Canadian women’s defender Zadorsky following in Matheson’s path

Shelina Zadorsky knows the ins and outs of the professional game.

This year marks her sophomore campaign in the National Women’s Soccer League and before that she spent time playing in Sweden and Australia. But, this season, the defender is taking another step in her career: She’s wearing the captain’s armband for the Washington Spirit.

It’s not completely new territory for Zadorsky. A 24-year-old native of London, Ont., she captained her University of Michigan side during her senior year, and Canada’s U-20 team at one point. However, this is her first experience as skipper of a professional club.

Sportsnet recently sat down with the centre-back to discuss her expanded duties with the Spirit, her leadership style, and the Canadian women’s team.

Congratulations on being named captain of the Spirit. How did you learn the news?

Obviously, it’s a huge transition year for our club. We’ve had a lot of changes in personnel and I think it was exciting that we had a lot of the same staff coming back. We’ve grown a good connection there. There are a handful of great leaders in this club now. [Coach] Jim Gabarra and I had a good conversation. He really saw that I love to communicate and organize from the back. I think he liked that about my style. He wanted me to spread that throughout the team and continue to do that and lead in that way. Obviously, it’s only my second year here, but I’m doing everything I can to help the club move forward and have another successful season.

Of course, as a centre-back, you see the field a little bit differently than midfielders or strikers do. What benefit does that position give you as leader of this team?

Yeah, I really do love the view that I get. It’s important for us back there to help those in front of us, especially since we have the best view of the pitch. I think it’s great that we have more communication going around the back between Estelle [Johnson], Whitney [Church] and especially Steph [Labbe], as well. With that view and being a defender, it’s part of your job to help your midfielders and forwards, who a lot of time are doing a bit more running than you. That voice leading from behind is really vital for our success.

You’re following in the footsteps of some great leaders in Washington, in particular of Diana Matheson and Ali Krieger. What did they teach you?

I learned so much from them last year and luckily, I get to work with [Matheson] in the national team environment. She’s got a lot of wisdom and experience when it comes to being a pro. I think what I really learned from her is her off-field habits and how well she takes care of her body. She does all of the little things that make her such a quality professional. When it comes to Ali, I think that intensity she brought every single day and how much she cared about the team. It was evident. Her passion for the game and growing the game, the fans here in Washington, credit to her, because she really gave everything to the club and I obviously wish her the best in Orlando. I was definitely fortunate to learn from those types of quality players.

You mention the national team and I have to ask you about Christine Sinclair. Looking at your time with her over the past few years, what can you say about the way she leads and what have you learned from her?

She definitely leads by her actions. I think in her recent years, she’s come to be even more vocal, which has been awesome because I’ve been able to experience that. Her quality on the ball and the way she changes games, changes training sessions, I think you feed off that type of quality and she’s someone who can really make a difference on the field. She’s a supportive teammate. I think she’s made it feel like that Canadian team is really family. It’s been awesome to learn from her. She’s absolutely world class.

How are you finding the balance with continuing to grow on the field, but with that added responsibility of being the team’s voice at the same time and directing those older than you?

I think there’s a good mix of leaders on the team and I don’t think it’s coming down to one player, which has been really neat to see. People are taking on new roles and stepping up. I think we’re always supporting each other, which is nice about this team. We want the best for each other and that’s really good in training. I think our coaching staff has given the reins to all the players to take on these leadership roles. It hasn’t felt like some singling out for roles. But of course, I put a lot of pressure on myself to continue to be there for everyone and make sure everyone is getting what they need to perform at our best. It’s been nice that there’s not just been one leader on the team.

How do you assess your season so far? You’ve talked a little bit about that transition period with some of those veterans, Diana, Ali, since they’ve moved on. What does the team look like now?

It’s exciting to see these new players come in and make a difference. You saw Lindsay Agnew up top and Meggie [Dougherty Howard] coming in the middle and keeping the ball down for us to change the tempo of the game. I think we’re still coming together, but it’s exciting to see the strides we’ve made. I think we’re just building our confidence and we’re trying to play a quick game and with quality as well. But, I think we need to create more chances and continue to finish those. On defence, we’ve really been focusing on being tighter and letting less shots through.

And you’ll be in Washington for the full season. Last summer with the Olympics, you had some long breaks away from your club. It must be nice knowing where you’ll be all year.

Definitely. I think it’s good for the team to have that consistent personnel and the environment. We can just keep building our game experience. I think that’s where you really grow as a player, when you get those games in and as a team as well. I’m excited to have this consistently be home and we’re not gone too often.

What are your goals for 2017? Certainly, every player wants to win a championship, but for you, what’s the bigger picture?

Obviously, being a leader and that comes with being a consistent performer. For me, being a consistent performer means that I’m directing the back line, I’m helping us keep clean sheets and then working on providing service from the back and starting our attack. I consistently want to be a quality player the ball, as well. That’ll be good for my development this year to really focus on being a consistent performer and keeping the ball, seeing the game and being an unbreakable defender back there, game in and game out.

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