TORONTO, CANADA—August 2, 2021. The day the Canadian women’s national team exorcized the demons of 2012, defeating the United States for the first time in 20 years. Whether you’re a Canadian or American supporter, the day was historic.
Canada beat the USA, and after two consecutive bronze medals, Canada will fight for gold.
Let that sink in.
Team Canada, which has been fantastic for the better part of three decades, finally has a chance to win a major tournament. The USA, dispersed of, and the ghosts of 2015 Team GB (England), nowhere to be seen.
The only foe standing between Canada and a gold medal is Sweden, who knocked Canada out of the 2003 and 2019 World Cups. The red and white have a chance to avenge those losses on the biggest stage.
While the match is thousands of kilometres away in the sweltering Tokyo summer, an entire country is getting behind the Canadian team. Other than staff and fellow athletes, there won’t be many cheering fans in the stadium; however, there are millions back home.
“After you follow the team for 20 years and you experience heartbreak that makes you think you’ll never see your team win a gold medal let alone a major tournament title, it becomes an emotional experience,” said Diana R (@WeTheCanWNT) on Twitter.
Diana’s feelings about the team encapsulate the heartbeat of 37 million. Canada has long been a contender at the Olympics and World Cups, but they’ve never won. Time and time again, the Canadian team comes close, but they’ve never gotten over that hump.
“I still have it on VHS:” Growing up with the CanWNT
For Canadian supporter Deena Williams (@PrissDubs), the passion for the game precedes Canadian women’s success. In 1999, she had ambitions to play alongside Mia Hamm and the USA following their World Cup win; she wrote that in her eighth-grade yearbook.
While Williams has “since been cured” of her American fandom, she has become acquainted with Canadian heartbreak, recalling the semifinal loss to Sweden in the 2003 World Cup: “I still have it on VHS,” she said.
The Tokyo 2020 edition of Team Canada is the end of a generation. These Games are likely the last time we see Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt and Erin McLeod donning the maple leaf at the Olympics.
Team Canada’s journey as a premier team began at the U20 World Cup in 2002, when Canada hosted the tournament. That team featured Sinclair and Erin McLeod, who are both in Tokyo. “That’s when I first really paid attention to the women’s game,” Joe Cortez said of the youth tournament that launched Canada’s golden generation.
The first Olympics for the young group and the last time Canada failed to reach the podium was at Beijing 2008. That campaign ended familiarly, with a loss to Team USA, but it was an integral part of Laura Bryan’s upbringing in Canadian soccer. “I remember when I was 12 and woke up at 5:00 am to watch them play in 2008.”
While 2008 was the first big tournament for the hopeful Canadians, it is London 2012 that stands out in many minds. Jamie Neugebauer recalls it clearly: “You could hear a pin drop even though the office was packed,” he said of watching the bronze medal game while at the CTV studios.
When Team Canada takes to the Tokyo pitch, they will not only have the aspirational eyes of young children on them but the jaded and likely teared-up gaze of fans that have supported the side for decades.
London 2012’s legacy
When Diana Matheson scored in second-half stoppage time against France to clinch Canada’s first Olympic medal in women’s soccer at London 2012, she kick-started an era of passion and player development never seen in the country.
Matheson’s goal made soccer cool in Canada, and it has only grown since then.
With bronze around their necks, Karina LeBlanc, Rhian Wilkinson, Matheson, and Sinclair developed their Strive 4 Excellence soccer program “to empower young players to achieve their personal goals.”
Christina (@grettoo) was coaching a girl’s team at the time and had the chance to supervise the session led by the Canadian stars.
“I watched in awe and wonder at the professionalism and hope that Christine, Karina [Leblanc], Rhian [Whilkinson] and Diana [Matheson] injected into the next generation of Canadian soccer players,” she recalled. “They shared their stories of defeat and resilience. It was inspiring.”
With just Sinclair left of that group, the final means everything to Christina.
The Canadian squad is filled with leaders. One of the most likeable groups of people, you would be hard-pressed to find somebody who gets frustrated with the Canadian team. “Off the pitch, they show their heart by helping motivate others young and old to see that they can do anything they put their minds to,” said Calgary’s Jenn Schmitz (@Go_CanadaGo).
The leadership is within the coaching staff as well. John Herdman orchestrated the program into a world power and led them to their first two bronze medals. The Englishman turned Canadian hero ingrained himself in the Canadian sporting lexicon — everyone knows his name, and not because of what he has done with the men, yet.
Then Bev Priestman. She is exactly what the team needed after a tough year with Kenneth Heiner-Moller. She took over a program in somewhat disarray seven months ago and now she has led the group to the Olympic final.
Today’s team is likeable, so was 2012’s. The team from London changed soccer in the country forever, and the 2021 version is trying to emulate a little change themselves.
What it means to be here: The Olympic Final
The Canadian team has not played a home match since May 2019, but it is always in front of thousands of exuberant fans when they play in Canada.
“I started following the team, going to every local friendly and even travelling by car and plane to places across Canada to see them play,” said Stefanie, while Williams has travelled away from her home in Southwestern Ontario to see the team play Vancouver, Montreal, Hamilton and Toronto.
The Canadian women have drawn significant crowds domestically; they’ve played a World Cup at home, something the men will get to do in 2026, but more importantly, they’ve led the way in the women’s sports conversation from coast to coast to coast.
When the referee blows their whistle to end the match in Tokyo, Team Canada will have secured their best-ever Olympic result, and regardless of the medal, it will not be bronze. The demons of 2012 are no longer, and the Canadian team is entering a new generation.
“This team gives us purpose. It gives us happiness,” said Diana R. “
The ride has been so much fun, and I don’t want to get off. I may have even cried when the whistle blew the other day,” added Stefanie.
The Canadian women’s national team has united Canada, and it is doing so once again in Tokyo, the same Olympic Games that “Together” became part of the Olympic mantra.
Faster. Higher. Stronger, you can rest assured that Canada will be “together” during the gold medal match.
It’s Canada against Sweden, all while a gold medal waits at a yet-to-be-written chapter in the novel of Canadian women’s soccer.
Fans can watch the final match for free on cbcsports.ca or the main CBC Sports channel. It is scheduled for 5:00 am PT/8:00 am ET on Friday.