Chicago Red Stars are hoping that their blend of winning experience and a core of team unity will see them prosper this season in the NWSL and in Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod they have a player and a person who is more than prepared to step up to the mark when she is called upon.
The entrances are open, the audience is gathering and the cast are ready and waiting backstage as the National Women’s Soccer League is set to have its curtain-raiser this weekend. Professional women’s soccer in the US begins a new chapter in the eight-team division this season and if you follow the female game then you cannot have failed to notice the anticipation that has been simmering in recent months. Chicago Red Stars were one of the original Women’s Professional Soccer teams in 2009 and off the back of reaching the WPSL-Elite final last year they are ready to kick off in the NWSL as they host Seattle Reign this Sunday (14th April).
One of the international names in the Red Stars’ ranks is Canada’s first-choice goalkeeper Erin McLeod, a Bronze medallist at the London Olympics last summer and one of the game’s eloquent and charming individual personalities. The former Washington Freedom stopper has over 80 caps for her country and has been part of three World Cups and two Olympic Games. There are far greater depths to her character than simply the player you see between the posts and besides the likes of art, mentoring and public speaking, music is an undoubted part of who Erin is. As a youngster, one of her friends was a goalkeeper and had to depart a game due to injury. Erin was the one who raised her hand to go in goal as a replacement and putting herself forward is an approach that has taken her a long way. This is something she has also stuck to when it comes to showcasing her singing ability and she reveals how far she has taken the interest.
“I do a lot of corporate and public speaking and lately I have been getting requests, so occasionally I throw in a song, normally Adele or Pink. I sang the national anthem once at a Women’s Whitecaps game in Vancouver – that was pretty cool, although I was extremely nervous.
“I have actually recorded a song with Darren Woloshin, my long-time friend, just haven’t put it on iTunes yet!’’
With 4th place in the 2003 World Cup, the Canadian national team eclipsed the achievement of a decade ago when securing Bronze in London 2012 and throughout that time they have had a decidedly patriotic soundtrack. In her interview on here, former Canada striker Kara Lang described the team’s affection for a certain ‘Think Twice’ singer prior to her 2011 retirement and Erin confirms this has not gone away!
“Celine Dion is still a huge part of our team. Whenever we win a game we sing ‘The Power of Love’ in the locker room with all players and staff and we sing it in a huge huddle – Karina LeBlanc normally starts us off.
“Pre-game mixes are put together by Robyn Gayle and Kaylyn Kyle – everyone submits their favourite song. It’s a great way to find new music.’’
Born in Edmonton and a two-time title winner with Vancouver Whitecaps in the W-League, Erin likes to use art as an outlet for relaxation away from the game, as well as playing the guitar, although she hardly gives her skills a ringing endorsement!
“The music I play on the guitar is basically anything that’s easy enough to play – I am a very horrible guitar player. I play piano pretty well but they’re not as easy to carry around.
“I play anything that’s easy, anything that makes me want to sing basically, which is just about everything. I’ve been singing forever but as far as actually playing on guitar and my teammates YouTubing it, it started a few years ago.’’
Fellow national team goalkeeper Taryn Swiatek was someone Erin learnt from and ex-Ipswich Town and Canadian men’s team keeper Craig Forrest and NHL legend Wayne Gretzky were her sporting heroes growing up. When it came to the musical backdrop of her childhood there were a few artists who were preeminent for her.
“First records I ever bought were MC Hammer ‘Too Legit To Quit’, Jann Arden ‘Time for Mercy’, my aunt used to be in the band, Nirvana ‘(MTV) Unplugged (in New York)’- I must have been 10 or so. Music was a big part of my family growing up – my folks would listen to Carol King, James Taylor, ‘The Big Chill’ soundtrack, there was always music on in the house.
“I’m all over the map as far as music. I love Florence and the Machine, I love Rihanna, Frank Ocean, Mumford and Sons, David Guetta, Miguel, Santigold, Pink, Macklemore, FUN, Kings of Leon, XX, Common, The Roots, De La Soul, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Linkin Park, Jessie J, Foster the People.
“I mean it really depends on my mood but that’s a few anyways.’’
Erin works with Melissa Tancredi, a national team colleague and a recent teammate at Dalsjöfors in Sweden’s Damallsvenskan, on Grass 2 Gold. The initiative sees them coaching and mentoring 9-16-year-olds as well as Canada’s Under-17 players and Erin is also an ambassador for Right to Play, focusing on education and empowerment for youngsters through the game. The striker is the first name Erin mentions when discussing her Canadian counterparts’ sound selections and she also has a message for versatile Boston Breakers player Rhian Wilkinson.
“I think Melissa Tancredi and Kaylyn Kyle have some pretty good taste in music. My good friend Emily Fortunato, athletic trainer for Washington Spirit, has incredible taste in music and is one of those people who listen to everything – bands you’ve never heard of, die hard, also obsessed with No Doubt.
“Rhian Wilkinson has some interesting music taste, I hope she’s reading this, but for the most part she listens to podcasts. I recently gave her some of my music to listen to – she politely said there were a few things she liked.
“I gave her about 500 songs! I think we just have different taste in music.’’
During the run to Olympic Bronze, there was a midfielder for Canada who excelled with performances made of pure desire allied with assured quality. She will be representing FC Kansas City in the NWSL this year and Erin is a fan of her work off the field too!
“Desiree Scott on the Canadian team has a great voice. Every time we go into camp basically her or I get put on the spot to sing.’’
Erin is one of those characters who you begin to understand and like the more you delve into her personality. At 30, she is at a point where she can look ahead with excitement in her life and career but with the added benefit of a lot of learning and experience on her side already. In the 2011 World Cup in Germany, defeats for Canada to the hosts, Nigeria and France and a last-place finish were just another reason why Erin had started to feel disillusioned with the game.
A torn anterior cruciate ligament three years previously had given her perspective though and she attributes a lot of the credit to Canada coach John Herdman for reinvigorating her love for her sport. She does not believe in thinking about what might have been and the way the national team and herself responded to their agonising extra-time defeat to the US in the Olympic semi-final was testament to this. After the disappointment of being penalised for holding onto the ball too long in the lead-up to the US equaliser in the 4-3 loss, Erin, along with her team, decided to go all out for Bronze in the next game. She was one of the outstanding performers against a France side who had beaten them 4-0 in the 2011 World Cup, making crucial saves before Diana Matheson’s joy-inducing last-gasp winner sealed the medal. The success was about more than just sport, people came together for the team, whether they were at the games or watching back home. Bronze was a fantastic achievement and with sights set on Gold in future and glory at the 2015 World Cup on home soil, Erin is truly heartened by the interest and support in the team.
“I think Canada’s reaction to our bronze medal at the Olympics was incredible. The statistics alone speak to that – 10.8 million people at one point or another tuned in, second only to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Gold medal final for our men against the USA.
“That’s incredible. The number of people who know the names of the national team players, how quickly our home game against the USA sold out, 58 minutes, even the number of girls registered to play this year compared to last.
“The sport is growing in Canada and I’m just proud to be one small part of that.’’
In the build-up to Chicago Red Stars’ season opener, Erin has been enthusing about the infrastructure of the whole team and organisation. There is a realisation that it is not about any one person, it is a collective effort and Erin has been extremely impressed by the personnel who have got on board thus far. The likes of US midfielders Lori Chalupny and two former interviewees on this site Shannon Boxx and Leslie Osborne are now teammates rather than the opposition as has often been the case for Erin as a Canadian player. Their top-level know-how and ability could prove invaluable and among the ranks are also Dinora Garza and Maribel Domínguez of the Mexican team.
US defender Amy LePeilbet will unfortunately be missing this season due to injury but the high-profile German duo of defender Sonja Fuss and forward Inka Grings will join in late May from FC Zurich in Switzerland. Also in Rory Dames’ squad is Erin’s close friend, fellow Penn State attendee and Canadian colleague Carmelina Moscato. The Red Stars step onto the field at the Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex against Seattle Reign in the first game and Erin is in high spirits.
“I’m thrilled about Chicago so far, the team is incredible. Hard-working players with big hearts – that’s the kind of team people dream of.
“It’s an honour to be here and I hope that we can give our fans a brand of soccer to watch that’s exciting and inspiring. We all take a lot of pride in what we do – it’s finally our chance to showcase it to North America.’’
Erin has numerous thoughts on what will allow the NWSL to succeed where the WPS (folded 2012) and WUSA (folded 2003) ultimately came up short. A more considered approach and focus on growing the league and the women’s game organically as opposed to targeting too much too soon and burning out are very pertinent points. As well as believing that the players have a responsibility to promote the league and how little things like signing every autograph will make a difference, Erin details the other principle factors that will play a part.
“I think the key to this league succeeding is the financial structure behind it and more of a focus on North American talent as it grows. The last few leagues were about the last names on the back of the jerseys – I think the key to the success of this league is the badge on the front of our jerseys.
“We need to create a loyal fan base, similar to the MLS, and watch as it grows.’’
A consummate professional who puts tremendous preparation into each game, Erin has an impressive outlook on life in general. Besides feeling that negative coaching has no place in today’s game she is of the belief that your career and happiness should be in your hands and nobody else’s. It may have taken her time but she now appreciates the need for balance between pushing yourself to do more and appreciating the good things you already have. After any setback there is always a new chance and with Erin’s ethos it is difficult to see her being anything other than a hugely valuable part of this exciting Chicago Red Stars project. As always on here, we conclude with a question that is tricky for players to answer but definitely intriguing every time. Erin was asked to place herself in a 5-a-side team, with a line-up of four players in front of her consisting of the best she has worked with in her career up to now. Here is her selection, even if her team may have an unfair advantage with two extra players at the back!
“This is tough. I’d go with Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi up top.
“Lori Chalupny as my midfield and it’s a toss-up, defender either Carmelina Moscato, Kadeisha Buchanan, or Ali Riley. I find every one of those players extremely inspiring and all-round good people – people you want to play for.’’