Canadian female sporting heroes shine on The Social

As one of the most popular talk shows on Canadian television, it is commendable that the all-female cast of The Social address the quickly expanding relevance of women as sporting heroes. While there are still many obstacles to overcome on the road towards total acceptance for women in sport, the presence of the three athletic heroes that were part of the interview panel displays that the future holds tremendous promise.

With the effervescent Melissa Grelo and inquisitive Lainey Lui handling the interviewing duties, the result was a pleasant discussion with a group of women that cover a breadth of competition. From soccer goalkeeper Karina Leblanc to hockey blueliner Tessa Bonhomme, along with pugilist Mandy Bujold, each are highly accomplished women in their field.

(L-R): Karina Leblanc, Mandy Bujold and Tessa Bonhomme. Image obtained from Twitter

(L-R): Karina Leblanc, Mandy Bujold and Tessa Bonhomme. Image obtained from Twitter

The most obvious aspect of all three was their confidence. Each has accomplished so much, while placing women’s sport in a much bigger part of Canadian popular culture, their careers are symbolic of why girls in sport should keep competing as they mature.

As today’s generation of young women enjoy the chance to look up to a growing number of positive female role models, there are many redeeming qualities in the likes of Bonhomme, Bujold and Leblanc. Even young women that are not athletic can look at them and admire their ability to excel and challenge social convention.

Coincidentally, social aspects were also a key defining factor in the reasons that these women first became involved in sport. Leblanc revealed that she was shy during childhood, joking that she would not have had her current hairstyle (spiked with a streak of blonde near the top) in those formative years. She further revealed that sport filled a void as well, connecting her with other people. Bonhomme also attested to the social impact as getting to know people and connecting with them as key factors in her earliest sporting roots.

Having announced her retirement in the aftermath of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which was held on Canadian soil for the first time, Karina Leblanc was one of the most underrated soccer stars that the country ever produced. Although the medal round evaded the ambitious Canadian squad, who were hoping to build on their fairy-tale run to the bronze medal at the 2012 London Summer Games, their effort was a tremendous source of pride, adding another great chapter to sporting Canadiana.

Bonhomme also appreciates the chance to compete in a world-class event on home soil. After a remarkable career with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Bonhomme landed a spot on the Canadian national team, capturing the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. During the interview, she mentioned how great it was for Bonhomme and her teammates to hear from parents how awesome they were after the victory in Vancouver.

Perhaps more impressive was her career following such heroic heights in Vancouver. From becoming the first-ever draft pick in the history of the CWHL Draft, to landing on the cover of The Hockey News, Bonhomme would be catapulted into celebrity status after winning the Battle of the Blades, the first female hockey player to do so. Currently with TSN (she once interviewed Will Ferrell with LeafsTV), Bonhomme has become a crossover star, with the likeable potential to become even more famous for her work as a TV personality than her empowering run as an elite athlete.

Proudly displaying her championship belt, Mandi Bujold is part of a tremendous change in the sporting landscape as women are now headline competitors in boxing and mixed martial arts. Holly Holm, who shall be immortalized in the sporting pantheon as the woman who beat UFC champion Ronda Rousey was a former boxing champion herself, having defeated the legendary Mia St. John.

In discussing her boxing career, one very visceral and sobering reality hit home for the guests, hosts and the remainder of the panel. Bujold had discussed how judges that were not deemed competent for male matches were assigned to serve in a similar capacity for bouts featuring women. For the viewer at home, a collective sigh of surprise (and perhaps shock) could clearly be heard as such conditions are demeaning and dehumanizing.

Later in the segment, Grelo made an excellent point of acknowledging that to be an elite athlete, hardcore training was essential, in essence, akin to a full-time job. Sadly, such effort has resulted with being compensated differently, one of the great gender inequities of the modern era. Leblanc had emphasized in the interview that the prize money for the FIFA Women’s World Cup championship team was tens of millions less than the male victors, a real-life example of the effort that lay ahead in the off-field fight for equality.

While there is no question that women in sport have to work harder to be taken seriously, such work will eventually bear prosperous fruit. For the future female sports athletes how grew up emulating the efforts of Bonhomme, Bujold and Leblanc, it will add to a proud legacy. Each one of them stirred the hearts of sports fans, making them proud to be Canadians, and for that, they will always have their gratitude.

Members of US Women’s World Cup championship team featured on 25 collectible SI covers

Sports Illustrated continues its landmark support of US Women’s soccer with another sensational series of covers. In the aftermath of an emotional victory over Japan in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the popular periodical has released an unprecedented 25 variant covers. Of note, one cover features several teammates together, while there are 24 covers for each of the players on the team, plus head coach Jill Ellis.

In addition to snapping their 16-year long championship drought, they also became the first country to capture three FIFA Women’s World Cup championships. After suffering an emotional loss to Japan in the final back in 2011, Carli Lloyd proved to be the difference maker as her hat trick contributed to a 5-2 victory in Vancouver.

Although Sports Illustrated has issued variant covers, there has never been anything of this magnitude. Prior to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Sports Illustrated had four unique covers featuring US soccer stars. In addition, there was a fifth cover exclusive for subscribers.

To honor that achievement, Sports Illustrated has come up with a one-of-a-kind cover shoot. Instead of one cover to honor the 23 players and coach Jill Ellis, one for each of them. From Golden Ball winner Carli Lloyd to veteran stalwarts Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe to backup goalkeepers Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris, each member of the World Cup-winning squad, posing with the World Cup trophy, has her own cover as part of a unique set.

In addition, Sports Illustrated featured a special edition championship cover (with a gold border) that was only available online. With the US team featuring so many recognizable names, the cover innovation was an ideal way to not only recognize every member of the team, but showcase the growing influence of women in sport.

Originally, the plan was to photograph all the players in Los Angeles on July 7. Simon Bruty, the photographer who had worked on the World Cup final was scheduled to do it. As he was heading home to Washington, the plan could not be executed on that day. With the entire team in New York City for a victory parade later in the week, it was a serendipitous moment. As every member of the roster agreed to participate in a photo shoot before and after the parade, the result was a historic series of covers that fans will likely cherish for years to come.

Carli Lloyd captures Golden Ball Award in record performances at FIFA Women’s World Cup

Adding to her legend, American midfielder Carli Lloyd proved to be the factor in the United States winning their first FIFA Women’s World Cup title since 1999. Considering that she also scored the gold medal winning goal at the 2012 London Summer Games, she has elevated herself to a superstar status that has made her the face of US Soccer, akin to the likes of Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm.

Awarded the Golden Ball Award as the top player at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, she entertained the capacity crowd in Vancouver with the performance of a lifetime. In the first five minutes of the game, Lloyd scored twice to provide the United States with a 2-0 lead, the fastest two goals scored in a championship game. Of note, it would prove to be a lead that they would not relinquish.

Taking into account that the title game was a rematch of the 2011 game, a loss suffered against Japan, it had been a very long four years of contemplation. Although the gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Games provided consolation, the 2015 victory resulted in redemption.

Lloyd continued her heroics by scoring at the 16th minute, resulting in the fastest hat trick in Women’s World Cup history. In addition, she became the only American woman to record a hat trick in a championship game. Two of her goals reflected her dominance on the pitch. One goal resulted in a superb pass from the corner by Megan Rapinoe, who had to sit out the quarterfinal match against China due to a pair of yellow cards.

As the Japanese defenders were focused on the ball, Lloyd, who had been at the perimeter, quickly ran up the field and tapped in Rapinoe’s pass with her left foot, past the Japanese defense. Another goal saw Lloyd score at a long distance, as the ball bounced off the Japanese goalkeeper’s hand and into the net, to a roar of approval from the proud American fans in attendance.

In the aftermath of a 5-2 final, Lloyd would finish the FIFA Women’s World Cup with six goals in seven games, tying Germany’s Celia Sasic for the tournament lead in the race to the Golden Boot. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Lloyd showed remarkable endurance by playing in every minute of every U.S game in the tournament.

World Cup heartbreak on home soil for Canada cannot overshadow positives

With the momentum of serving as host country for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Canadian national team had high hopes to defeat England and qualify for the semi-finals. Expectations were high among players, fans and media alike, as Canada appeared destined for greatness.

Instead, Canada suffered a 2-1 upset loss against England as Lucy Bronze added to her growing legend among English soccer fans with a goal in a second consecutive game. After defeating a highly favored Norwegian team in the Round of 16, England remained poised against the host country, with a capacity crowd in Vancouver hoping for more Canadian magic.

As a nation collectively felt misery after a visceral 2-1 loss, compounded by a tearful Christine Sinclair on her knees, devastated by the outcome, the reality was that the World Cup was a tournament filled with several upsets. In addition to Brazil and Norway experiencing losses, the reality is that Canada may have endured a loss to defending World Cup champion Japan in the semifinals. Of course, the consolation would have been the chance to compete in the third place game, maintaining Canadian interest in the event.

Despite the outcome, there were still so many positives to consider. Of note, the greater victory was the national relevance of the event. For the first-time ever, women’s soccer was the lead story in Canadian sporting circles, unifying a nation and their championship dreams.

There is no question that the 2012 London Summer Games was the coming-out party for the Canadian national team, helping a nation of fans discover the sport. As such, the exceptional support and national pride that emanated during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup helped transform women’s soccer from novelty sport into an obsession, which should result in unprecedented growth.

In many ways, the heartbreak of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup mirrors the disaster that the Canadian national women’s hockey team experienced in a silver medal outcome at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. Despite not meeting golden expectations, hockey had made an impression on Canadian sports fans, subsequently giving a generation of young sporting girls role models to look up to.

The Nagano Games would serve as the moment where women’s hockey became a relevant aspect of sport in Canada, resulting in more than just increased awareness, but a rapid number of players registering in following years. In effect, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup is destined to have the same impact, as the next few years should see even more young girls interested in playing soccer, due to the efforts of exceptional women such as Christine Sinclair.

England pulls off stunning Round of 16 upset prevailing 2-1 against Norway

Following Australia’s stunning upset of Brazil in Round of 16 play, England followed suit with a 2-1 triumph against a powerful Norwegian squad who had ambitions to reach the semifinals. The heroics were attributed to Lucy Bronze, who converted on a long-range strike that proved to be the game-winner.

In front of a crowd of soccer enthusiasts at Ottawa’s Landsowne Park (where Norway played in Group B competition), England made history with their victory. Of note, it was the first time that England had prevailed in a Women’s World Cup contest that extended beyond Group play.

Considering the heartbreak that English soccer fans have felt with the performances of their men’s teams in international play, the 2-1 victory is a landmark moment in English women’s soccer history. In a tournament that has proven to be very difficult to come back and win if a team allows the first goal in match play, the English managed just that.

After neither team could score in the first half, Norway’s Solveig Gulbrandsen scored the game’s first goal at the 54th minute. Her header off the corner kick went past English goalkeeper Karen Bardsley off the top crossbar. Despite allowing the goal, Bardsley had some solid performances in the first half, stopping the likes of Isabell Herlovsen and Ada Hegerberg.

Of note, England would tie the score in a similar fashion as Stephanie Houghton converted a corner kick by heading it across the face of goal. The game-winner would come 15 minutes later as Jodie Taylor found Bronze. Releasing a shot to the near post, Bronze would fire it into the top corner past Ingrid Hjelmseth.

Despite not scoring in the contest, Manchester City’s Jill Scott was essential in helping set up plays, especially forcing a corner that resulted in Houghton’s game-tying goal. She also planted herself to the right of the penalty area, allowing Bronze the chance to capitalize on an eventual right-footed drive that made English soccer history.

Although Norway was unable to tie the game, they provided a remarkable effort, proving why they were the 2013 European Championship runners-up. Of note, the Norwegians maintained control for most of the match, especially with 51 minutes of possession. They also outshot the English by a 14-12 margin, including 5-3 on goal. For a proud soccer nation that was looking to win its first World Cup since 1995, the loss was more visceral as they had been unbeaten in their four previous matches against England in major tournaments.

England moves on to the quarterfinals against host country Canada. Of note, the last three World Cups have seen the squad suffer losses in the quarters, having reached the stage automatically after qualifying from group stage. Emotions will certainly run high for both sides as both look to reach the semifinals for the first time. Of note, Canada, who is coached by Englishman John Herdman, defeated England by a 1-0 tally in pre-tournament play.

European soccer powers Germany and Sweden clash in Round of 16

As the weekend signified Round of 16 play, the top-ranked German squad returned to Ottawa. Having finished first in Group B (most Group B matches were contested in Ottawa), they hosted a Swedish team that earned a third-place finish at the 2011 edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. In addition, the two had played each other in the final of the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup. With members of the Norwegian women’s team in attendance, as their Round of 16 match shall also be in Ottawa, the Germans were unable to capitalize on quick scoring opportunities.

Within the first two minutes of the game, the Germans had a chance to score twice but Alexandra Popp and Simone Laudehr missed on both chances. Eventually, Anja Mittag broke the deadlock with a 22-yard drive for the advantage. Adding to the lead was Celia Sasic, who would score goals in each half. In the 36 minute, she converted a penalty kick (after a trip from Amanda Ilestedt) to a roar of approval from the German fans in attendance. Just before halftime would expire, Sofia Jakobsson had a header that went over the cross bar, proving to be a visceral miss.

Facing a 2-0 deficit at halftime, Sweden came out strong, hoping to break the German’s momentum. Holding them scoreless for the first 33 minutes of the second half, it was testament to the Swede’s sterling efforts. With a header from close range during the 78th minute, Sasic put the Germans ahead by 3 goals.

Remaining determined, the Swedes continued to apply pressure. Linda Sembrant would break the German shutout, heading in a goal.
With eight minutes remaining, a free-kick by Therese Sjogran was headed by Linda Sembrant. Although it seemed like a sure goal, German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer made the save, proving why she is one of the world’s finest at her position. Before time would expire, Dzenifer Marozsan scored the goal of the game with a bicycle kick past goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl, which impressed all in attendance.

Despite the final outcome, Sweden (who are ranked fifth in the world) played valiantly, employing a never say die attitude, persistent to the end. Although they sat on the turf, tears defining an outpouring of sullen emotion, they received a standing ovation from the soccer fans in attendance at Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park. Very graciously, they also greeted fans and signed autographs afterwards, testament to their remarkable sportsmanship.

Currently, Sasic and Mittag are tied in the race for the Golden Boot, leading all players with five goals each. Their next opponent shall be the French team, who defeated South Korea in Round of 16 play at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Of note, the quarterfinal match between the two shall also take place at Olympic Stadium as Germany looks to continue in its quest to win its third World Cup title.

France scores five in shutout win against Mexico to clinch Group F

With the final match in Group F play taking part in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, Ontario, France enjoyed a 5-0 win over Mexico to clinch first place in Group F during match play at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Just 35 seconds into the match, Marie Laure Delie buried a deflection into the opposition’s net for the quick 1-0 advantage. It was four seconds off the quickest goal scored in Women’s World Cup history, a record set by Sweden’s Lena Videkull in a 1991 match against Japan.

Subsequetly, team captain Wendie Renard added to the French lead just eight minutes later on Camille Abily’s corner. As a side note, her goal would bounce off of Mexico’s Jennifer Ruiz.

Eugenie Le Sommer was the leading goal scorer for the third-ranked French team. Abily and Elodie Thomis would earn the assists on the first goal (in the thirteenth minute), while the second was a hard-earned goal obtained on a rebound from Cecilia Santiago, after a shot from Delie bounced off of the Mexican goalkeeper.

Enjoying a 4-0 lead at halftime, it was a lead that the French would not relinquish. Heading into the match, Mexico had hoped for a better outcome. Taking into account that France suffered a 2-0 upset at the hand of Colombia in Moncton, New Brunswick, the 25th ranked Mexican squad was hoping for an opportunity to stage a second straight upset. Despite the motivation, Mexico quickly found itself outmatched against a superior opponent. Veronica Perez was the only player who represented any type of scoring threat, managing a long-range shot.

As only ten minutes remained on the scoreboard, Amandine Henry contributed a highlight reel goal with a 25-yard strike that found its way into the top corner. Of note, Henry tied for the team lead with four shots while earning recognition with the Live Your Goals Player of the Match Award. Although Group F rival England had defeated Colombia in their final Group F match in Montreal, Quebec, France grabbed first place due to goal differential.

Pride and Joy App looks to strengthen Canadian soccer at grassroot levels during Women’s World Cup

In the euphoria of the 2015 FIFA World Women’s Cup, a remarkable app is available to enrich the experience for Canadian soccer fans. The Pride and Joy App (available from the App Store and Google Play) is an initiative that provides funding for Canadian soccer programs at the grassroots level, while fans feel a more profound and interactive connection.

Upon the download, fans can use it during any game that the Canadian national women’s team competes in during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Every App action during such a game results in an amount of money being donated, turning cheers into funds.

PrideandJoy2015

In addition, fans can track the impact with real-time results.
Of note, the sponsors include various popular food brands such as: Chips Ahoy, Stride, Ritz, Maynards. Their sponsorship has also resulted in point of purchase display stands at numerous grocery stores throughout Canada, helping to raise awareness of the campaign.

The goal is to raise up to $100,000 for Youth Soccer Clubs during the World Cup. Of note, the clubs receiving the donations are randomly drawn from a pre-selected applicant pool, and the maximum donation for any one club is $5000.
For Team Canada’s final match in Group play, a June 15 match in Montreal versus the Netherlands (a 1-1 draw) saw Pride and Joy 2015 raise money for the following clubs: Burnaby Girls Soccer Club, Club de Soccer Chomedey, South Shore United FC and Northern Heights Soccer Club. Having clinched first in their group, the Canadian contingent continues to the Round of 16, allowing fans another opportunity to show their support via the app.

Germany logs second shutout win to clinch Group win at 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup

After a 1-0-1 mark in their first two Group matches in Ottawa, Germany claimed a commanding 4-0 victory against Thailand in their final match of Group play. Contested in Winnipeg, the fans were treated to a commanding performance by the top-ranked Germans.

Testing Thai goaltender Warapom Boonsing early on, she played valiantly as the score was still 0-0 after 20 minutes. Despite her best efforts, the Germans would eventually break through. Led by Melanie Leupolz, who scored 24 minutes into the contest, it was a sensational header off a corner kick. Before half time, Celia Sasic would shoot twice on Boonsing, trying to add to the lead.

Germany’s efforts would yield positive results ten minutes after the half. Lena Petermann would come off the bench to score twice in two minutes, providing the top-ranked Germans in a comfortable 3-0 advantage. Left untouched by the Thai defense, Sara Deabrtiz would tap in the ball for the fourth and final goal as Germany clinched first place in their group.

Utilizing their height advantage, the Germans scored three of their four goals against Thailand on headers. In addition, Melanie Leupolz would be recognized as Player of the Game.

In the aftermath of the victory, head coach Silvia Neid pointed out several areas for improvement afterwards, which included players facing a slew of critical questions from German media. Nied was concerned that superiority on the field was not displayed, there was a lack of diagonal passes and there was not a lot of speed, resulting in several missed chances.

Despite the concerns, the Germans outshot the Thai team by a 10-0 count, while only Kanjana Sung-Ngoen was the only player to break through the German defense. Scoring 15 goals overall, while allowing only one (in a 1-1 tie against Norway) in Group play, Germany still put on a remarkable display of soccer dominance. Returning to Ottawa for the Round of 16, their next opponent shall be either the Netherlands or Sweden.

USA soccer heroes appear on four collectible Sports Illustrated covers

Building on the momentum of having Ronda Rousey grace its cover, Sports Illustrated (SI) has made a profound statement on the growing impact of women’s sport. Taking into account that late spring is playoff season in the NBA and NHL, it would have not been surprising to have a cover devoted to one of their sports. Instead, SI rightfully devoted their cover to a preview of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Abby Wambach on 1 of 4 variant covers for Sports Illustrated's 2015 World Cup coverage

Abby Wambach on 1 of 4 variant covers for Sports Illustrated’s 2015 World Cup coverage

In fact, it is actually four different collectible covers that can be found on newsstands. Of note, four members of the United States national women’s soccer team are featured on said covers; led by forwards Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and midfielder Carli Lloyd. As a side note, subscribers receive a team cover, which features Leroux, Lloyd, Morgan and Wambach, who have collectively scored 331 goals in international play..

For Morgan, there may be a slight tinge of irony. Like the aforementioned Rousey, both have appeared in SI’s world-famous Swimsuit Issue. The chance for both to make an appearance on the cover is an opportunity to look beyond their sex appeal and celebrate their accomplishments, while simultaneously serving as role models for young girls.

Considering that the 35 year-old Wambach is in the twilight of her career, the chance to be featured on SI’s cover represents another milestone in her outstanding career. With 182 career goals, the most of any woman in the history of the sport, the one championship she has yet to win is the World Cup. Should the US emerge victorious in the gold medal game in Vancouver, expect another cover appearance for Wambach.

One element that has not been overlooked by Canada’s soccer fans is the fact that Leroux was born north of the border. The cover displays great bravura as the caption indicates that Leroux will silence Canada’s boos. With the USA’s first two games in Group play taking part in Winnipeg (its province borders the state of Minnesota), the number of American fans in attendance ensures there are no boos. As a side note, the USA’s third game takes place in Edmonton (where Canada played its first two Group games), the northern-most host city in the event, there may be some boos to come.

The key storyline of the issue is one of redemption. In addition to the goal of winning its first World Cup title since 1999, which was a landmark moment for women’s sport in America, motivation is high after the bitterness of a shootout loss to Japan in the 2011 title game. Compounded by the gender discrimination controversy over the use of artificial turf, America’s entry in this year’s World Cup has not been lacking in storylines.

Regardless of the outcome, the impact of all four covers signifies a remarkable victory. Punctuating the relevance of women’s soccer as a point of pride for American sports fans, perhaps it may lead to increased coverage of Women’s Professional Soccer, along with other female sports.