Canada forward Tancredi adapts to mentor role


Melissa Tancredi, right, in action for Canada. (Jon Super/AP)

Four years ago, Melissa Tancredi put on a clinic in Vancouver during the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic qualifying tournament. The tenacious forward netted two goals, while adding three assists over four matches, leading Canada to a second place finish.

Later that summer, she had the tournament of her career at the 2012 Olympics in London, scoring four times, with two goals coming in a crucial draw versus Sweden where her resilient performance helped the Reds advance to the knockout stage.

Tancredi, now 34, hopes history will repeat itself and that her experience in 2012 will prove to be a framework for the many fresh faces currently on the Canadian roster.

The Hamilton-born striker—with over 100 caps to her name—chatted with Sportsnet from the team’s training camp in Vancouver to offer a preview of the upcoming Olympic qualifiers in Texas and about her evolving role with the national program.

A lot has happened since the 2012 Olympic qualifiers in Vancouver. How have the last four years prepared you for next month in Houston?
I guess the similarities that can parallel this one are that we were definitely under pressure. We were playing at home for an Olympic qualifier and there were big crowds coming out for us. I think it was the first time we ever had crowds that big. It’s not going to be any different in the U.S. It’s going to be massive crowds, and crowds that are obviously not wanting us to win, but now, we have a new team. It’s going to be a building experience for us, for sure. We obviously expect to qualify and we expect to win the final. To be able to prepare right now for something that big is huge for us.

Of course, last summer you faced perhaps the highest ever pressure situation with the group. What did the team’s results at the FIFA Women’s World Cup teach you?
Overall, I think we’ll just take the positive from that tournament. It was the most successful Women’s World Cup ever and we were part of it. We brought something special to our country. Results wise, I think we’ve learned not to let the external take over. I think it was a lot of pressure and we didn’t really know what we were walking into. Being able to go through something like that with a core group of girls definitely makes you stronger in the end.

Now, we have a whole new focus and it feels fresh. It really feels great. We know what we did individually wrong and we know what we did wrong as a team and now, since day one, we’re fixing those problems.

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A number of players from the World Cup are still with the team. With that said, you also have a group of wide-eyed youngsters. What’s it like being a veteran and how has the transition been to that leadership and mentoring role?
It’s definitely been a challenge for all of us. We’ve been blessed with the same kind of group for the past 10 years, but it now brings in a different dynamic by incorporating new faces into our system tactically and off the field, creating partnerships and you don’t know how much those mean until you’re on the field and you think, “Oh my God, things aren’t clicking as they used to.” So that means it’s a challenge, but we’re all embracing it. It’s nice to have fresh faces and form new partnerships, new friendships with the girls. It’s a new beginning for us and it really comes at the perfect time.

And perhaps some don’t realize that those partnerships are not only built on the pitch, but it comes away from it, too.
One hundred percent. One hundred percent. And I think that’s where most of your work has to come, right? On the field, everyone is good enough to be on the field, but it’s about taking that time off the field to form that trust and that bond that you might take for granted sometimes. We pride ourselves on being the most connected team and that’s definitely from the work we put in off the field.

When you look back at the start of your career, do you think the current transition to the senior squad is different for the players coming through the Canadian program than it was for you?
Absolutely. The technical ability of these players is nothing like what we came to the team with. We were just raw athletes and that’s what we recruited on. Now, you have true soccer players, but at the same time, they’re also great athletes as well. You’re almost starting 10 levels higher than what we started at.

It’s just about laying the tactical foundation. It’s really not that big to have tactics in college and John [Herdman] prides himself in being a tactician, one of the best in the world. I think that’s the big eye-opener. You’re not getting that as a kid or as a young player, but you’re coming in here and it’s overwhelming at first, but it’s our job to ease them into it and not give them that big “bam” right away. We kind of work them into it.

As the team evolves, do you think your role has evolved as well?
For sure things have changed. We as a core group of players are looked upon for sure to help those [youngsters] to help see things we want them to see, help them out and just make them feel comfortable. There’s nothing more important than being new in an environment and feeling comfortable and knowing that your teammates trust you right away. That’s what we’ve taken on, what I’ve taken on.

Of course, we want them to be comfortable so they perform their magic on the field and they know we’ve got their back if things go wrong. I think being a mentor and role model, a leader, off the field is huge. Now that we have a lot of young faces, the majority of the team is young, every single one of us has to play that role now.

Changing gears a little bit, you’ve signed a contract to play in Sweden this year. This will be your second time around in the Damallsvenskan. What are your expectations signing on with KIF Örebro?
My expectations don’t really change. I have my own personal things that I’m going with, like a checklist that I want to know down pat before the Olympics. I just want to give myself the best environment to grow as much as I can as a player. They know that as well. They’re for sure going to give me the minutes and give me the trust to be the leader that I can be. That’s where I flourish. That’s the kind of environment that I love to play in.

How would you compare the National Women’s Soccer League to Damallsvenskan? Is playing time a factor?
I do and I think it can be vice versa. It’s just about finding the environment and finding the fit that best suits your ability that can give you the chance to play the minutes you want to play. This team in Sweden has given me that.

Fellow Canadian Marie Eve Nault already plays for Örebro so she can help with translations, but I’m sure you know a little bit of Swedish.
[Laughs] I do! Well, I have auto-correct on my phone. I’ve got that Swedish auto-correct to help me out. I won’t lie to you. I forgot a lot of it and I don’t think Buddy [Marie-Eve Nault] knows much, but she’s going to teach me as much as she knows.

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