From Neil Davidson, Joshua Clipperton, and L Armstrong
In the wake of winning bronze at the Rio Olympics, All three retiring Canada players Melissa Tancredi. Marie-Eve Nault and Rhian Wilkinson t played their final game before 22,508 fans at BC Place. All three are now prepared for life and new challenges after International soccer.
For an encore, Rhian Wilkinson ran a marathon and crewed a 35 foot yacht in the Mediterranean. earlier, after the 2015 Women’s World Cup, she had walked part of the famed Camino de Santiago trail in Spain with her mother.
The 34-year-old fullback said goodbye last Saturday 4th February 2017, to her international soccer playing career. She leaves with her 181st appearance for Canada, but she will probably never stop challenging herself. Rather than spending her post-Olympic holiday on a beach, Wilkinson ran the Montreal marathon. “Just wanted to get that out the way,” she said breezily. “Check it off the bucket list.”
There was a little more to it than that, however. “Often, when I do public speaking engagements I talk to people about living in uncomfortable spaces and the need for to push boundaries. I hadn’t done that for a while,” said Wilkinson, only talked about running events. She ran her first marathon 10 years ago.
“At the end of my soccer career, I personally, wasn’t pushing any boundaries.Then, I was given the chance to run the marathon. Why sign up for a 10K if I’m telling other people to push oundaries? So I went for it. I jumped in.”
Next came the opportunity to help crew a 50-foot yacht for nine days, with nine Germans, The yacht had to be sailed from Majorca to Malaga, Spain. That boat sounds large and impressive “until you have nine other people in there. It was pretty tight,” she said dryly.
Wilkinson, a native of Baie-D’Urfé, who presently calls North Vancouver home, saw the sailing as an adventure. “I’ve never set foot on a sailing boat before. In port I was fine, but once we reached waves, I was violently ill,” she said with a laugh. “But now I’ve done had the sailing experience, and I might try it again.”
I hope to continue life’s challenges, but my time playing international soccer is over. And, the three of us that are retiring have left a good legacy. Last Saturday’s event was about the team’s bright future, not about reflection. The last two Olympic Games have offered encouraging signs for Canada’s soccer women, who hope to reach unprecedented success in Tokyo 2020.
“Our careers have spanned a unique time in women’s sport,” Rhian says. “We played alongside the women who pioneered the game, and now we are recent teammates of women who are going to take Canada soccer to another level.”
For long-time national team forward Melissa Tancredi, the decision to retire from a long and rewarding soccer career was easy. The tough part was simply the timing of the official retirement. “I knew it was my time, it was just the exact time I was unsure of. My body is okay; it’s just my mind—my mind is ready. It’s fatigued and I have been through plenty with this career. I have two bronze medals, two great Olympics, and why not go out on that?”
“I hope it’s not going to be emotional,” Tancredi, 35, said before breaking out into laughter and adding, “It’s going to be emotional.” Many of the players are steeling themselves for an emotional afternoon. Veteran midfielder Diana Matheson said it was a matter of “putting it in the back of our minds, lest everyone becomes overwhelmed by the finality of the departures.
“The pinnacle of my career, I believed, was becoming an Olympian in Beijing,” said Wilkinson, 34, whose appearance on Saturday will mark her 181st international caps for the Reds. The concept of winning a medal was unfathomable to me.”
Nault, too, said the experience in London was career-defining. As an alternate in 2012, the defender ended up seeing 361 minutes’ worth of action as a result of injuries, and her journey, from alternate to starter, was one of the best storylines of the tournament. “We’d had such a roller coaster of emotion, playing that game against the U.S., and then were so tired, but we were able to dig deep to win that bronze medal, for ourselves and for Canada,” she explained. “That was definitely the best moment of my career.”
“Because I wasn’t due to play at the Olympics, I had kind of moved on,” she said. The native of Trois-Rivières, Quebec, was an alternate in Rio and played her last club match, with KIF Örebro in Sweden, in November.
“I was just going to come and enjoy the game and just being here with the team,” she said. “But then I guess things change and plans change.
According to Tancredi, who has 124 appearances and 27 goals the team itself has evolved over the years: the expectations amongst the group are now much higher. The team is now ranked fourth in the world, and the goal is to reach the No. 1 spot—something Matheson admits “wasn’t even on our radar in past years.” “We work for each other. We’ve always worked for each other,” Tancredi said. “But now it’s demanding more, and the consistency. That’s the mindset we’ve changed.”
While Tancredi, Wilkinson and Nault are marking the end of their playing careers, they won’t be leaving the game behind entirely. Tancredi, who works as a chiropractor in Vancouver, hopes to join the national team staff, while Wilkinson is pursuing a career in coaching. Nault’s ties to the game will be less formal, though she’s already started coaching young girls back home. The hope of leaving a legacy, she said, was always about making an impact on would-be players.
“These three women mean everything; they have given everything,” Canadian head coach John Herdman said of Tancredi, Wilkinson and Nault. “Their whole adult life has been spent with this team. They don’t know anything different … and you only have to go into our locker-room to start to realize what they mean to each other.
“Each one of them has got something in their identity that Canadians can relate to, whether it’s the grit of Tancredi, the altruism of Marie-Eve or just that ‘true north’ value of Rhian.”
All three players were joined by family members on the pitch for a ceremony following the game, with Tancredi’s grandparents surprising her after flying in from Ontario.
The 35-year-old Tancredi, a powerful striker who scored 27 goals in 125 appearances, started on the bench before coming on as substitute in the 76th minute with Canada clinging to a 3-2 lead.
A member of the national team since 2004, Tancredi scored twice in Canada’s famous 2-1 victory over Germany in Brazil, the country’s first-ever win against the European powerhouse. “It’s a bit overwhelming,” said Tancredi, who had tears in her eyes after Saturday’s game. “It was going to be an emotional day.”
A standout defender throughout her career, Wilkinson also started the game on the bench, but came on in the 57th minute to win her 181st cap. The 34-year-old made her debut for Canada in 2003.
Nault, meanwhile, started against Mexico for her 71st appearance. The 34-year-old was an integral part at the 2012 Olympics after two defenders ahead of her on the depth chart were felled by injuries.
“We talked today about some of the things those women have stood for, and these things can’t leave our team,” said Herdman. “Someone in that room has to be ready to take on the sort of responsibility or we won’t see a podium again. It doesn’t matter how good the players are, how technically gifted they are if they don’t have that spirit, that heart, if they don’t have the values and attitude that these women have, this team goes nowhere. This team has been built on their foundations.”
For Wilkinson, it wasn’t a decision at all. The 34-year-old defender, who has made 180 appearances for her country since 2003, planned to retire in 2012, but decided she couldn’t give up the opportunity to continue playing again for coach John Herdman.
“I call it a gift,” Wilkinson said about that final quadrennial. “(Herdman) gave me a four-year gift of being able to work under him and with this team. They were some of the best years of my career.” They led to a second consecutive Olympic bronze medal last summer, an accomplishment that will be celebrated alongside the retirements during a friendly match with
.All three are consistent on one thing: Their careers, which spanned the most successful period this country has seen, came at the most interesting time imaginable for the women’s game, both in Canada and abroad.
“When I joined, women were paid to play,” Wilkinson said. “Most Canadian players were completely unknown. Former Canadian striker (Charmaine Hooper) was as good a player as Mia Hamm and the Americans on that team, but I hadn’t heard of her until I made the national team.”
Fast forward a dozen years, when England knocked Canada out of the Women’s World Cup, The game was played before 54,000 fans at BC Place. In this last friendly against Mexico, more than 22,000 people are expected.