American midfielder Maegan Kelly paying homage to her Canadian roots

John Herman, the Canadian women’s national team head coach, talks about what it is like to take on the USA.

VANCOUVER – There’s a new face in camp with the Canadian women’s soccer team.

Meet Maegan Kelly. She’s played around the world and is now embarking on a new journey in her career, as she says she wants to pay homage to her family roots by donning a Canadian uniform.

While the 25-year-old was born and raised in Kansas City, her dad hails from Toronto and her sister Katie took part in a Canadian women’s team camp several years ago.

During his tenure, Canadian coach John Herdman has often looked out for American players with connections north of the border. Lauren Sesselmann and Janine Beckie, both American-born, have had fruitful national team careers, respectively helping Canada win Olympic medals in 2012 and 2016.

Kelly, who plays as an attacking midfielder for her pro club, has been training with Canada as a fullback, and comes into the national team frame already knowing Desiree Scott. The two are teammates at FC Kansas City of the National Women’s Soccer League.

“Maegan’s been trying to get into this mix for a while,” Scott told Sportsnet. “To play for Canada has always been a goal of hers. I’ve seen her grind it out. She always battles through and has a commitment to achieving her goal. It’s cool to see she got the call-up here.”

Sportsnet caught up with Kelly ahead of Thursday’s friendly match against the United States at BC Place.

When did you realize you wanted to play for Canada?
My sister [Katie Kelly] is the one who brought it to my mind. She’s five years older than me and she came into national camp here in Canada. She sparked my mind to play, to play pro, play overseas and play for Canada. My grandpa, he immigrated here to Canada and my grandma and my grandpa both live here. When he passed away, I thought it would be awesome for him to see me playing in red and for that Maple Leaf on my chest. That inspires me to play.

Who initiated the contact with the national team?
I spent two years emailing John [Herdman] to get into camp. Every time he emailed me back, he said, “we need to see you do this” or “we need to see you do that.” I just made it one of my goals to be here, to take everything that he responded to me with to take it and grow with it. I wanted to get where I wanted to be — that’s here.

How did your parents react when you first told them about being called up by the Canadian team?
They were super supportive and happy for me. My whole family is. They’ll be in San Jose [for next week’s second Canada-USA friendly] and having them come out, it’s just an awesome feeling to have that support.

Tell me where your career has taken you so far.
I got drafted to Kansas City and then left during the middle of the season to go play in Iceland for the UEFA Women’s Champions League. I got injured in Iceland and came back to the States for recovery. I ended up going and playing with my sister in Finland for a year. The following year, I played in Cyprus and this past year I came home because John [Herdman] said he wanted to see me playing in the NWSL.

I took a leap of faith in coming back to the NWSL. I worked my way into camp with Kansas. I had to come in late because they already had a full roster. I just knew I was going to have to work extremely hard to even get a contract to be on the bench, let alone the starting lineup. I made that one of my goals throughout the pre-season and reached it.

I told the FCKC coach that one of my goals by the end of the year was to get here into camp with Canada. He [Vlatko Andonovski] kept me on that path and asked me how I should grow to get there. He was always supporting me to take my game and get to here. It’s been a really cool journey and I’m glad I’m here.

What was your first impression of the Canadian national team environment?
It’s one of the coolest experiences. This group of girls is so welcoming. It’s been easy to gel with them because they want anyone and everyone around them to be better. You can see that on the field and at practice every day. It’s awesome to have that around me and I’m just gelling around them. It’s encouraging.

For those who haven’t seen you on this side of the border, how would you describe your playing style?
I would say I have a very attacking mindset. John has me playing right-back here, but in the NWSL, I’m usually in the centre-mid attacking spot. I would say my mindset is a work hard, grit kind of girl that will hustle all day, run my little heart out to the end and do it for the girls around me.

There’s an interesting parallel between you and Lauren Sesselmann, who is also American-born. When she made her debut for Canada, it was against the U.S.
And John has prepared me for that as well. He’s asked me real tough questions regarding playing against the U.S. and the ties that I have there and here. Right now, I think I’m handling it pretty well. You never know when it comes to game time. I’m so excited to play them. And I’m excited to see what this group of girls has because they have it. We have every little key that we need to beat them.

And how do you defeat the number one squad in the world?
It comes down to skill, but it also comes down to who wants it more in the end. Anytime a game is played, it goes one way or the other. I have a feeling it’s going to go our way this time.