Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Local soccer star Desiree Scott returns home from trailblazing path in England

Pitch pioneer

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Nottingham, England -- It couldn't be a time of greater geographical contrasts for Winnipeg-born soccer star Desiree Scott.

Just weeks after embarking on the most far-flung adventure of her soccer career, Scott returns to Manitoba to take part in her first national team game in her home city when Canada hosts the Olympic champion Americans at Investors Group Field on Thursday.

But a career of contrasts is nothing new for Scott, who is affectionately known to her growing legion of fans as "The Destroyer" for her hard-nosed brand of tackling in defensive midfield.

In fact, Scott herself, is a picture of drastically contrasting styles and demeanors.

Despite measuring up at just 5-0, the former University of Manitoba player has earned a reputation as the Canadian team's go-to enforcer, regularly tasked with shutting down the most threatening attackers on opposing teams.

But away from the pitch, you will struggle to find a more gentle, inviting person.

Upon my arrival at her new home in Nottingham, Scott popped her head out the front door to welcome me before I had even parked my car.

Scott had invited me into her new digs for her first interview since starting a new chapter in her professional club career with the Notts County Ladies FC in England's top women's soccer league.

"It's cool to be part of this soccer nation," she said. "They live, breathe and eat soccer here, so it's cool to immerse myself in it."

It is, in fact, a road that has been travelled for years by Canada's young males who have aspired to reach the highest levels of European soccer, but on the women's side of the game, Scott is a relative pioneer.

As it stands, she is the lone Canadian player in England's Women's Super League, a revamped professional environment fighting hard to establish itself as one of the premier destinations for the world's best women's soccer players.

And in a country where the reality of carrying an "American" accent will go a long way to discrediting your credentials in football, as the Brits would say, there is much to prove.

"I'm the lone duck out here — and I kind of like that," she stated with pride. "I like the battle in trying to prove myself out here from the ground up."

There is little doubt in the mind of most onlookers in the British women's game that Scott will succeed in leaving her, and Canada's mark, on the league.

Scott is a bona fide star at the highest level of international women's football — and undoubtedly the best player, male or female, to emerge from Manitoba in a generation — if not ever.

To die-hard fans, she plays a role for both club and country that is often referred to as the "engine" in midfield.

Her energetic pace and ability to sniff out key moments of opposing danger was instrumental to the Canadian team that captured its first medal in Olympic soccer at London 2012 and the Winnipegger turned heads last season playing in the inaugural campaign of the National Women's Soccer League in the United States.

But for all the success in recent seasons, the simple reality for Scott, and every one of her Canadian teammates, is that the career-defining moments are likely yet to come.

With Winnipeg set to play a part as one of the venues for two major upcoming tournaments, Canada is set to welcome the world when it comes to women's soccer.

The country will host the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup this summer before putting on the main event, the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2015.

By the time the World Cup rolls around in July 2015 the national buzz around girls and women's soccer will be at an all-time high.

"There is definitely growing pressure," said Scott.

The Canadian women's team has already rocketed to relative celebrity status, with recent home games in Toronto and Vancouver attracting crowds of over 20,000. Thursday's game will have more than 25,000 fans in the stands at IGF.

Part of the picture is that soccer has been bubbling beneath the surface in Canada as the nation's most participated-in sport for many years now, but frankly, the continued failures of the men's national team have not allowed support for the Canadian national soccer teams to blossom to full potential.

Scott and her teammates, notably the high-flying Christine Sinclair, are starting to unlock that potential in a big way.

The women of the Canadian team that will take to the field on Thursday night are, in many ways, redefining what it means to be a female athlete.

"The crowds have been amazing," Scott said, breaking into a wide grin. "The fans are like our 12th man out there and we want to perform for them as well as ourselves during the World Cup."

But beyond just earning increased respect and attention, Scott, Sinclair and company are amongst a very first generation of female soccer players who are now able to head abroad to earn a decent living from the game.

In Scott's particular case, she is part of a growing trend of players who are now eyeing up a place in the English league, where the nation's wealthy governing body has mandated increased investment in the women's game.

Playing soccer abroad is nothing new for Scott, as she and her national teammates have regularly spent six to eight months year at foreign training camps and tournaments — a process not without its sacrifices.

"Living overseas is part of the lifestyle when you want to be a footballer," she said.

"You just have to say to yourself that you're living the dream and that you only get so many years to do it."

But even for Scott, the seasoned traveller, you get the sense setting up shop away from her Canadian teammates for a six-month season in Nottingham is going to be a new challenge.

"I'm a homebody, so this move was always hard for me to begin with, but thank goodness for Skype. I'll be able to talk to my family regularly."

Scott also went on to remark that there are longer-arching challenges associated with the vagabond lifestyle of a professional soccer player.

"You want to have a house, and a partner and to settle down," she said, also adding that she has intentions to re-sew her roots in Winnipeg at the end of her career.

"But you have to think that a lot of people would want to be in your shoes and that you're very lucking to be doing what you do."

On Thursday, one would imagine there will be thousands of young girls at IGF, who, for the first time, will have the opportunity to look up to a world-class soccer star from their own city.

So when O Canada is sung, Scott will have to soak up every ounce of "home" while she can.

Because for a professional soccer player from Winnipeg, the chance to shine on home turf might only come along once in a lifetime.

 

Max Bell spent part of his childhood in Winnipeg and is currently working in the English Premier League for Norwich City FC.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2014 C1

History

Updated on Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 7:47 PM CDT: corrects team name to Notts County Ladies

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