Soccer

Karina LeBlanc, Canadian keeper, to retire after World Cup

Veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc says she will retire from international soccer after Canada's last match at the Women's World Cup.

35-year-old has made 110 appearances for Canada

Karina LeBlanc has represented Canada in three Pan American Games, four Women's World Cups and two Olympic Games. (Martin Rose/Getty Images)

Veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc says she will retire from international soccer after Canada's last match at the Women's World Cup.

"Hopefully it will be in Vancouver, because we want to be in the final," LeBlanc said Tuesday on Canada AM. "Vancouver is where it started for me. I would love to leave my last goodbye on Canadian soil representing this country."

The 35-year old from Maple Ridge, B.C., who has made 110 appearances for Canada, called it a difficult decision but said it was perfect timing.

Canada opens the World Cup on June 6 in Edmonton against China. The tournament final is set for July 5 at B.C. Place Stadium.

Le Blanc will leave world soccer on its biggest showcase.

"As a child, you dream of playing in the Olympic Games or World Cup but you never really dream of it being in your home country, so it's something that we're embracing," LeBlanc told The Canadian Press in an earlier interview. "People talk of pressure, but to us it's an opportunity to really make this country see the women's game, see the sport that we love and have a passion for. For us, it's an honour. We'll get to do it in front of our friends and family but also the nation that we represent and that's what we've been looking forward to."

LeBlanc is the senior member of the Canadian World Cup team. She calls 17-year-old midfielder Jessie Fleming "daughter."

A larger than-life-character with an infectious laugh and no shortage of creative hairstyles, LeBlanc sees endless possibilities.

"I just think every day's an exciting opportunity to be a better version of myself ... That's exciting because you get to continue to push the envelope, push yourself," she said.

LeBlanc was 18 when she debuted for Canada in July 1998, coming in at halftime of a friendly in Montreal against China. She has since represented Canada in three Pan American Games, two Olympic Games and is now on the verge of a fifth World Cup.

"When I first joined the team, it was just a cool thing to be in a stadium that had a lot of people in it," she recalled.

"The game was just so much different back then," she added. "Women's soccer was just coming onto the map and people were just starting to recognize it."

"Now there's expectations, we're year-round working hard. There's more popularity. Little kids now recognize you when go places — it's not even little kids any more, it's adults, parents."

At a February Ottawa Senators game, LeBlanc got a standing ovation when she was introduced on the big screen.

"It was one of those 'Are you kidding me [moments]," she recalled. "But the game has just evolved."

LeBlanc, currently affiliated with the NWSL Chicago Red Stars, plans to continue playing club soccer.

LeBlanc is one of three goalies on the Canadian World Cup roster. Starter Erin McLeod and Stephanie Labbe are the other two.

"Karina has brought so much to this program and this team," said McLeod.

In March 2012, LeBlanc became the 10th women's footballer to make her 100th appearance for Canada.

She has already tried her hand at coaching, working with goalies at a Canadian women's youth camp in 2004 and was an assistant coach at Rutgers University from 2005 to 2010. She has also done some sideline commentary work for Fox TV, something she hopes to do more of post-soccer.

"To me it's fun," she said of TV work, "because I've spent so many years being interviewed. And now I guess I know as an athlete what that they want to be asked and what they don't want to be asked."

LeBlanc says she has long been the lucky one, representing her country in the sport she loves. She recalls savouring the moment at an Olympic qualifier in Vancouver, listening to the anthem rather than singing it.

"I actually closed my eyes and listened because it was the country signing our national anthem. And I took in the moment. And when I opened my eyes, I remember seeing my family and my friends and the people who have been part of this journey so far, my old coaches. That was just so special.

"And I think that's what having a World Cup at home brings. It's the people that you represent, they're right there watching you and they have your back."

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