Photo via Canada Soccer
Washington Spirit players Diana Matheson, Stephanie Labbé, and Shelina Zadorsky, along with the rest of the Canadian Olympic soccer team, demonstrated heart, passion, and drive in earning Team Canada a second consecutive Olympic bronze medal.
In the 2012 London Olympics, it was Matheson’s stoppage time heroics that gave the Canadian side a 1-0 victory over France in the bronze medal match, Canada’s first medal in a traditional team sport since 1936.
Four years on, Canada came into Rio under the radar as the world was looking closely at the current FIFA WWC Champions the United States, 2nd ranked Germany, 3rd ranked France, and a surging Australian team, just to name a few. Canada came into the tournament ranked 10th in the world, and on paper did not have an easy group, facing both Australia and Germany, as well as the ever-improving African team of Zimbabwe.
The first 19 minutes of Canada’s Olympic quest were more of a roller coaster than anyone could have imagined, with Houston Dash’s Janine Beckie setting an Olympic soccer record by scoring just 20 seconds into the match, and then Zadorsky dramatically earning a red card just 19 minutes later.
Playing with 10 players for 71 minutes against Australia, one of the higher ranked teams in the tournament, Canada served notice as to just how good they could be, defeating the Matildas 2-0. Team Canada gained confidence heading into their next match against Zimbabwe and came away with a 3-1 victory. All that remained in the group stage was a match against 2nd ranked Germany. With the young center back Zadorsky back in the lineup after serving her suspension, Canada fought to a 2-1 victory to win the group and advance to the quarterfinals.
The quarterfinals saw a rematch of the London Olympic bronze medal match against 3rd ranked France, a team the Canadians had lost to just weeks before the Olympic tournament in their final tune up match. The stakes in the quarterfinals are always high – lose and you go home, win and you’re guaranteed to play for a medal. The two teams were scoreless going into the locker room at halftime, but the Canadians came out firing in the second half, rewarded with the lone goal of the match from Sophie Schmidt in the 55th minute. The goal was started by a pass from Zadorsky down the field to Beckie, who crossed the ball to Schmidt. With the win, Labbé posted her second clean sheet of the tournament as Canada became the only team on the women’s side to advance to the semifinals in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.
The Canadian team moved on to face Germany for the second time in the Olympic tournament in the semifinals, and this time Germany had the answers to defeat the Canadians 2-0. Despite the loss, the players held their heads high and focused on what was ahead – a chance to repeat their 2012 podium appearance.
Such a feat would be even harder than four years prior, with the Canadians fighting against the event’s host country in Brazil, a perennial women’s soccer power, with much of the 39,718 fans in attendance rooting against Canada.
The Brazilian team had been building momentum and support from their country after a thrilling penalty kick win over Australia in their quarterfinal match before losing to Sweden, also on penalty kicks, in their semifinal. However, Canada’s combination of youthful exuberance and veteran leadership overcame the home crowd advantage of the Brazilians, as 17 year old Deanne Rose and Canadian captain and legend Christine Sinclair scored for Canada on either side of the halftime. A 79th minute Brazilian goal from Beatriz was not enough for the home team, and Canada celebrated its second consecutive Olympic bronze medal.
When a team is comprised of veteran, admirable players like Matheson, Sinclair, and Schmidt, as well as exciting newcomers such as Labbé, Zadorsky, Beckie, and Rose, it is easy to see how the love for the Red and White is infectious. Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, and Instagram accounts were flooded with messages of support for the Canadian team. Teams across the NWSL with players from Canada joined together to root for the underdogs, who once again proved that with love for the game and a little bit of belief, anything is possible.
Zadorsky, Labbé, and Matheson will return to the Washington Spirit with their bronze medals after making their entire country and the Spirit Family proud to call them their own.
Spirit fans will get their first chance to welcome the trio back to the D.C. region in what is shaping up to be one of the most important home games in Spirit history as they battle Western New York Flash Saturday, September 3 at 7 p.m. for a playoff position and potentially the rights to host a semifinal at the Maryland SoccerPlex for the first time. Tickets for that match, and the Wednesday, September 7 match against Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe and the Seattle Reign, are on sale at tickets.washingtonspirit.com or by simply clicking the Tickets link above.