SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Jessie Fleming and Karina LeBlanc are putting their best foot forward ahead of the Women’s World Cup — and it’s paying off.
The teenaged Fleming scored in the first half and LeBlanc took over in net in the second half to give Canada a 1-0 win over Mexico in a women’s soccer friendly on Thursday.
Canada is preparing for the Women’s World Cup, training in California and Mexico and competing in a series of friendlies.
"We understand that our goal is to inspire a nation and in order to do that we need to be the best versions of ourselves," said LeBlanc, who made several big saves in the second half. "Every single day we have that mentality. It’s not about us, it’s about that flag that we wear on our chests that represents each and every Canadian from those who have tougher backgrounds to those who are just out there cheering us on and believing that one day that could be them.
"We know there will be a moment in this World Cup where we’re going to need this country to rise for us and it’s going to be the sea of red, the flags rising, Canadians being loud and proud for us and understanding that we won’t be perfect but we’re going to go out and give our best effort for them."
The only goal of the game came when the Mexican ‘keeper could not corral a cross and the 17-year-old Fleming from London, Ont., tapped the ball in.
"When you have a player like Jessie come in and she’s confident on the ball, she’s as experienced as anybody else, when you put the ball at her feet and she knows what to do," said LeBlanc. "I think that’s a testament to her hard work, her studying the game, but also, the environment head coach Jon Herdman has where we’re studying the game every day. We’re learning, we’re growing.
"When Jessie steps on the field none of us look at her at the age that she is. We look at her as another great player for our country and she’ll get the job done."
The game came one day after the Canadians, thanks to a goal by Sophie Schmidt, played the U.S. to a 1-1 draw in a closed-door training match at Santa Ana College.
"A really strong performance," said Herdman of the American match. "Then we put out a completely different team today which includes some of our alternate players."
That included Sura Yekka, Rebecca Quinn and Janine Beckie.
Herdman said his team emerged from both games unscathed, although captain Christine Sinclair left the first half Wednesday.
"It was more precautionary," said Herdman. "Everyone’s looking good at the minute."
The Canadian women leave Friday for a training stint in Cancun, Mexico.
"There’s a sport science outcome we’re looking to achieve there," Herdman said of Mexico. "Our scientists are working on a heat acclimation phase, where players react to intense physical training …We’re hoping to get some little outcomes there that give them an edge when they’re in that (World Cup) tournament, without giving too much away."
Leblanc agreed with Herdman, saying that she and her teammates were making the most of their time leading up to the Women’s World Cup., which begins June 6.
"That’s why we’re here and that’s why we’re going to head to Mexico," said LeBlanc. "The point of it is that we’re ready for all conditions. I think a World Cup in Canada can present different weather conditions and for us it’s about being prepared for everything, so that the things we can control we’ve worked on and we’ve learned how to control that type of environment.
"There will be things that are out of our control and it’s about being as best prepared as you can be for all those moments so that these moments don’t define or be the difference for whether we win a World Cup in our home country or not."
They return to the Toronto area on May 21 to prepare for a closed-door training match with Nigeria and a May 29 exhibition game against England in Hamilton.
Canada, ranked eighth in the world, opens World Cup play on June 6 against China in Group A in Edmonton.
No. 25 Mexico, drawn in Group F, will play its first game June 9 against Colombia in Moncton.