VANCOUVER – As the Canadian team roster was unveiled on a dreary Monday morning, the rain-soaked crowd—mostly young girls, mostly dressed in red—remained emphatically upbeat.
And when all 23 members of the squad selected to represent Canada on home turf at this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup had been named, there were no real surprises—except maybe one.
Diana Matheson, whose participation in the tournament has been a big question mark ever since the 31-year-old midfielder tore her anterior cruciate ligament in a friendly against Japan last October, was named to the team at the event in Robson Square. Though when her name and number were called, she moved more carefully than her teammates as she descended the steps to the stage.
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As it turns out, Matheson—a national hero since netting the game-winning goal in the bronze-medal match at the London 2012 Olympics—was hobbling not because of her knee, but because of her foot.
“The knee injury has been going very smoothly,” Matheson told Sportsnet on Monday. “We were sticking to all the milestones we hit.”
But the five-foot-tall Oakville native suffered a stress fracture in her right foot while training last month; she’s no longer using crutches, but the new injury has extended her recovery timeline. She’d been on pace to be back playing in games next month, but with the foot injury, it’s not yet clear whether Matheson will be healthy in time for Canada’s opening World Cup game on June 6 vs. China.
According to coach John Herdman, Matheson, who has 166 caps, won’t necessarily need to be ready for that first match to stay on the roster (the team will have until 24 hours before that match to name another player should her comeback be ruled out).
“She’s been progressing really well,” he said, noting that her age and experience gave him confidence in her ability to get back on the pitch. “There’s an expectation that she will return back into that tournament at some point. Maybe not the first game—but maybe, for a certain period of time.”
Apart from Matheson’s inclusion, the roster was as expected: a solid set of veterans along with a younger crop of athletes brought in by Herdman to bring a sense of balance to the team. That youth movement includes 17-year-old London native Jessie Fleming, whom the coach described as possessing an “absolute freshness,” as well as 19-year-olds Ashley Lawrence and Kadeisha Buchanan, the latter of whom Herdman called “the Sinclair of centre-backs.”
“I don’t think Canada has got the best team of individuals for this tournament,” Herdman said plainly.
What sets the group apart, he said, will be the connection they share.
Team captain Christine Sinclair echoed that notion, expressing the team’s goal, in the coming weeks, to “create that same vibe that we had in London, where we would do absolutely anything for each other.”
Sinclair, when asked about her goals for the tournament, was nothing short of ambitious: “The young kids that were out today at Robson Square can now dream of representing their country and it’s normal. People don’t think they’re crazy. Our goal is to change the sport of soccer in Canada.”