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McLeod: Canada shifts focus to Rio 2016 Olympics

Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod is looking forward to Olympic qualifying. (Photo: Canada Soccer)

Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod is looking forward to Olympic qualifying. (Photo: Canada Soccer)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Erin McLeod was one of the top performers for Canada at the World Cup. The No. 1 goalkeeper for Canada kept the host country in several matches as opposing teams looked to get the better of Canada, which advanced to the quarterfinals on home soil.

McLeod has kept herself busy following the World Cup and that includes marrying Houston Dash teammate Ella Masar, appearing on CBC’s Dragons Den, and opening a clothing shop, Caposhie, with business partner Adelle Renaud.

The 32-year-old McLeod, who is a big Manuel Neuer fan, hasn’t taken much of a break since Canada’s 2-1 quarterfinal World Cup loss to England on June 27. The Equalizer was able to catch up with McLeod for a lengthy interview at Caposhie in West Vancouver. McLeod touched on a variety of topics including the World Cup, Rio 2016 Olympic qualifiers, and the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that was defeated last week.

How would you describe the run of being a goalkeeper of the host country at a World Cup?

McLeod: I don’t know if it was different this time around for me personally anyway. I think I had a little bit more confidence than I’m used to going into a big tournament, and at home you can either use that to your advantage or you can kind of let it consume you. I’ve done a lot of mental training off the field so for me it was kind of nice for it to pay off and to get into game scenarios and be quite calm and enjoy the experience instead of being so nervous that I couldn’t appreciate it. Yeah, I think there was pressure on us every game, but it was nice to be able to enjoy it.

What kind of lessons do you and the team take away that you maybe didn’t expect to have an experience with, maybe the magnitude of everything?

McLeod: I think we expected it to be big, we thought there would be a lot of media requests, but I don’t think we ever expected it to be selling out every game and the number of people that got behind the whole tournament. Even walking through the streets and people recognizing us. I do think we didn’t expect Canada to react that way that they did and I think I’m extremely proud of that. I can remember 14 years ago when people would laugh at Canada being a soccer nation and it’s kind of cool to see that we’ve come a really long way.

Was there too much pressure placed on the team to win and do well? Maybe your coach attributed to some of that as well?

McLeod: I think what John (Herdman, Canada coach) did and we all did really well as a team, we didn’t really think about what others expected from us. We had Jason deVos come in and basically tell us that no one expected us to do very well at all and make it past the 16 teams. From the beginning we kind of knew that the odds were not in our favor and that we would just have to play well collectively. It was similar to the (London 2012) Olympics. We had to come out and do well and be strategic. At the end of the day I wish we would have gone further, obviously. John kind of took us through this four-year plan and we are exactly where we are supposed to be and now I think for us, it’s kind of like. We’ve gone so far with this group, I think there’s going to be a lot of new people coming in and some people leaving. I think now it’s about not just consistency, but seeing if we can still go up in ranking. (Currently, Canada sits 11th if the FIFA world rankings.)

How do you integrate some of the younger players and maybe still find roles for some of the veterans without pushing them out the door right away?

McLeod: What I love about John’s philosophy is everyone is kind of accountable. I think if you’re a veteran and you’re not playing very much, John gives you kind of license to… you know an empowerment situation like he did with Karina (LeBlanc). Karina was one of the most important people on our team. She was in charge of a lot of off-field team building. She might not have played in the World Cup, but she was a massive part of the team. I think we’ll see similar things happening in the future with some of the veteran players and then our younger players. You’ve got Kadeisha Buchanan, who in my opinion is already a leader with the way she plays. I think we’ve been very blessed in the attitudes of the younger players. They’re humble, they work hard, they’re open to learning, and I think in that sense we’re going to be fine.

When is the next Canada residency camp?

McLeod: The structure is a little bit different this year. We are doing more actual camps so just staying for a couple of weeks at a time instead of living here for four months together. Nov. 21 we’re together for a couple of weeks and then we have the Four Nations Cup in Brazil starting on Dec. 4.

A two-week thing here, down to Brazil, Christmas break, and then back again in January?

McLeod: Back in January, there’s a three-week program in January and then there’s a little break again and it’s off to qualifiers.

A lot of breaks, time for players to spend time with family and to do individual projects like you’ve been doing, but are you surprised Canada Soccer will not schedule a Canada home game until spring 2016?

McLeod: You know I can not complain about anything the Canadian Soccer Association has been doing. The amount of funds they invested, not just in our program, but home games and also you have to think about up to 16¬†players that we’ve invested in the NWSL. Maybe we won’t be getting home games, but it doesn’t mean the CSA’s not investing in us and getting opportunities at the highest level. I think the fact that we are still getting games leading up to the qualifiers and immediately after, I think it’s a testament still to their support. I think the World Cup, when you host it one, it’s not the cheapest thing in the world.

You can’t complain, but the fans are. What kind of message does that send to the fans who maybe weren’t familiar with the sport, went to a World Cup match became enthusiastic, and want to support Canada going forward and now there’s no games? Not a great message?

McLeod: Yeah I know… and I think that’s always going to be a challenge. With the timing I hope that we get another home game before the Olympics. I think right now what we’re set on is qualifying and between now and then there is one big tournament. We’re going to take advantage of that and we’re going to go to that and then kind of re-evaluate after that.

What kind of challenges do you expect to face during the Rio 2016 Olympic qualifiers next February in Texas?

McLeod: I think what I love about the women’s game, and I think what you can see in the World Cup. Except for one or two games, there was no blow-outs. The women’s game in general around the world is getting better. It’s extremely exciting. There’s no more one-offs in tournaments and I think for us we have to take it seriously, we have to come out with our best game and never overlook any competition.

Is the Olympic tournament still a tough road to go and win because there are fewer teams and some strong teams like England won’t be there?

McLeod: I think with the World Cup, obviously there’s more teams, I think the level of play differs from country to country, but I think with the Olympics you kind of have the cream of the crop. There’s no messing around, you know what I mean? No matter if you’re in the group stage or after that. I don’t think we’re going to approach it any differently. Obviously, John’s strength is scouting; we’ll be prepared for every game in the group stage in a way, assuming we qualify. I think it’s still an honor and I think what’s cool about the Olympics and especially for Canada, growing up and being in love with the Olympics. Canadians really get behind the Olympics, whether you’re a soccer fan or not. That’s another opportunity for us to kind of sell the sport and get more Canadians involved.

How did Houston, Texas, manage to vote against the HERO Ordinance last week?

McLeod: Wow, all I can say is that I felt lucky when I was there being with Ella (Masar). We got a lot of support which I was surprised at. I went to school at SMU for two-years in Dallas and the discrimination that I faced, not just racism but homophobia was horrible. I know it’s made huge leaps and bounds, but obviously not enough.

Are you worried about going to Houston in February for the Rio 2016 Olympic qualifying tournament?

McLeod: I’m not worried about going there. I don’t think anything’s going to be vicious. I don’t think people are going to go out of their way, but it’s just like athletes playing in Sochi, (Russia). Knowing that you’re in a place that’s not necessarily loving and welcoming is always a challenge.

You’ve got a lot of projects on the go right now, how are they all doing?

McLeod: Yeah, I feel really lucky. Adelle Renaud, my business partner, is phenomenal. She basically started Peau De Loup and the whole concept with Caposhie. With the art and all the things that I’m juggling and training, it’s a lot, but at the same time I love it. I’ve always loved art and this is another way to be an artist and design the clothes and taking on adventures. I won’t be playing forever, I still have a lot of years left in me, I’m hoping. I just think it’s important to get involved with this. I’m also getting more involved with the community. I think as you become more and more recognized and a high-profile athlete there’s more opportunities to give back and to make a difference and I’d love to take the benefits of these opportunities.

How do you find a balance with all these hats so that they don’t interfere with your soccer career?

McLeod: Well I do have a lot on the go and it is hard to find balance. At the same time I have a business partner who understands that I’m an athlete first, and if I have a workout, and I have to be in the office, I go to the workout, and she understands that. I think the cool thing is that she doesn’t hold it against me. She’s completely confident and capable of doing this all on her own, but she’s wants to share it and has been an incredible mentor to me. I meditate a lot and there’s a lot of time when I need some moments alone. I think that’s important for every human being. Again, I think as I get older I realize if I’m just doing soccer as long as I have this balance and I’m doing these other things, creative outlets it helps my game.

Which button-up shirt would John Herdman look best in? He does like his tight-shirts.

McLeod: Yeah he does like those tight shirts and we’re making shirts for guys. When we get our first tight ones out I’ll let him know.

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