2015 will go down as a special year for Canada’s Josee Belanger.
Aside from playing meaningful minutes in her first FIFA Women’s World Cup, the 29-year-old forward suited up professionally overseas for the first time in her career, scoring a hat trick in the UEFA Women’s Champions League action for Swedish outfit FC Rosengård.
She was also named Fédération de Soccer du Québec’s Female Professional Player of Excellence and was the first runner up for female Canadian Player of the Year.
Sportsnet recently caught up with the native of Coaticook, who recently competed for Canada at a tournament in Brazil, to chat about the last 12 months and what the future holds for her as the Canadian team prepares for the Olympic qualifiers in February.
How did you enjoy your time playing in Sweden?
That was a great experience. The opportunity actually came pretty quick. They [FC Rosengård] were looking for forwards because one of them was going to another club and I received a call on a Friday. They said they needed a forward and asked me to come. I was like, "Well, okay, when do you need to know?” and they said tomorrow. I thought, "Oh God! That fast?!" I had to think about it to make sure that everything was okay. I flew in the next Monday. Everything came together pretty quick, but it was a good opportunity for me to play with a number of great players and also continue to get touches on the ball before meeting up again with the national team.
I always wanted to try and play in Europe as a professional. It was a great opportunity to go from the World Cup, where they saw me playing and they said my playing style fit with what they needed. They felt it would be a good experience for me, but also would help out our team. My mission and the team's mission was to win the [Swedish] title and to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Champions League, which we did. I came back home with that sensation that I completed what I needed to do.
Playing in the Champions League must have been an incredible experience, especially since you scored a hat trick.
I was named Player of the Game twice, so I think I was impactful. It's always good to be able to have an impact quickly and help the team to be successful.
What was it like playing alongside Marta?
She's such a technical player. To have the chance to see the way she works and play with her was great. Rosengård, I believe, had eight different nations represented on that team. It was great to have all of these players come together and continue to grow as a player for myself.
Do you ever see yourself going back to Europe down the road?
To be honest, I don't know. In the near future, I'm not looking at Europe because if we qualify for the Olympics, it's going to be a lot of travel to meet with the national team; the time in Vancouver and then go back and forth with the time zone, it would be tough. You never know what the future holds for us, but if we make the Olympics, it'll be the cherry on the top for me.
It sounds like you'll have a busy time coming up with the national team.
In January, we'll have one more month to prepare for the Olympic qualifiers and it's going to be a real test. For sure we want to qualify and hopefully we can get back that momentum that we had during the World Cup and be ready for any scenario that we will have to face in that tournament.
You mentioned the World Cup. During the tournament you spent some time playing full back. Will you be suiting up as a defender going forward, or will coach John Herdman move you back to your natural striker position?
In Brazil, John wanted to test the younger forwards from the Pan Am Games. He targeted some good forwards from that tournament and they are trying out with us now. I still don't know yet for the future where I'm actually going to be playing. I think I have the tools to play as a forward as well. I can be adaptable.
What's it been like playing with some of the youngsters coming through the Canadian system?
They were together in Vancouver for three weeks, but I just met them at the Brazil tournament because I had some time off after returning from Sweden. It's really good to see them have confidence. They have good skills on the ball and they're not afraid to show it.
They're actually not shy and we, as the older players, we make sure they are well-integrated and make sure they feel comfortable. If they have questions, we are here to provide support, so they are more willing to try and not afraid to make mistakes. We want them to continue to work hard. I think it's good to see that. You can see they are good. We're able to show cohesion on the field. It's a good sign.
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