The start of the women’s Olympic soccer tournament is exactly three weeks away on July 21. So Winnipeg’s Desiree Scott and her teammates on the Canadian women’s team can be excused if they are just a little excited — and perhaps relieved — on the same day they began the pre-competition camp in Irvine, Calif.
Speaking to the media via Zoom call, the veteran midfielder admitted it has not been easy to get to this point after a year-long delay to the start of the Tokyo Games.
“We didn’t even know if this Games was even going to happen and to know now that it’s literally within grasp, it’s coming so soon, I think just that feeling of gratefulness and appreciation for the sport — for the opportunity that we get to go out and represent our country on one of the biggest stages — I think we’re just relishing in those moments,” Scott said.
“We’re just so happy to be together again. And I think that’s felt throughout the entire squad.”
The former U of M Bison great had an extra degree or two of difficulty in staying prepared, both mentally and physically, as she had to tend to a family matter that resulted in her having to opt out of the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup exactly one year ago.
“I was training out of my basement for eight months leading into the She Believes Cup in 20-21 and I had to get creative. I invested in fitness equipment, a treadmill, weights and punching bag — all of those sort of things to try and make my environment the best it could be,” recalled Scott.
“I had fantastic support from the Canadian national team to provide me a program with the equipment that I had, in the five-by-five space I had to work with. So it was challenging for sure at times.”
Scott will turn 34 during the tournament. Team captain Christine Sinclair celebrated her 38th birthday several weeks ago. They are the only two holdovers on the current 18-player roster who were on the 2012 bronze medal-winning team in London, England. There are nine others who helped Canada repeat as bronze medal winners in 2016 in Rio.
That leaves seven who will be making their Olympic debut in Tokyo. And Scott feels that’s just about the perfect mix to help the team in its quest to return to the podium, but with a medal of a different colour.
“We’ve got a blend in the group,” said Scott. “But just a fantastic balance of people who are coming to bring that fire and have that first Olympic experience — but those who have been there before, who know what it takes to go through a tournament and the challenges it will take.”
In those two previous tournaments in London and Rio, it was Sinclair who pretty much carried the offence. And while the greatest scorer in the history of women’s soccer will still be counted on, Scott says there are other players on the team who are also capable of finding the back of the net.
“Since Rio, we’ve really honed in on our attack and focused on being an attacking threat as a nation again and not just that defensive presence we’ve been known for,” explained the veteran midfielder who has more than earned her nickname of The Destroyer.
“I think she now has a fantastic, supportive crew around her to help. We’ve got Nichelle Prince. We’ve got Deanne Rose providing that fierce speed and attacking confidence on the ball, taking players on. You’ve got a new first-time Olympian in Evelyne (Viens) who has scored some big-time goals this past 20-21 campaign — against top nations as well.”
Just like 2012 and ’16, Canada will have to face the host country in the 2021 tournament. But instead of playing Britain in the quarterfinals, or Brazil for the bronze, Scott and company will meet Japan on the opening night of the tournament on Wednesday, July 21.
“I think especially after postponement, to be able to open up the games is just going to be an incredible moment to remember,” Scott said. “What a game to get up for. It’s an opportunity to start the tournament off strong and really showcase who we are as a team.”
Canada and Japan are part of a very strong Group E that includes Great Britain and Chile. So earning an Olympic medal for a third straight time would be an achievement in itself for the eighth-ranked team in the world going into the tournament.
But Scott says the theme is to aim higher than bronze this time around.
“We’ve gotten on the podium back to back and we want to do that again this summer,” said Scott. “But obviously be at the top of that podium.”