It’s been 21 months and 27 matches since Erin McLeod was last in the Canadian goal.
Back from her third knee surgery, the 34-year-old from St. Albert, Alta., is savouring her return to the national team ahead of Tuesday’s soccer friendly with 14th-ranked Norway in Marbella, Spain.
"This environment, it’s not like any other environment in the world," McLeod said in an interview from Spain. "It’s so high-performance, high-class. People are wonderful. I was saying yesterday it’s impossible not to grow in this environment and. I feel so honoured to be invited in."
McLeod spent some time with Canada in April in Europe ahead of games against Sweden and Germany. But while she trained with the squad, she was not one of the three ‘keepers on the roster.
Stephanie Labbe played the full 90 minutes against Sweden and came on for Kailen Sheridan at the half against Germany. Labbe has played all but 45 minutes of the four matches since.
Sabrina D’Angelo has also been in the goalkeeper mix in McLeod’s absence. But coach John Herdman called in just McLeod and Labbe for the Norway game.
While it’s not McLeod’s first rodeo, she acknowledges she has had to learn some hard lessons recently — "No guarantee I was going to be able to come back, there’s no guarantee that I’d be able to play for my club or my country. And while I’m back at the camp, there’s still no guarantees.
"But for me I’m very proud to be here. I am really grateful for the last few years. They’ve been two of the hardest of my career and I’ve learned a lot about myself."
McLeod says she has been hard on herself in the past. She plans to change that in the years she has left playing.
"I just want to enjoy it. That’s my goal coming in here," she said.
That includes a less-is-more approach to training, to protect her knee.
On the plus side, she does not feel the injury during day-do-day life, perhaps with the exception of long plane rides.
"I actually think that this rehab has really given the rest of my body an opportunity to heal," she said. "I feel pretty good actually."
McLeod’s most recent injury dates back to December 2015 when she suffered ligament damage playing for Canada at a tournament in Brazil. Things got worse two months later in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifier in Houston.
The knee finally gave out March 23, 2016, kicking a ball in FC Rosengard’s Champions League quarter-final game against FFC Frankfurt.
The latest surgery saw a part of her kneecap inserted into a hole in her tibia from a previous surgery and a small strip of quadricep used as her new anterior cruciate ligament. An extra ligament, from a cadaver, was also inserted.
"Genius surgery," said McLeod.
"I call it my ‘Terminator’ knee now," she added with a laugh.
The long recovery road included sitting out the Rio Olympics, where Canada won bronze.
McLeod is acknowledged as one of the finest female goalkeepers in the world, with 43 clean sheets in 115 appearances for Canada. She is one of the most respected players in Herdman’s squad. An artist, musician, entrepreneur and LGBT spokeswoman, she is also a role model off the field.
"This has been a real journey for Erin," Herdman said of McLeod’s comeback in his roster announcement. "She did a great job for the team in qualifying us for the 2016 Rio Olympics and we were all heartbroken when she couldn’t make the trip with us to Rio, but we told her it was important for her to take her time and not to force anything and that we would slowly bring her back at the right time, and I think now is the right time."
Christine Sinclair will captain the fifth-ranked Canadians, who are 6-3-2 in 2017.
The Canadian women have never beaten the Norwegians in 11 tries (0-8-3), although their last two meetings (in 2010 and ’13) resulted in ties.