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GKs LeBlanc, McLeod ready for new opportunities

Karina LeBlanc is excited to be a Chicago Red Star. (Photo Copyright Harjeet Johal for The Equalizer)

VANCOUVER, Canada — A pair of Canadian goalkeepers have found new homes during the NWSL silly season. Erin McLeod, and Karina LeBlanc both ended up being traded earlier this month. McLeod will be back-stopping the Houston Dash, and LeBlanc was traded from Portland to Chicago.

Both keepers were in top form during the 2013 NWSL season, with LeBlanc leading the Thorns to a championship, and they will have to do so again as they’re being counted on as key off-season additions.

The Houston Dash were looking for a solid athlete at the peak of her game as they set out to find the best NWSL keeper on the transfer market. Once Chicago Red Stars general manager Alyse LaHue granted the Dash permission to talk to Erin McLeod the wheels were in motion to bring Erin to Houston. McLeod doesn’t see an expansion team as a risky opportunity to take a chance on. In fact she’s excited about improving equally on and off the pitch.

“What’s really promising about the whole situation is that it’s the same group as the Dynamo, so they have top class facilities,” McLeod said. “Personally after living and training here (Vancouver) I’ve realized the importance of high-class facilities. I’m doing mental training on almost a daily basis, and there are so many things that I’m working on and realizing how much work that I need to do off the field. It just seems like a really good fit.”

[MORE: McLeod traded to HoustonLeBlanc to ChicagoPortland sign Angerer]

Soon after McLeod headed to Houston, German goalkeeper and 2013 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Nadine Angerer said she would announce her NWSL team, which turned out to be Portlad. Although an Angerer announcement didn’t formally come until last Monday, Karina LeBlanc thought something might be in the works to bring the current FIFA Ballon d’Or winner to the Rose City.

“Obviously you pay attention to the rumor mill and you hear about it before it came up.”

With the Portland Thorns set to go with Angerer, that meant LeBlanc was in search of a new home and a trade involving fellow Canadian national team keeper Erin McLeod opened a long-awaited door for LeBlanc.

“Obviously after Erin got traded there was an opening spot in Chicago, and from the last league I had interest in playing in Chicago and that was one of the things that I knew Chicago was a club that always had interest in me playing with that club.”

LeBlanc had a fantastic season with Portland as she led the NWSL with 11 wins, and finished tied for third with seven shutouts. She started 21 games and finished second in the league with 92 saves. As a player who always competes with emotion and puts her heart on her sleeve, LeBlanc was looking at the big picture when she looked for her next opportunity in the NWSL.

“The 2015 World Cup is here in our home country so when you think of being an athlete that’s where as any player you’d want to play,” she said. “For me I wanted to have the opportunity to play and be given a fair shot, and when Chicago was open and they expressed a lot of interest. It’s great to be able to go to a place where the coaching staff has faith in you.”

McLeod is looking forward to learning from her new coach, Randy Waldrum. Although she’s not yet 100 percent familiar with Waldrum’s coaching style, she did have a great conversation with him. Both Waldrum, and McLeod are starting off on the same page well before training camp in March.

“I’ve never played under Randy before, obviously playing at Penn State you hear about him at Notre Dame but we had a great conversation and it seems like we are very much on the same page with the way we want to play and the areas of my game I definitely want to work on. He’s on board and I really look forward to playing with him and for him.”

Joining Erin on the Houston Dash will be a familiar face from the 2013 Chicago Red Stars. Ella Masar was selected 5th overall by Houston in the 2014 NWSL Expansion Draft and McLeod talked about what type of playing ability the fan favorite Masar brings to the pitch each game.

“I think she’s a very crafty player, her touch on the ball is incredible, I think she’s very soccer smart and I think that’s something we’re going to look to have upfront. Whether she’s upfront or in the midfield I think we can use her in a lot of ways. Definitely with her speed, and power – she’s gone through me a few times. She’s definitely going to add a lot to the team.”

The women’s soccer world is a small close-knit circle and when LeBlanc’s trade to Chicago broke she received plenty of support via twitter from friends, fans, and teammates everywhere. One of those teammates is Red Stars midfielder Shannon Boxx.

“That’s one of my best friends in life,” LeBlanc said. “One of the great things about twitter is the support you get, and she’s one of those who has supported me along the way. Obviously we’re both veterans of the game and we’ve known each other for so long. That’s definitely one of the perks of going to Chicago.”

Neither keeper is guaranteed the No. 1 starting position in net, but they’re both looking at 2014 as being an exciting opportunity to play the beautiful game with a new club.

“I saw Houston as a good opportunity and they offered me some areas of my game that I wanted to improve. I just thought it was a good opportunity,” McLeod said.

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