insoccer.ca

LeBlanc: Canadian women drawing their NWSL battle lines

stevensandor75x75b
By Steven Zandor
kLeBlanc-239x300
Karina LeBlanc
It’s fair to use the term “frenemies” to describe the members of Canada’s women’s national team.
A little less than two weeks ago, 16 members of the women’s national program found out where they would be playing in the new NWSL, including keeper Karina LeBlanc. Each of the eight teams got two members of the Canadian national program, whose salaries will be paid by the Canadian Soccer Association.

And, as soon as the women found out where they’d be spending the summer, the jawing began.

“We were in China (for the Yongchuan Cup), so we didn’t find out live,” said LeBlanc, who was on a media conference call Tuesday promoting her upcoming visit to Edmonton with national teammates Christine Sinclair, Rhian Wilkinson and Diana Matheson. “But we all looked at our e-mail to find out where we were going, and then the trash talking started right away.”

Of course, LeBlanc probably has more reason to feel confident than others. She was allocated to the Portland Thorns, who look to be the league power. She’ll team with Sinclair, Canada’s all-time goal-scoring leader, and American star Alex Morgan.

“It was a huge relief,” said LeBlanc of the NWSL allocations. “We don’t have the uncertainty… We’re playing with the best players in the world. Ad we are all very excited to have the opportunity to play in the States again, in a great league.”

The four national teamers will be in Edmonton Feb. 4 and 5; 400 youth soccer players will attend clinics at the Commonwealth Stadium Fieldhouse under the watch of Sinclair, LeBlanc, Matheson and Wilkinson. Spots sold out six hours after the Alberta Soccer Association put them up for grabs. The women will also be part of a press conference at Edmonton’s City Hall on Feb. 4.

The response even surprised ASA executive director Richard Adams. “I underestimated the popularity that Karina and the other ladies bring with them,” he said.

And it’s a sign of just how popular the women’s soccer team remains, even though six months have passed since it won bronze at the London Olympics.

“We want to get as many kids to touch the medal as possible,” said LeBlanc.

And, as well, this is a chance to sell the Women’s World Cup to a city that, quite frankly, haven’t quite grasped the magnitude of what it will host in 2015. The renovations to Commonwealth Stadium are still being debated, and cost estimates are coming in at lower and lower figures. The buzz isn’t there yet.

But that changes when the women’s team comes to town — the cult of personality that surrounds the team transcends the sport. And it’s a powerful marketing tool.

LeBlanc says she is confident that Edmonton will be a great host city. She was too old to play for the squad that competed at the 2002 U-19 championship, which saw Commonwealth packed for the final between Canada and the U.S. But she still hears her teammates, including Sinclair, referencing how amazing that tournament was — when women’s soccer caught lightning in a bottle.

“The women who played in that U-19 have great memories of being in the city,” said LeBlanc. “It’s a great city for soccer.

“The players who played in those games haven’t forgotten about that.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply