. She's more like Maria Sharapova, a first-class athlete who just also happens to be an attractive woman.
"When it comes to soccer I am a very driven person and I would never want people to put my looks before my playing ability. I'm more of a Sharapova in that regard," Kyle stated.
What's most impressive about Kyle is her work ethic and mental attitude. For someone who shot up the national team pecking order in such a short period of time, she doesn't carry herself with even the slightest trace of arrogance.
Maybe it's her Prairie upbringing, but the Canadian midfielder remains perfectly grounded, knowing that she can be replaced on the team in the moment's notice.
"I need to keep working my ass off to be here. I've been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity. Now I just need to prove not only to her but also to my teammates that I deserve to be here every single day," Kyle admitted.