The Canadian women’s soccer team brought their gold medals and top game to Ottawa this weekend. This past Saturday, more than 16,000 fans packed into Lansdowne to watch the women play for the first time since winning gold in Tokyo this summer. Not surprisingly, Canada dominated New Zealand (a Tier 2 team) 5-1 in a friendly match as part of Canada Soccer’s victory tour, which heads to Montreal this week and then other cities in 2022.
It was a wall of red in the stands at Lansdowne, as fans gave multiple standing ovations, rang bells, and cheered on the players, who were dressed in custom-made jerseys with gold names and numbers on their backs. Those without tickets crowded into the hill behind the stadium and watched from the condo overlooking TD Place.
The first goal for Canada was a penalty kick by Jessie Fleming. Then Christine Sinclair scored into the back of the net, bringing fans on to their feet. Nichelle Prince got the third goal and Andrea Leon scored the next two.
After the game, the Canadian players circled the field, waving at fans and signing autographs.
The Celebration Tour began less than three months after the team beat Sweden in a dramatic penalty shootout in Tokyo. It was also the first time the women’s team has played in Canada since 2019, when Canada defeated Mexico in Toronto.
A year before that, in 2018, Ottawa’s Vanessa Gilles, who now plays centre back, was in the stands watching the team defeat Brazil at Lansdowne, dreaming it would be her one day. Saturday was her first national and pro game in her home town, following her first Olympics this summer. Gilles, who was born in Châteauguay, Que., will also feel close to home when the team plays in Montreal this week.
Before the game kicked off, Canada and New Zealand joined arms in a circle, taking a moment to acknowledge allegations of sexual coercion and maltreatment in the American women’s league and to protest what the Canadian team calls a “culture of abuse” in the sport. Bob Birarda, the former Vancouver Whitecaps and U20 national women’s coach, is facing nine sex-related charges.
Christine Sinclair said in a Zoom call with the press after the game: “As players, we’re tired of being silent.”
“Our voice carries a unique weight right now. We want to make the most of it.”
— Meaghen Johnson (@MeaghenJohnson) October 23, 2021
Sinclair, a three-time Olympic medalist, said one of the best parts of Saturday’s match was inspiring young players. “The best moment for me was just walking out in front of the fans for the first time. I’m a firm believer that kids need to see it to believe it.”
Some of those kids in the stands were Rebecca Renfro’s girls, Sydney, 12, and Kona, 9, who play competitive soccer for Nepean Hotspurs Soccer Club. “We were glued to the TV all summer,” she said of the Olympic run.
They wanted to see Sinclair in action, said the girls’ dad, Dave. “It’s a chance to see the GOAT.”
The team was celebrated in the week running up to the game, too. Mayor Jim Watson gave the team a key to the city while they raised the Canada Soccer flag, and Gilles dropped the puck for Thomas Chabot and Erik Karlsson at the Senators game.
Thank you @Senators for having me out and letting me do tonight's puck drop alongside two Ottawa legends @ErikKarlsson65 and @ThomasChabot1 ! What an incredible moment and what a great game! https://t.co/MF9zn9nsZL
— Vanessa Gilles (@VanessaGilles) October 22, 2021
Aside from a celebration, this weekend’s match and the upcoming ones help the team prepare for CONCACAF W Championship in July, which is also a qualifier for the 2023 FIFA World Cup hosted by New Zealand and Australia.