British Columbia

Vancouver soccer star Julia Grosso fitter, stronger and headed to the Olympics

In a surprise to some soccer watchers, the 20-year-old midfielder from East Vancouver was named to the Canadian Olympic soccer team's 18-woman roster.

The 20-year-old midfielder says she earned her spot on Team Canada by turning adversity into motivation

Vancouver's Julia Grosso, 20, has been selected to the Canadian Olympic soccer team for Tokyo. (submitted by Canada Soccer)

Julia Grosso is used to having dad Carlos answer his phone after the first ring.

So on Monday, when she called him in Vancouver, bursting with news of her selection to the Canadian Olympic soccer team, she was annoyed he didn't pick up.

She tried a second time. Again, no response.

"I was so mad," Grosso said, speaking from Austin, Texas, where she attends the University of Texas.

"He kept texting me back, 'Julia, I'm in a meeting.' And I'm like, 'Dad, you're going to want to pick up!"'

Carlos is not a man who cries easily, said Grosso, 20. But when the two finally connected, the emotions flowed.

"I know there was water in his eyes, I saw it," she said. "He was so happy for me. He's been my number one supporter since I was four."

Julia Grosso, 20, made her senior national team debute at age 17. (submitted by Canada Soccer)

The Tokyo Olympics will be the East Vancouver native's second major international tournament after the 2019 World Cup, and comes complete with the baked-in pressure of joining a squad looking to equal or better the back-to-back bronze medals won in 2012 and 2016.

To some soccer watchers, her selection to the 18-woman roster was a surprise.

Grosso hasn't seen a lot of playing time since her national team debut in 2017. And in the three games Canada played in February's SheBelieves Cup in Florida, she never left the bench. 

But that disappointment, said Grosso, flipped a switch in her head. She returned to Austin with new resolve, vowing to do everything in her control to make the Olympic team.

First and foremost, that meant hitting the gym in a serious way.

"I got fitter and a lot stronger. I think that was the really big thing. In midfield, you have to be tough in there, so fitness and strength on the ball is really important," she said. 

"Sometimes in an athlete's life, things don't always go your way, and [Florida] definitely really motivated me to just push through."

According to national coach Bev Priestman, Grosso's improvement couldn't be missed in the two international friendlies Canada played earlier this month.

"She went away and I've got to say came into this camp looking fantastic physically," said Priestman.

"The Brazil game, and even to be fair, the Czech Republic game, I felt she went in and made a big impact. She answered a question for me of 'is Julia ready?'"

Priestman's Olympic team heads to Los Angeles next week for a training camp.

After that, it's on to Sapporo where Canada faces an emotional first test, kicking off the Olympic tournament against Japan, July 21 at the Sapporo Dome.

Grosso at the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando, Florida, on Feb. 24, 2021. She credits the disappointment of not playing a single minute in the tournament as motivation to work harder. (submitted by Canada Soccer)

The Canadians are currently ranked eighth in the world and will need to find goals from players not named Christine Sinclair. 

And that brings up another neat thing for Grosso: earning the chance to play alongside her idol Sinclair, now 38, the world's all-time leading goal scorer, who is captaining the team at her fourth Olympic Games.

After all, it was less than a decade ago Grosso was swooning in Sinclair's presence, volunteering as a ball girl at B.C. Place during a Team Canada game.

"Still to this day, I'm like, oh my gosh, I identify with this legend and she's amazing," said Grosso. "It's crazy ... but it's still really cool."

with files from Signa Butler