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Maegan Kelly’s degree in persistence pays off with international debut for Canada

Maegan Kelly, right, battled Megan Rapinoe in her international debut for Canada (photo: Brad Smith/ISI)

SAN JOSE, California – They say that first impressions make all the difference. Canada’s Maegan Kelly has been on a lengthy journey just to be able to have an opportunity to make an impression with Canada Soccer, and coach John Herdman. She was thrown into the fire on Sunday night against the United States. Playing out of position at right-back, Kelly held her own against U.S. superstars, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe.

“She’s got great character, she just seems to fit,” Herdman said. “Blue collared work ethic, really clean technically, a good football brain, and that’s what we liked about her. We put her out there to have that test. It was either her or a sixteen year-old uncapped player. We went with Maegan. She’ll learn a lot for that, for sure, and we’ll see Maegan again. I’ve been really impressed with her.”

The 25 year-old has a degree in persistence after years of trying to get the attention of Herdman and his coaching staff. Kelly played abroad in Iceland, Finland, and Cyprus. During that time she kept in contact with Herdman, hoping that one day, her hard work, patience, and dedication would help get her called up.

“I got called in by John,” Kelly reflected. “I’d been in contact with him on and off with email. A month before camp, he called me personally, and we had a conversation, and it just went off from there. I spent about two years emailing him back and forth, just trying to get my game up to the level what he thought it needed to be, to get here.”

Born and raised in Kansas City, Kelly had the option of competing for Canada or the U.S. Her father Neil, hails from Toronto, and her sister Katie Kelly, was once called up by Canada Soccer. Her mom, dad, sister, and a few friends were in San Jose to watch her live.

“My parents were super excited for me,” Kelly said. “They were very supportive. They’ve been supportive with everything that I’ve done. All my soccer growing up, it’s been nice to have a ton of friends and family support.”

It was a challenging match for Kelly as the U.S. made a habit of attacking the right flank. Imagine being in your second international match, and you have to contend with World Cup championship quality in Morgan and Rapinoe. It’s a match Kelly won’t soon forget.

“I think they just knew it was my first game playing right back,” Kelly said post-mach. “They decided to go down that side, which is a good game plan on their part. I found it very difficult to have both of them there, because they’re both very good players. I think we seemed to manage it mostly throughout the first half, pretty well.”

As Canada prepares for 2018 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, having another durable fullback will come in handy. Especially after Rhian Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault retired this year. If Kelly can improve, develop, and adapt, Herdman could have a converted right-back in time for the 2019 World Cup in France.

“Yeah, I could definitely see that,” Kelly admitted. “Only time, will tell. Time to improve, and see where I fit in with this team, and the personnel that come in throughout each camp.”

Herdman isn’t afraid to move his players around into different positions and formations. Ashley Lawrence moved from the midfield to fullback, and retired, Josee Belanger split her time at forward, and fullback.

“I’ll tell you this, if Lawrence is playing, Rapinoe doesn’t get that time and space, a confident Herdman said post-match. “When you try and plug gaps with forwards on their international second caps, that have never played there in their life, against a world-class winger, that’s what you’re going to find.

“All credit to Maegan who gave everything she could out there. To be fair, I put my hand up out there. You’re putting players in tough positions. Everyone gritted it out, and tried their best.”

Herdman isn’t the only one impressed with Kelly’s ability, and what she’s brought.

“I first met her through the NWSL playing in Kansas City,” Christine Sinclair revealed. “Just this tenacity, work ethic. She fits in perfectly with our team. She’ll run through a brick wall for this team. I think people saw that she has ability on the ball. Yeah, she fits in perfectly.”

As Canada gets ready to take on Norway on Monday, November 27. Kelly will look at video from her first two caps with Canada. She wants to improve her body positioning, bring a positive mindset, and work to build chemistry with her new teammates. Kelly has had a firsthand experience of the Canada environment and she wants to stay active.

“It was probably one of the coolest experiences I’ve had as a player so far,” Kelly said, with excitement. “Privileged to be called up into this group of players that have worked so hard to be here. Privileged to be playing for Canada. I find that playing at this level is one thing that I’ve been looking for, and these girls give it to me every single day we’re out there.”

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