A recent phone call from Canada Soccer brought back a flood of memories for Amy Walsh.
The midfielder, who suited up in over 100 international games, was named to the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame Class of 2017 after a storied career that included two FIFA Women’s World Cup appearances, a trip to the 2008 Olympics in China and a CONCACAF championship.
A native of Quebec, Walsh was also a pioneer when it came to player rights and fighting for the future of soccer in Canada.
Sportsnet.ca recently caught up with the 39-year-old about her Hall of Fame induction and her thoughts on the progression of the sport.
Congratulations on being named to the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame. Tell me a little bit about what this honour means to you and how you found out the news.
It was a few weeks ago and Richard Scott, who I knew from my playing days as him being the Canada Soccer press officer, I saw the area code come through on my phone when I was in the car with my three-year-old twins. I thought it was odd and I wondered if Canada Soccer had an event coming up in Montreal and they needed people there. Never once did I think it could be something like that. When he told me I was blown away and I continue to be every time I’m reminded of it or someone sends me a congratulatory note. I still haven’t absorbed it.
The Hall of Fame was brought to my attention a couple of years ago when the team I was on in 1998 that won [the CONCACAF Championship] was inducted and I was unable to make the trip to Toronto because my twins were very young and we couldn’t make it as a family. Of course, Kara [Lang] was inducted that year as well. So, it was on my radar then and that allowed me to take the mental leap to think, ‘I wonder if my career as a player will be deserving of such an honour’. Very quickly, though, I said ‘no, I don’t think so’. Sure, it’s a different era, but I thought 102 caps and a couple of World Cups, an Olympics, and all that, those markers maybe were a benchmark at the time, but eclipsed so easily these days with the amount of games they play and stuff like that.
To get the news from Richard, it was a profound honour and to think about the people that I’ll be shoulder to shoulder with in the hall with, somebody like Andrea Neil, an unbelievable teammate and person, someone I looked up to tremendously as a player. People like Charmaine Hooper, Connie Cant — who is from my hometown of St-Bruno. They were my longtime idols when I was a kid before I was playing for the national team or playing pro or anything like that.
You mentioned a number of names already and I’ll follow up on that. I think it’s imperative your generation is never glossed over because even though the women’s national team has a lot of household names now, your group paved the way for them. You and the likes of Charmaine Hooper, Andrea Neil, Kristina Kiss, Randee Hermus, Karina LeBlanc — and many others — all played crucial roles in getting the program to where it is today.
Yes, and my teammate at Nebraska, she was a year older than me, Sylvie Béliveau and I played in the Quebec leagues with Isabelle Morneau and we’re great friends. Her name as well. You have to take a look at the inroads we made in the fight that took place behind closed doors, which weren’t in the newspapers. We didn’t really get equity when I was a member of the team. We weren’t going for equality, we were just going for pay equity. We were never salaried except for the two years before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. We were searching for compensation so when we were taking time away from school, jobs or those jobs we took in between long camps during major tournaments, so we could recoup debt that we’d incurred to pay for the national team. That would be unheard of for the team of the John Herdman era.
Karina just retired, but you look at the trio of Christine Sinclair, Rhian Wilkinson, and Diana Matheson, Erin McLeod as well, they understand where the team had to come from in order to get where they are today. I don’t think they will let the others forget that. I don’t mean for that to sound bitter at all, but they will provide that reminder to say, ‘Listen, this could still be better,’ and those vets will provide the youth on the team that’s doing so well to understand and respect the past.
What are some of the biggest strides you’ve seen the women’s game make since your retirement in 2009?
I think the infrastructure, the EXCEL program, is better. Also, what I think is so key is the fact people like Rhian and Carmelina Moscato are involved and have their high-level coaching licenses. They’re a recognizable generation for successful players who are now going to be recognizable, high-profile coaches. I think that link is so important. Not everyone is going to be a great coach because you were a great player and not everybody is going to have the interest to pursue it, but I think to have those faces in important roles is important for grassroots and for young girls to see.
The National Women’s Soccer League and the fact that Canada Soccer has a foot in the league where they can put internationals on teams so the girls are in competitive games outside of the national team environment. Also, you see Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence played in the UEFA Champions League final, playing in France, that’s really important. While geographically challenged, Canada needs to find some way to bring high-level soccer to our country. Perhaps a few teams that fit in with the NWSL the way that the Whitecaps, Laval, and southern Ontario teams used to do with the W-League. They have to figure out something or otherwise you get to that age, say 16 and 17, the apex of development and then they move on to something else because they don’t want to play in the U.S. or it doesn’t work out for school. You lose a group of girls.
In terms of competition and on-field stuff, I think Canada is there. It’s no longer the U.S. and then the rest of the world. I think Canada’s definitely up there with Germany, France, and all those forces in women’s soccer. With the retirements of Rhian, Melissa Tancredi, Kaylyn Kyle and Josée Bélanger, the median age of the team has dropped significantly.
When you left the national team, was it easy going back to regular life?
The transition for me was my son being born. I had planned on coming back and Martina Franko had her first [child], she has three now as well, almost exactly the same time. We were pregnant together and we had both intended on returning to the team. My pregnancy was super active and I played soccer with Laval for the first four months. I kept training hard throughout the pregnancy. Carolina Morace was the coach at the time with the team based in Italy almost full-time. Because Martina and I both were returning, it would’ve meant a hefty bill in terms of managing the costs of somebody to come with us and look after the babies while we were training. We would’ve had to assume those costs ourselves.
I don’t know if we’ll see mothers on the team soon, but I think that’s where you see the disparity that still exists between Canada and the U.S. In 1999, they had Carla Overbeck and Joy Fawcett, they were moms and were supported through a contract. They had people who traveled with them, which was in the contracts from the get go. We were so far away from establishing that, even when I retired. There’s a big gap there.
I so wish that my career had continued a little bit longer to be able to play with John Herdman as coach. I wish I had that opportunity, but that’s my only regret because what a career I experienced and not because of really anything I did myself beside some hard work, but given all the great coaches I had and all the fabulous teammates that I got to share all those experiences with.
What’s your involvement in the sport now? Are you playing or coaching at all?
[Laughs] I’m not! I’m involved vicariously through Rhian and Diana. I obviously follow the team closely. My sister Cindy is the technical director on the south shore of Montreal and she’s still very much involved. She plays herself at a recreational level, but I don’t. I think I will come back to it because the passion and love for the game never goes anywhere. For me, that passion was just redirected toward yoga because I found it late in my career and it helped me with my recovery and injuries. Then I became a yoga instructor and now I work with a post-secondary school in Quebec with their soccer teams and other sport study programs in high schools in the regions as well. My passion now is working with athletes and showing them how they can better themselves as athletes, in their recovery and movement through yoga. That’s my connection, the off-field stuff.
My oldest is seven and he’s big into hockey. We put him in soccer when his twin brother and sister were born, so I think he associates soccer with his life being turned completely upside down [laughs]. My twins will be starting soccer next summer, so I don’t think my involvement will be put off for too much longer.