In public, Desiree Scott radiates the confident persona of a national team soccer player and the two-time Olympic medallist that she is. She's a driven, fearless competitor.

In public, Desiree Scott radiates the confident persona of a national team soccer player and the two-time Olympic medallist that she is. She's a driven, fearless competitor.

Her former coach John Herdman, in a tribute to her ferocious take-no-prisoners style on the field, dubbed her The Destroyer. The nickname stuck and so has Scott; she's been the face of her sport in Manitoba for most of the last decade.

THE ROAD TO TOKYO

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In the weeks leading up to the scheduled start of the Games in Tokyo, the Free Press will profile the elite Manitoba athletes who will be taking part in the Summer Olympics or Paralympics. In this instalment, we profile Desiree Scott, Winnipeg's two-time Olympic bronze medallist with the national women's soccer team.

Off the field, however, her life has been unsettled since a day last June when she received an emotionally charged call from her mom, Charlene Gusberti, in Winnipeg.

Desiree was in Sandy, Utah, where she was preparing to play in the Challenge Cup for the National Women's Soccer League Utah Royals when a distraught Gusberti phoned to tell her daughter that Desiree's foster brother, DeeJay, was about to be removed from the family home.

"I was actually just getting ready to go to training and I got a FaceTime call from my mom that morning, she was hysterical and in tears, as you can imagine," says Scott, speaking publicly for the first time on the subject, preferring to keep some of the details private.

"(She) said, 'They're coming to take DeeJay away,' which was pretty devastating. I kind of fell to the ground and started crying. You know, it's just something we never anticipated or expected. He was just the centre of all our worlds and to have that happen just out of nowhere was so abrupt."

DeeJay, who is 11 now, had lived in the family home since he was two days old, and has a tight bond with his foster sister.

Desiree Scott with mom Charlene Gusberti, and DeeJay.

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Desiree Scott with mom Charlene Gusberti, and DeeJay.

"He is my best friend, he's my entire heart," says Scott. "I know he's like my brother but he feels like my son very much at times because I helped raise him, changed his diapers and fed him bottles — we are closer than close can be."

Scott decided immediately her place was back home and so she took leave of the Royals and flew to Winnipeg to be with her mom. Gusberti feared the worst.

"I'm a pretty positive person in general, so I just said, 'We're going to get him back, we're going to do all we can, we're going to get the best lawyers, we're going to find out all the information we need to find out because a world without DeeJay wouldn't be a great world," says Scott.

She scoured the internet and took recommendations from friends for the best lawyers in family law. Then, miraculously, teammates from Utah and her friends on the national team started to raise money for the legal fund they would need to win custody.

"He is my best friend, he's my entire heart," says Scott.

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"He is my best friend, he's my entire heart," says Scott.

It was a battle they would win, eventually.

Forty-four days after he was taken, DeeJay was returned home and then last week, after months of legal wrangling, Gusberti and Scott were named his legal guardians.

"I found out the news late last week, officially," says Scott, who returned to NWSL in spring, this time with an expansion franchise in Kansas City. "We knew it was very very close to being done for the last few months, we just needed to dot some I's and cross some T's and get some final signatures."

Gusberti calls the ordeal the toughest year of her life.

"Desiree has always been family first," says Charlene, who raised her daughter as a single mom after Desiree's father died when she was 13. "She has been living her dream playing for Canada but every time she goes away she stresses (about) why she does it and who she does it for. Her family. She has always been a homebody and we are very close.

"She didn't think twice when our family was in need. Having her home to help with the legal side of things, to give each other support and a shoulder to cry on, just being there for one another, it was invaluable. It truly takes a village and we had our whole family fighting for our DeeJay day and night. He has a big place in all our hearts."

While the paperwork was signed last week, the first eight months of the process to bring DeeJay home had Scott questioning her future in the game.

Scott will play three games for Kansas City before Canada's Olympic roster is announced on June 23.

JEREMY REPER / CANADA SOCCER

Scott will play three games for Kansas City before Canada's Olympic roster is announced on June 23.

At 33, with more 11 years of service with Canada's national team, a long layoff exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic pushed retirement into the conversation.

"Those thoughts definitely crept into my mind," says Scott. "I've said... family comes first and if I had to be home and continue in a battle — thank God I don't, but I would — that would be my choice No. 1, if I had to do it. I wouldn't even have thought until afterwards how it was affecting my career and maybe cut it short."

DESIREE SCOTT'S OLYMPIC FILE

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Age: 33
Hometown: Winnipeg
Olympic event: soccer
Position: midfielder
Rio 2016: bronze medal
London 2012: bronze medal
By the numbers: 162 appearances for senior nats including 146 starts.
Nickname: The Destroyer
Quoteable: "I love the nickname. It makes me feel like a superhero and it totally matches my on-field playing style, so I'm all for it."

Fortunately, she's found her way back to the pitch.

With the ongoing support of recently installed nats head coach Bev Priestman, Scott started the season in Kansas City before rejoining Team Canada for a pair of pre-Olympic friendlies — scoreless draws against Brazil and the Czech Republic earlier this month in Cartagena, Spain.

"They were completely 100 per cent supportive in however they could help," says Scott. "We definitely chatted throughout that entire eight months and they gave me some time to just chill and handle the family side of things and then I reached out and said, 'You know what, I need to be doing something,' and they came with a training program for me.

"I had my coach on speed dial if I needed to talk, my mental trainer on speed dial (and) my veteran players in our little group chats that kept me in it to win it.... My life circle had my back, through and through."

Scott will play three games for Kansas City before Canada's Olympic roster is announced (the current squad of 29 players will be whittled down to 18 plus four alternates for Tokyo) on June 23 and she's expected to be an integral part of the Canadian effort at the Olympics.

"I can focus on soccer and know my family is OK. It's an amazing feeling." – Desiree Scott

The nats begin their pre-Olympic camp on June 29 at a still undisclosed U.S. location before flying to Japan for the Games, which begins July 21.

Last week in Spain, her Canadian teammates celebrated DeeJay's return in a heartfelt tribute, presenting their teammate with flowers and a belated Mother's Day card.

"The foster care system is a broken system, I would say, from what I've learned," says Scott. "Just to have someone from your family removed, it was the hardest time of my life and so now to have him as a permanent part of our family and to not have to worry anymore that something like that could happen again is just a sigh of relief...

"I can focus on soccer and know my family is OK. It's an amazing feeling."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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