They have become the pied pipers of soccer in this country. Ambassadors, role models and, in many ways, sporting rock stars -- minus the scandalous arrests and bloated bank accounts.
Next week Canada's women's national soccer team will be showcasing their skills in front of more than 25,000 fans at Investors Group Field against the top-ranked country in the world and their longtime nemesis, the United States.
"The fans have done their part, it looks like we'll have great atmosphere at the game," said Canadian head coach Jon Herdman during a conference call with national media on Thursday. "This game is absolutely gold for us because you can't replicate stepping out in front of a truly passionate Canadian crowd that want you to do so well.
"But the more we experience it, the more we'll be able to work together with the fans to create our 12th woman in 2015."
Front and centre in that crowd will be the family and friends of midfielder Desiree Scott, the Winnipeg-born and raised soul of Canada's side whose spirited play has earned her the nickname 'The Destroyer.'
Scott was en route from Nottingham, England on Thursday -- she plays for the Notts County Ladies when she's not wearing Canadian colours -- and Herdman spoke of how her teammates might help her manage all the emotions of playing in her hometown.
"Believe it or not, this is going to be the first time her mom and family are going to see her play live," he said. "And for any player that's just a wonderful achievement, to be able to put that shirt on not only in front of your hometown but in front of the people that have really helped you to get to where you get to. The team will sense that, they know it will be important for Des. Part of the team's job will be help her focus on being Desi 'The Destroyer' and doing the things she does well and not over-thinking this whole situation and being part of enjoying the experience.
"It's a massive thing for Desiree and we've all got a big smile on our face that the local kid can come back home and show her talent on the world stage."
The game will be Canada's first on home soil in 2014 and another opportunity to implement systems and tactics in advance of the 2015 World Cup, which runs June 6-15 in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Montreal, Moncton, Ottawa and Vancouver.
But it's also a chance for this squad, which won over so many fans during the 2012 Olympics when a controversial loss to the U.S. robbed them of a chance to play for the gold medal, to reach out to its growing fan base here in Winnipeg.
Just as they have done in Edmonton and Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal...
"These girls have captured the hearts and minds of different populations, from young players, to mom and even dads now," Herdman said. "They're starting to recognize that these girls are world-class athletes, world-class players, and great role models for any player or young person because they live simple lives.
"They're not professional athletes in the sense of earning millions of dollars on big contracts. They represent to a lot of people the last bastions of amateur sport, where this is a group of women who genuinely play for the love of what they do and for the love of their country. And I think people resonate with that.
"Canada Soccer has done a wonderful job of bringing this team to Canada and actually putting it in front of populations such as Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver. That exposure is really heightened and that's a big part of our success."
The Canadian side will feature Scott along with Christine Sinclair, this country's all-time leading scorer, and will feature the return to action of forward Melissa Tancredi, who is back after taking time off after the 2012 Olympics to complete a chiropractic program degree. As well, Canada's side will feature five younger players who could see action this summer at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Sura Yekka, Ashley Lawrence, Jessie Fleming, Kadeisha Buchanan and Rebecca Quinn. (Another Canadian Sophie Schmidt, was born in Winnipeg, but went to high school in B.C.).
A Canada-U.S. matchup in women's soccer always brings out the best in both.
"Whenever you bring the U.S .across the border into Canada it's a derby match and we like to see it like that," Herdman said. "Those derby matches just bring that extra fight and spirit and desire and meaning to the game. But one of the things in prep for this game is try and remove the clutter of all the thinking this game and selling the game internally, because it is quite a burden for the group because when you look at the statistics they don't bode very well.
"We're looking at some new strategies to maintain the passion but remove the psychological burdens of it being such a big game. I know for the U.S., at times, they just look at it as another game and come into the game nice and light and bright whereas our girls often see it as something bigger than it is."
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