​The first time Melissa Tancredi and Rhian Wilkinson trained together for the national women's soccer team was at a camp in Costa Rica prior to the 2004 Olympic qualifying tournament.

In those days Tancredi was a defender and Wilkinson played forward. Many Canadians had never heard of either player.

"Time has changed," Wilkinson said with a smile Friday.

Tancredi, the physical forward who would score 27 goals in 124 international games, and Wilkinson, who played 180 games as one of the country's best defenders, announced their retirements at a news conference in Vancouver. Also retiring is veteran defender Marie-Eve Nault, who was unable to attend.

Melissa Tancredi to retire from Canada's women's national soccer team0:46

All three played roles on the Canadian team that won back-to-back bronze medals at the London and Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

"We are so privileged to be able to step away from the game, choosing our moment with two Olympic medals around our necks," said Wilkinson, 34, of Point-Claire, Que.

Unique careers

Tancredi said her years playing for the national team helped develop her as a person.

"It's been amazing," said the 35-year-old from Ancaster, Ont. "It's been my adult life, it's been my identity.

"I'm so happy to see Canada on top, fourth in the world, and two medals deep. There's a lot more to come."

Both paid tribute to past coaches and previous national team members.

"Our career has spanned a very unique time in women's sport," said Wilkinson. "We played with the women who pioneered the game, who paid to play.

"Now we are teammates of women who are going to make and bring soccer to whole another level."

Rhian Wilkinson to play one final game for Canada's women's national soccer team0:46

John Herdman, the national team coach who usually wears his confidence like a finely tailored suit, was emotional when talking about Tancredi and Wilkinson leaving the pitch.

True Canadian grit

"I'm pretty scared moving forward, when I look at what we are losing," he said.

"You Canadians pride yourself on this thing called Canadian grit," the Englishman added. "These two put the 'G' in it. They genuinely have that grit. It runs in their veins."

Tancredi and Wilkinson will both be available to play when Canada hosts Mexico in a friendly match Feb. 4 at B.C. Place Stadium. Nault will be attendance at the match but will not be in the lineup.

Wilkinson grew up playing against Nault in Quebec and called her "a star before stars were playing."

Canadian women's soccer veteran Marie-Ève Nault hangs up her cleats0:36

She also said Nault served an unsung role in both Olympic medals.

"She was an alternate in London," said Wilkinson. "We had injuries and she came on as a starter. She impacted every game she played in.

"In Rio, she was an alternate but she was the heartbeat of the team."

Nault, of Trois-Rivieres, Que., played in 70 games and collected two assists.

Not goodbye 

Since debuting with the national team in 2003, Wilkinson played in four straight FIFA Women's World Cups, six CONCACAF championships and three Olympics. She also won a Norwegian Toppserien league title at the professional level in 2012, the same year she was named to Canada Soccer's All-Time XI.

Tancredi joined the national team in 2004 and played in three FIFA World Cups, six CONCACAF championships and three Olympic. She scored the wining goal that qualified Canada for both the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games.

Nault joined the national team in 2004 and played in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. She won a CONCACAF championship in 2010.

Both Wilkinson and Tancredi hope to remain with the national team in some function.

Wilkinson has applied to the University of British Columbia for a high-performance coaching and technical leadership masters program.

"Coaching and teaching runs in my blood," she said. "I am the daughter of two English professors. I love that element."

Tancredi has opened a chiropractic practice in Vancouver. She would like to work with the national team as well as other Olympic athletes.

"I've known what it takes to perform at the top level," she said. "I think it's very important to broaden my horizon and get into other sports."