TORONTO — Canada Soccer took time out to honour its own Sunday, celebrating six former players including Canada Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Amy Walsh.
"It feels pretty amazing," said midfielder Lauren Sesselmann. "It’s been an incredible career for all of us."
Sesselmann, Josee Belanger, Robyn Gayle, Jonelle Filigno-Hopkins and Kaylyn Kyle were honoured at halftime of the Canada-Costa Rica friendly at BMO Field while Walsh was brought out before the opening whistle. The six, all retired, won 458 caps between them.
Belanger was part of the bronze medal team last summer in Rio while Filigno-Hopkins (then just known as Filigno), Gayle, Kyle and Sesselmann helped Canada to bronze at the 2012 Games in London.
Walsh, 39, made 102 international appearances and featured in two World Cups and one Olympic tournament. The Montreal midfielder made 43 consecutive starts from 1998 to 2001 and served as Canada’s captain for more than 25 international matches.
Walsh, who retired in 2009, was looking forward to seeing the new generation of Canadian talent on display Sunday.
"A player like Jessie Fleming, I’m thrilled to be able to see in person today," Walsh said of the 19-year-old from London Ont. "She’s exciting, she’s vibrant, she’s super-talented."
Belanger, a 31-year-old native of Coaticook, Que., who won 57 caps, made her debut for Canada at 18 in July 2004.
A forward converted to fullback when Canada ran into injuries, she scored the winning goal against Switzerland in the 2015 World Cup round of 16 before 53,855 at B.C. Place Stadium.
Ankle and back injuries caused her to miss the 2011 women’s World Cup and the 2012 Olympics.
"Having the courage to come back and finish my career on a better note from that 2011 injury, having a chance to play a World Cup here at home and then winning a bronze medal at the last Olympics, I felt that was the end I wanted," said Belanger. "I felt I was leaving the field proud of what I achieved and I was ready for new challenges."
Her last game was a win over Mexico on Feb. 4 in Vancouver.
The 33-year-old Sesselmann, born in Wisconsin to a mother from Stephenville, N.L., won 46 caps after making her debut at age 28.
The centre back saw the good and bad of soccer, taking shots after a handling error that led to the England’s first goal in the 2-1 quarter-final loss that ended Canada’s 2015 World Cup. It was her last game for Canada.
Sesselmann, who fought back from a serious knee injury just to make that World Cup roster, said it took her a long time to get over that game. Now she sees it as a teaching moment when young players come to her to share their tough experiences.
"Every good player messes up. It’s part of the game," she said.
"If it had to happen to me to help others, that’s just the way my chapter was written," added Sesselmann, who now makes her home in Los Angeles.
Kyle last played for Canada at the 2015 World Cup, winning her 100th cap coming off the bench against Switzerland before appearing as a substitute in the loss to England. The 28-year-old midfielder from Saskatoon was a non-travelling alternate for the Canadian Rio team.
Kyle, who was 19 when she made her debut for Canada in January 2008, played in 62 consecutive matches in 2011 to 2014.
Filigno-Hopkins won 71 caps and scored 11 goals, taking part in two World Cups and two Olympics. The 26-year-old forward from Mississauga, Ont., was a two-time Canada U-20 Player of the Year (2008 and 2010).
Gayle, who was 20 when she made her debut for Canada in June 2006, won 81 caps, appearing in three World Cups and two Olympic tournaments.
A 31-year-old native of Mississauga, she is now a staff member with the women’s team. Her last game was a 1-0 win over Italy at the Cyprus International Cup in March 2015.