Injury sidelines Canadian goalkeeper McLeod for World Cup qualifiers


Eric McLeod in action for Canada. (Frank Gunn/CP)

If Canada is to qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, it will have to do it without goalkeeper Erin McLeod.
The veteran shot stopper was originally named to the Canadian team’s 20-player roster last week for the upcoming Concacaf Women’s Championship, which serves as the qualifying tournament for next summer’s World Cup in France.
But McLeod, a 35-year-old from Alberta with 116 caps to her credit, suffered a foot injury while practising this week with the women’s team in Texas ahead of the Concacaf competition, and the prognosis is that she will be out for four-to-eight weeks.
Canadian coach Kenneth Heiner-Møller explained the fascia — the flat band of tissue under McLeod’s foot that connects the heel bone to the toes — was overstretched, and the pain became exasperated after she tried to continue training.
“When we tested her again after she tried for a shot, she felt as though she was standing on needles; that’s how she explained the pain. She couldn’t really stretch for it,” Heiner-Møller told Sportsnet.
“She didn’t think she could perform with that pain, so we had to replace her.”
McLeod has returned home to undergo treatment, and her spot on the Canadian team for the tournament has been taken by youngster Kailen Sheridan. Stephanie Labbé is the other goalkeeper on this Canadian squad.
This is a cruel blow and yet another injury setback for McLeod, one of Canada’s most experienced players, who debuted for the senior national team as a 19-year-old in 2002.
After recovering from knee surgery — the third of her career, which forced her to miss the 2016 Olympics — McLeod signed with German club SC Sand in January. She came back into the national team fold two months later when she played for Canada in a game against Russia at the annual Algarve Cup held in Portugal.
“Knowing Erin the way I do, I know she’s going to work hard to get back sooner [than her prognosis],” Heiner-Møller offered.
Labbé, a 31-year-old native of Edmonton, has earned 52 caps for Canada since her debut in 2008. Labbé took over as starting goalkeeper at the Rio Olympics in McLeod’s absence, and helped Canada repeat as bronze medal winners. Since then, Labbé has established herself as Canada’s No. 1 goalkeeper, so the Reds will be in good hands with her between the posts at this month’s Concacaf tournament.
Still, losing McLeod is big blow for Canada.
“Kailen is a great goalkeeper … But for us to lose Erin, we’re losing a great person who is also a great influence on the team. She’s played so many international games. I do have a lot of faith in Kailen, but this is a loss, losing Erin,” Heiner-Møller conceded.
McLeod’s injury opens the door for Sheridan, a 23-year-old Ontario native, to gain some valuable experience. A product of Clemson University, Sheridan has been a starter for Sky Blue FC of the National Women’s Soccer League for the past two seasons after being selected 23rd overall in the college draft in 2017.
She turned out for Canada’s under-17 and under-20 teams before debuting for the senior side in 2016. She has five caps for Canada.
“Kailen has a great opportunity here, and I know she’s up for it. Throughout this season we’ve seen her perform well for her pro club, so I’m pretty confident in bringing her in,” Heiner-Møller said.
Canada’s opening match of the group stage at the Concacaf Championship comes against Jamaica on Oct. 5, followed by contests versus Cuba (Oct. 8) and Costa Rica (Oct. 11). All of Canada’s group games will take place at H-E-B Park in Edinburg, Texas. Following the group stage, all matches will be played at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Canada is ranked No. 5 in the world, well ahead of No. 34 Costa Rica, No. 64 and No. 88 Cuba. The other group features the U.S., Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Panama.
The top two nations from both opening-round groups advance to the semifinals. From there, the two finalists automatically qualify for next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. The winner of the tournament’s third-place game will also qualify for the World Cup. The fourth-place team will meet Argentina in a playoff game at a later time with a World Cup berth at stake.

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