Canadians’ success in NWSL renews hope for expansion north of the border

Canada's Desiree Scott reacts during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Rui Vieira/AP)

With the relocation of the former Utah Royals to Kansas City and the expansion of women’s soccer to Kentucky in the form of Racing Louisville FC, the National Women’s Soccer League is only growing, and Canadian players in the league see a future in the North.

Kansas City NWSL is home to four Canadian players – Desiree Scott, Diana Matheson, Jordyn Listro and Victoria Pickett. For all four, the effort to continually grow the game in the U.S. brings hope that there could be a potential team closer to home.

After Kansas City gave Canadian players a chance to find a professional home as well as have the chance to play for Team Canada, it became clear that the team brought more hope for Canadian expansion than any had before.

“It would be great to have an NWSL team, because there is a fanbase, there could also be a lot more Canadians in the NWSL that aren’t just on the national team,” said Pickett. “I think a lot of players are pushed to the side because they are taking up an international spot, so having Canadians on a Canadian team within the NWSL would be a great opportunity.”

For players like Listro and Pickett, making it to the league was a second chance for playing careers they both thought were in jeopardy. Kansas City made their dreams a reality, and the increase in Canadian talent solidified that a potential Canadian team is well overdue.

Pickett suffered a knee injury in her senior season at the University of Wisconsin, last playing in 2018, and was afraid she would not get drafted. Since making her debut in Kansas City, Pickett has started in three of the team’s four games, making key passes and creating chances for her teammates.

“I emailed a bunch of NWSL coaches. One of them was not Huw Williams, because I figured they’re an expansion team, they’re not going to know who I am just being new and everything,” said Pickett.

“Funny enough I got selected by them. It’s been wonderful, we really are playing for the city and everything. I wish we were getting the results, but it’s been a great atmosphere, I love my teammates and love the coaching staff.”

Pickett was one of the final additions to Canada’s friendlies roster under head coach Bev Priestman, announced to the team on June 2. Priestman was appointed the head coach of Team Canada in October of 2020, starting a new era for the women’s national team.

The June friendlies present an opportunity for Pickett to earn a roster spot at the senior level for Canada, one she has not had since she was 18 and was named to the 2015 Pan Am Games roster. Her playing time in Kansas City brought attention not only to herself, but the wide range of Canadian talent currently playing in the NWSL.

“I wasn’t honestly expecting it since they already had the original roster,” said Pickett. “It’s always an honour to represent Canada, so to be on the radar and to know that they’re considering me, to finally have this call up again is everything I could dream of.”

Listro’s journey to find her way back into the eyes of not only the NWSL, but Canada soccer, was not as linear, since that relationship was strained after Listro’s appearance for the U17 squad in 2012.

Listro continued to play in college at the University of South Florida, but was not selected in the 2017 NWSL College Draft. After a year abroad in Spain, she decided to return home and pursue a career in medical sales. But Listro was always pulled back to soccer.

“I saw the NWSL growing and becoming more professional all around through different social media channels, hearing from certain people that played. I’ve always wanted to play in the NWSL and stay in the US… once I saw that it motivated me even more,” said Listro.

“Playing college in Florida, we always played against the (Orlando) Pride in the pre-season and that was always a team I wanted to play for.”

During the 2020 season, Listro saw that Orlando was looking to fill roster spots after loaning out players overseas and took a chance on herself at the open tryout. She was one of seven players to sign a short-term contract with the team.

Listro started in three of Orlando’s four Fall Series matches. She re-signed with the club on a one-year deal ahead of 2021 and was eventually traded to Kansas City. Her playing career took off not only from a professional view, but a national one as well.

“There were so many players that (Team Canada) didn’t look at for years because they had the same girls going into camps. Now they have looked elsewhere and I think Bev did a great job of tracking every player who is playing professionally and giving them an opportunity,” said Listro.

The opportunity with the Pride also allowed Listro to bring attention to her name from eyes at Team Canada. Listro was named to the 2021 SheBelieves Cup roster, making her senior national debut in February. That’s when Priestman was able to see the midfielder in a light coaches prior didn’t allow the chance for.

After her debut in February, Priestman brought Listro back as a member of the initial friendlies roster, with her sustained strong showings in Kansas City giving another opportunity for the 25-year-old to prove herself as a member of Team Canada after almost 10 years.

“Jordyn is a very committed player,” said Priestman. “She brings a certain profile to the midfield. I’ve always spoke to the group about getting that makeup right and she brings the sort of energy and the legs to the midfield that this group needs.”

New faces like Listro and Pickett getting named to compete in Spain, with many aiming for a chance to make the Olympic roster for Team Canada, only reaffirms the fact that Canadian women’s soccer is growing. Kansas City became the best look into a Toronto expansion team that fans up North have been begging for.

Having the opportunity to play for Team Canada was possible in part to the investment into Kansas City, which gave second life to a lot of players. The increasing viewership and expanding league brings optimism for Canadian players who would love to grow the game in their own backyards.

“I think that if there were more opportunities in Canada, it would allow people to keep playing for longer and hopefully expand the national-team pool to more players,” said Listro.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.