Canadian soccer star Jordyn Huitema emerges to help clinch Olympic spot
18-year-old Chilliwack, B.C. native scores only goal of crucial match
For so many years it's been soccer star Christine Sinclair who has been leaned heavily upon to provide the scoring heroics in key games for Canada. And for so many years, she's delivered.
But on Friday night, with an Olympic spot on the line in a one-game showdown with Costa Rica, a new star emerged.
Jordyn Huitema, 18, wasn't even born when Sinclair scored her first goal for Canada in 2000. But in the 72nd minute, with game hanging in the balance tied at zeroes, Huitema delivered.
After a perfect sequence of passes between Janine Beckie and Deanne Rose, Huitema broke in on goal all alone, first striking the ball off the left post, gathering her own rebound and putting it in the back of the net.
"I think the first thing I said to my team is that's my luck for 2020," Huitema said after the game.
"It wasn't the prettiest. But it has the most meaning for a goal I've scored."
That goal, the game's only goal, is the one that's sending Canada to the Olympics. It was Huitema's seventh of the qualifying tournament.
WATCH | Huitema scores winner for Canada against Costa Rica:
Canada has outscored its opponents 23-0 in the four games they've played at the qualifying tournament. They'll play the U.S. in Sunday's meaningless final.
"The first thing I said was, 'how did she miss the first one?'" Sinclair joked. "We just needed that little bit of luck. I thought we dominated, we just couldn't put the ball in the back of the net."
It was a remarkable scene as the whistle sounded to end the game with the Canadian team blasting off the bench and the players on the pitch erupting in celebration — Sinclair was the first to race to Huitema to celebrate.
If there was a singular moment to best represent the passing of the torch for this women's national soccer program, this was it.
Back to the Olympics
It's the fourth time the Canadian women's soccer team has qualified for the Olympics. Their past two bronze medals at the previous two Games have been well-documented. They become the seventh Canadian team to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
Canada joins host Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, Great Britain, Netherlands and Sweden as teams already qualified.
12 countries compete in Soccer at the Olympics.
When they captured bronze at the 2012 Games in London, they became the first Canadian team to win a medal since 1936.
Sinclair, who is the all-time international scoring leader with 186 goals, is ready to lead her country into battle once again on the biggest athletic stage.
"Going to the Olympics never gets old. Every one of them has brought a different story and experience. We're looking to get back on the podium," she said.
But whether this team can breakthrough and find a way into that gold medal game remains to be seen. No one will ever forget how close they came in that controversial semifinal against the Americans in London in 2012.
Overcoming adversity and disappointment
There were nerves going into Friday night's one-game showdown to punch a ticket to the Olympics — and for good reason.
It was less than eight months ago that in another game of massive significance the Canadian women's soccer team left the pitch devastated.
Their 1-0 loss at the hands of Sweden in the quarter-final game at the World Cup on June 24 sent a shockwave through the program — and the pressure has been mounting on head coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller after the early exit.
So, as Friday night's pressure-packed game rolled on, it would have been easy for this Canadian team to begin to doubt itself and perhaps take unnecessary risks.
Another look at Jordyn Huitema's 7th goal of the Concacaf Women's Olympic Qualifying Championship<br><br>🇨🇦1-0🇨🇷<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CANWNT?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CANWNT</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CWOQ?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CWOQ</a><a href="https://t.co/QTM8DjhlRF">pic.twitter.com/QTM8DjhlRF</a>—@CanadaSoccerEN
Instead, they got better in the second half, controlling the play against Costa Rica and finally got the goal they needed.
Before the match, Heiner-Møller said his team knew what was at stake and that they would "have butterflies in our stomachs, all of us. But that's what we live for."
They've lived to fight another day, now with less than six months to prepare for Tokyo.
It's in these moments, moments of massive significance like Friday night's game, that sporting programs define themselves and create an identity.
The Canadians found a way to win a gritty, frustrating-at-times game. And they didn't have to rely on Sinclair to score.