Canadian Women Take Soccer Gold at Pan Am Games

Alright, this is Caitie the football* fan here, and Caitie the Canuck too, saying "Go Canada Go" to our talented women's team. Shockingly turfed out of the World Cup this summer in no uncertain terms, a big surprise coming after our second Gold Cup championship in 2010, this didn't look like it was going to be much of a year for Karina LeBlanc and the women footballers of Canada.

But then they sent half of the World Cup team to the Pan Am Games, a competition open to nations up and down the Americas, athletes from anywhere between Ellesmere Island and Tierra del Fuego. The US team didn't attend, and Brasil were without their stellar forward and five-time World Player of the Year, Marta, but in Thursday night's final in Guadalajara, Mexico, the Canadian goalkeeper (LeBlanc) stopped two penalties by Brasil's shooters, while the Canadians put all theirs into the net, for a 4-3 victory in the shootout.

The game had looked a disaster for Canada early, giving up a goal only four minutes in, but control went back and forth before Christine Sinclair (Canada's all-time top scorer, with 117 goals in 163 appearances, as of June 30 this year) managed to finally head home a corner taken by fierce terrier/midfielder Diana Matheson (another long-time veteran of the Canadian team - all 5'0.25" of her) in the 88th minute. Two 15-minute periods of extra time settled nothing, though both sides had chances, leading to the penalty shootout.

Speaking personally as a goalkeeper, I understand LeBlanc's statement that she enjoys shootouts. I hate them as a fan, hate the tension and the irrelevance to the game, but as a player, they thrill me. The only championship my current team won, for several years, was a cup competition in which we endured two penalty shootouts - the semi-final and the final. In both - I swear this is literally true, every word - I saved all five of my opponents' shots, and scored the only one of five for us. Best two games I ever played, stopping ten penalties. Time used to be that when stopping penalties, the strategy for keepers was to guess-and-leap, hoping you'd got the right direction. Some keepers, and I'm among them, have come more recently to the conclusion that, in fact, they're the easiest shots keepers ever face, in some ways. Consider: you know when it's coming, who's taking it, there's no one else in the way, and you don't have to worry about a rebound (as the ball is dead when it ceases forward motion in shootouts). Every advantage is mine.

Well, except for the 24-foot wide net, with the crossbar eight feet up. But other than that...

Anyway, big congratulations to the Canadian women's team for their stellar success throughout the tournament, almost completely unnoticed by our national media - five games in seven days! What a grueling schedule.

* AKA soccer, for you folk who think a game where only a very few people ever touch the ball with their feet should be called "football": see NFL/gridiron, CFL-Canadian style, et c.. :)

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