Is your middle name Palma?
[Laughs] Oh my God! What a start, eh? Yep, Melissa Palma Julie. Beautiful. People call me Palma sometimes to tease me.
What makes you one of the best strikers in the world?
I’m very dangerous in the box. I’m strong. I’m deceptive with my speed—I don’t think many people expect me to be as explosive as I am. And I bring that passion. You can’t really mimic that—when you have a player who shows that kind of passion, they’re going to do everything they can for their team.
There’s a lot of talk about your toughness.
Is there? Great. I’m a baby, actually. No, I’ve been through so much, injury-wise. Female soccer players in general are pretty tough. You have to be able to take a bunch of knocks.
There’s far less diving in the women’s game, right?
There’s some—it looks amazing. [Laughs] But I feel like women would rather play on and get gritty instead of the whole theatrics of it, which is embarrassing at times. In the last men’s World Cup, it cost a team their chance to move on. I think the women’s game is much nicer to watch, when you’re not getting those theatrics.
You scored 37 seconds into your World Cup debut, against Australia in 2007. What was that like?
Wow, what an exciting moment that was. The crowd went nuts. I don’t think they expected it so quickly—it was a surprised scream. I remember the play like it was yesterday. I got the ball from Kara [Lang] down the flank. I honestly wasn’t even thinking. I was like, “I’m just gonna hit this.” I half-volleyed it across my body and it ended up going into the goal. Unreal start to my career.
Did you sense a change in the way the country sees this team after the Olympics, especially after that extra-time loss to the U.S. in the semifinal?
Absolutely. Anyone who’s ever been in a big game, or any big sports fan, they know how much your life depends on that game. To see it all drop into shambles, it’s unreal. A lot of hockey dads came up to us. That was a big changing moment for me, to hear hockey dads get emotional.
What do you think when I say the name “Christina Pedersen”? [The ref who made questionable calls in that game vs. the U.S.]
[Laughs] I picture a ref standing there with her hand out, calling a foul against us.
Is Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love” still a part of your victories?
Celine Dion will always be a part of our victories.
It’s a little dated…
I know, I know. But as long as Karina [LeBlanc], Sincy [Christine Sinclair] and I are on the team, Celine will always be a part of the team.
How do you control your nerves, pre-game?
I nervous-dance. I get all my little jitters out. I like any sort of Latin mix. The locker room, they’re not really good with that music. [Teammate] Robyn Gayle’s got a few songs that she dedicates to me on the mix, and they’re ’90s dance-mix songs. Like “Saturday night, doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.” [Editor’s note: Tancredi is singing] That’s a good one. And “Memories” [more singing].
You’re a chiropractor. Do your teammates ask for adjustments non-stop?
They’re always asking for treatment. I technically can’t adjust them. I don’t have my provincial licence. But I give them all the soft-tissue work they need.
You took two years off to finish school after the Olympics. When you got back into soccer, were you really out of shape?
Not completely, but let me tell you, I was far off. [Laughs] What I needed was the on-field stuff. I wasn’t able to mimic that—practising every day at top speed. The strength obviously was there times three—it was just getting back to speed of play and agility and the endurance that comes with practice.
Do other girls on the team have careers outside of soccer?
[Laughs] None of them have jobs.
I read someone owns a food truck.
Oh, Emily! Emily Zurrer. Erin McLeod has her art stuff. Karina LeBlanc is doing big things with UNICEF. Steph Labbé is a personal trainer. Yeah, I guess people do have jobs. Desiree Scott does Zumba.
What’s it like playing pro in Chicago with a bunch of U.S. national team players?
I learn a lot training with them every day. You have Shannon Boxx, who’s a true veteran. Christen Press is one of the best finishers I’ve ever seen. Julie Johnston teaches me how to get around those pesky defenders.
The national team has stats for everything. Do you trash-talk teammates about who’s stronger and faster?
Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s usually those who have zero chance [in strength and speed competitions] who are the loudest.
Can I drop a name? You need to write this down. Emily Zurrer thinks she’s the strongest human on earth. She always challenges me but she always loses, and it’s actually getting embarrassing now because it’s year after year of championships for me. We were doing a jump-squat competition for amount of power the other day. Smoked her, obviously. She had to cheat to win.
Anything you want to add?
I think you covered it all. Palma, done.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.