While her teammates stood on the BC Place pitch singing the Canadian national anthem, defender Emily Zurrer was singing right along with them — albeit from the stands and not standing shoulder to shoulder with her friends as she would have preferred.
Zurrer, born in Crofton B.C., an hour and a half long ferry ride away from Vancouver in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, was a surprise omission from the squad when Canadian head coach John Herdman announced his team before Christmas.
"I think Emily was the really tough decision," Herdman said when announcing the roster. "She’s been such a key player in the Canadian setup over the last few years, so mentally and emotionally for her and I think for the team it’s been a tough call. And it was a close call.
"It’s a short-term decision. …And hopefully for Emily, she’ll be able to push her way back through the team for the Olympics and focus on that goal."
‘Work my butt off’
Zurrer, who was in attendance for Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Cuba along with her sister and mother, admitted that it’s tough not having the rare opportunity of playing in front of family and friends.
"I’m definitely going to work my butt off to get my spot back for the Olympics," said Zurrer. "I want more than anything to be with the team. My heart is with the team during this tournament and I’m their biggest supporter."
'It’s definitely something I’m going to use as motivation and turn it into a positive for the future.'— Fullback Emily Zurrer on being left off Canada's Olympic qualifying roster.
The former Vancouver Whitecaps player, who now plies her trade in Sweden, hasn’t had to look far for motivation and inspiration. Her mother, Lesley, is a breast cancer survivor who, in addition to fighting the disease, also had to battle complications when the chemotherapy damaged her heart.
When Canada was living and training in Rome under former coach Carolina Morace prior to last summer’s World Cup, Zurrer used a 10-day break in training to be with her mother in hospital.
"Her heart was damaged from the chemo, so she almost had to go on the transplant list," explained Zurrer. "She’s totally rebounded. She’s a tough lady."
Teammates praise her ‘heart of gold’
After being left off the qualifying tournament roster, Zurrer — with 49 appearances for her country, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup — would have been forgiven for crawling into a corner and withdrawing from her teammates for a while. Instead, she did the opposite.
Right after Christmas, a group of about six team members took some time off to get together in Whistler and Zurrer was right along with them.
"She has a heart of gold and she shows that time and time again," said goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who was a part of that trip and noted that more than anything, the team misses her presence and the positive energy that she brings to the locker-room.
"She’s one of our biggest supporters and the team’s supporters, whether she’s in the squad or not and I know now it’s her mission to get back here and she’s working her tail off. That’s who she is."
When Canada won gold at this past fall’s Pan American Games, Zurrer was focusing on her club career so she hasn’t had as much experience getting to know Herdman as some of her teammates since he’s taken over the program. But with the new boss, she knows what she needs to do to earn a spot on team Canada in time for this summer’s Olympics in London.
Working on proficiency with both feet
"Herdman is pretty straight up," said Zurrer. "He tells you what you need to improve on and one of the things is I’m a dominant right-footed player and he wants the left side of centre back, which is my position, to play a lot with their left foot and so that’s something I definitely need to work on."
One area where Zurrer excels is on set pieces. It’s one area where the otherwise solid Canadian team could use some help after not looking very convincing in dead-ball situations through the group stage of the tournament.
"We’re going to miss her on set plays and she’s a big part of this team and hopefully she’ll join us again after this tournament," said Melissa Tancredi prior to the tournament.
At just 24, Zurrer’s best days are still ahead of her and the player, noted for her strong physical play on the back line, feels this is just a small bump in the road and it’s easy to notice that positivity her teammates talk about.
"This is definitely a blip in my career. It’s a hard blip, especially because [the tournament] is in my hometown," she said.
"I want, more than anything, to play in front of my family and friends but it’s definitely something I’m going to use as motivation and turn it into a positive for the future."