It may be little over two years since the powerful and talented young Canadian Kara Lang bid a tearful farewell to her playing career but the much-loved former forward still has fresh memories in her mind of a shared team appreciation that she did not quite subscribe to!
After capturing the attention of numerous observers within the women’s game as a result of her national team breakthrough and goalscoring exploits at the age of just 15, Kara had already represented Canada in two World Cups and an Olympic Games while she was still 21. The Calgary-born, Oakville-raised performer enjoyed team triumph in the W-League with Vancouver Whitecaps as well as winning the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup in November 2010.
The latter success was to arrive just before the curtain came down on Kara’s playing days as she announced her retirement at the age of 24 in January 2011 after serious knee injuries had prompted her to safeguard her future health. She was a firm favourite with so many thanks to her 34 goals in 92 games in Canadian colours and a personality that left a lasting impression on those who worked with her.
Now working as co-host of FOX Soccer News and Sportsnet World’s ‘Soccer Central’, the 26-year-old has taken her expertise and found fresh vigour for her life and profession but her love for music has always been present. Her ex-teammate and Canada’s Bronze medal-winning hero of the London 2012 Olympics Diana Matheson paid a heartwarming and emotional tribute to Kara at the press conference for her retirement two years ago and she also mentioned how she would miss Kara introducing her and the players to music they had never heard of!
Kara’s affection for varying styles of music is deep to say the least but she freely admits that she may have been something of an anomaly amongst her national team colleagues due to not liking a certain Quebec-born singer!
“There’s a very passionate love on the Canadian women’s team for Celine Dion, and I have to admit I’ve just never been a fan. It was funny to sing ‘The Power of Love’ in the locker room or on the bus but I would never choose to listen to Celine Dion myself.
“I’ve been told that makes me a bad Canadian but I obviously disagree!’’
Individual players have their own specific motivations of course and Kara described one of the ways that her former striking counterpart liked to prepare. The forward in question is a new recruit for the recently established NWSL team Portland Thorns and is a premier name in the women’s game in Canada, although maybe she can attribute a tiny portion of her success and recognition to the late and lamented King of Pop!
“Christine Sinclair listens to Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror’ before games which always struck me as a funny pump-up song, but whatever gets you going I guess. It’s obviously working for her!
“Also there were a few country music fans – I just can’t get behind that.’’
Kara described having to leave her teammates when she retired as the hardest part of the decision but she has at least had the opportunity to savour countless memories from the times they spent together on and off the field. It is also true that these occasions for Kara were ably backed up by some fitting tune choices, both for her as an individual and as part of a team collective.
“Music was a major part of my experience in football. Individually we all had iPods with us everywhere we went, you spend so much time on buses and airplanes and around other people so much it’d be awful not to have that outlet.
“I couldn’t live without my music when we travelled. I always had my Bose speakers with me, I’d take them with me as a carry-on for every flight, I always had music playing in my hotel room and would bring them into the locker room.
“Music in the locker room was huge for creating the mood before games. I often chose the playlists, but you have to take into consideration everyone’s tastes and put a little something for everyone on there.’’
It is perhaps something of an unwritten rule for those who choose the sounds for the team to listen to when everyone is together to be huge music lovers themselves and Kara certainly ticks all the boxes. I always think that the people who take it one step further with love for music are the ones who know how to apply it to the vastly different situations that life can bring and she is the perfect example.
“My music taste is totally dependent on my mood. I grew up on a lot of punk rock and alternative, so that’s always going to be there, but I was also really into underground and old school hip-hop as a teenager.
“I went from stuff like Black Flag, the Misfits, the Pixies, Hot Water Music, Blink 182, Death From Above 1979 to A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, The Roots and De La Soul. Now my tastes have mellowed a bit, to where I like a lot of indie pop.
“I love stuff like Best Coast, the Dum Dum Girls, The Growlers, Arctic Monkeys, Ty Segall, but right now I also can’t stop listening to Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd.’’
Kara’s choices range from the likes of the Canadian act Death From Above 1979 who she favours despite them not having a hugely extensive repertoire, to names that many hip-hop students would always give recognition to when discussing the classics. This mix of genres and artists and groups that vary in their popularity across the board is a strong indicator of her music love and that affection was certainly in evidence when she was a young listener going to certain lengths to hold on to her first ever record!
“I think the first album I ever bought was on tape, it was Salt-N-Pepa and I was about 8 years old. I hid it from my parents because I knew I was too young to be listening to it.
“The first album I bought on CD was Veruca Salt’s ‘Eight Arms To Hold You’. Not long after that I bought Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ home and my parents took it away from me… understandably, I think I was 9 years old.’’
As touched upon earlier, Kara found music to be a very powerful and useful device for her time with the national team and she took me through some of the specific memories she has of it acting as a soundtrack to the team’s achievements and general time together.
“When we qualified for the Olympics in 2008 I remember dancing in the locker room to M.I.A.’s (with Timbaland) ‘Come Around’. We were also listening to Calvin Harris’ first album and ‘The Girls’ was a popular one then.
“There was a bit of Young Jeezy and The Game on one playlist I remember. Kanye West and Kid Cudi made it onto a lot of the playlists and so did Drake, naturally, it was the Canadian team.
“Lupe Fiasco’s ‘Go Baby’ was on a few playlists. One summer in residency I remember dancing with Melissa Tancredi to Timbaland’s ‘The Way I Are’… a lot.
“I’ll never forget the dance-offs to Fergie’s ‘Fergalicious’ though. Not my favourite artist but you can’t deny that song’s got a good beat and Tancredi and Amy Walsh would entertain the entire locker room with their dance-offs.’’
Although Kara would of course become an integral part of the national team with scoring patterns and overall stats that still stand as one of the best in the Canadian team’s history to date, she was just starting out at one point. It was in these early stages of her career that she had to take on the generally shared tradition in the sport of singing in front of her teammates and the song was fitting, especially as she was at a crossroads just like the title of the film it was from (no I haven’t seen it, I swear)!
“Funny that you ask, my first trip with the senior women’s team involved a little routine that was horrifying at the time, but now I look back on it and it’s pretty funny. I had to sing and perform a choreographed dance to ‘I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman’ by Britney Spears.
“I was 15 so it was pretty accurate I guess.’’
Live gigs and festivals are also something that Kara enjoys and as a former UCLA Bruins standout and NCAA Championship finalist she has a close link to California. Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival takes place here and widespread attention fell on it last year after Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre’s performance on stage with a hologram of the late rapper and fellow West Coast artist Tupac Shakur.
This is one Kara has been to and the 2013 line-up was announced recently with its usual mix of the great and the good, including The Stone Roses, Wu-Tang Clan and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to name but three of a massive line-up.
“Coachella is always ridiculously fun. Some years are definitely better than others depending on the line-up but I love that there are so many different genres of music in one place.
“Last year the highlights for me were Childish Gambino, Arctic Monkeys, The Growlers, Calvin Harris, The Vaccines, A$AP Rocky, and of course Snoop and Dre with the 2Pac hologram, that was insane. Living in L.A and Toronto has been great because every band or artist comes through both cities.
“Sleigh Bells here in Toronto this past fall was a really good show.’’
The progress of the women’s game is a subject that is close to the hearts of everyone who has spent time as a player, coach or supporter of the sport and there have been, and will continue to be, representatives of different national teams and leagues sharing their opinion in interviews on here. Kara featured in numerous tournaments for Canada including the Pan American Games, the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup, the FIFA Under-20 World Cup and of course the World Cup itself.
When she returned to Vancouver Whitecaps in 2010 she combined playing with ambassadorial and community work and her international career was of course very noteworthy. Canada’s run to fourth place in the 2003 World Cup was Kara’s favourite memory because it showed what the team could achieve despite expectations that were not quite so high initially. Her goal in the 3-1 win over Japan in Foxborough helped to seal Canada’s passage to the quarter-final where they beat China after Charmaine Hooper’s winner.
In the semi-final Kara opened the scoring with a free-kick against Sweden but they were defeated by two late goals before being beaten by the hosts the US in the third place game. Last summer, the team won Bronze at the London Olympics after Diana Matheson’s dramatic winner against France and Kara gives her view on how she sees the women’s game in Canada at present.
“I think Canada has for a long time been on the brink of really and truly embracing the women’s game and recognizing it as a national sport along with hockey. There are moments every few years where women’s soccer is able to catch the attention of the whole country and suddenly everyone is a soccer fan.
“But with the way the game seems to fall off the map in between major events like the World Cup and the Olympics it’s too easy for people to just forget about it. Moving forward, the key is keeping the women’s game top of mind for Canadians, and hopefully having so many of our women playing in the professional league will do that.
“I’m optimistic that the new structure in the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League in the US) with the three federations (USA, Canada and Mexico) funding their national team players will definitely help the longevity of the league. It only makes sense for the national teams to support a domestic league, it benefits their development in so many ways and it’s great to see that they’ve recognised the value in it.
“I think the next step will be to have Canadian teams in the NWSL so Canadians can watch women’s professional soccer here in Canada.’’
Kara’s work as a presenter with FOX Soccer News has been a very fulfilling challenge for her so far and I wondered how she could take the good points and the lessons learned from her playing career into this area of her life.
“I think the main thing that I learned I can apply to my new career is the idea of always being a good teammate. I recognise the ways in which my co-workers are just like teammates and that if I’m pulling my weight and working hard for the group, that we all benefit in the end.
“Ultimately, how everyone on a team wants to win we all have the same goal of producing a good show. I also think being coachable and accepting feedback from others is huge, especially when entering a field where I had so little experience.
“I learned in soccer that coaches want to teach players who want to learn and get better and they’re more willing to work with players that they know are going to work hard, but that applies in everything. I’ve been very encouraged by the support I’ve received from a lot of people in the business and mostly I think it’s because they recognise that I’m eager to get better and that I’m willing to put in work.’’
Such a role with FOX Soccer has been great for Kara but as many viewers generally only see hosts on screen I also wanted to know what kind of lifestyle it creates for her.
“This opportunity to work on FOX Soccer News has been amazing, it’s so much fun and so different from anything I’ve done in the past. Going from being an analyst where you’re basically just giving your opinion and having a conversation, to working as a presenter and reading the news was a huge adjustment.
“I was very nervous at first and had an enormous learning curve but at the end of the day I’m getting paid to talk about soccer and aside from playing the game itself it really doesn’t get much better than that. Plus my co-workers are pretty awesome, so it makes for a great work environment.
“Because we’re in the studio at night and the show airs in the US at 10pm and in Canada at 11pm we’re often on set until midnight. We start writing and building the show around 4pm so that’s when my work day starts.
“It can be long hours and it’s always late nights but I like that I have my mornings to run errands, work out and go to yoga. I can’t complain.’’
While there are so many who loved watching Kara play and feel that it was a career that ended much too soon she personally left with no regrets, feeling philosophical and that it was all it was meant to be. A vegan, a huge lover of yoga, and music too as you have seen, she has taken her playing career as a springboard to new opportunities in her life and is a face that people in the game will continue to see more of in the future.
I asked her to take a look back over her time out on the field to select a 5-a-side team of the best she ever played with. This regular concluding question includes the interviewee in the team of players and in Kara’s choice of four we have three Canadians and one American. The US player she chooses was someone who was a teammate back at UCLA who once praised Kara for her competitiveness and ability, and she is also the team DJ for the US national team. Kara is also someone with a love of body art and the goalkeeper in this team actually drew a tattoo of lilies that they designed together that Kara now has from her hip to her ribcage.
“For a goalkeeper I’d have to choose Erin McLeod because she’s one of the toughest women I know and someone I’d always want on my team. I’d pick Carmelina Moscato as a defender because if you can only have one, I wouldn’t want anyone but her.
“She’s like a brick wall back there and also great at combining out of the back, so she’d be perfect in a small-sided game. For a midfielder I’d choose Lauren Cheney, she’s by far in my opinion the most underrated player on the US women’s national team and like Carm would also be awesome in confined spaces.
“She can take players on one-v-one and is so good with her back to goal too. She’d be scoring goals out of the midfield, this is clearly a very offensive-minded team!
“Up front with me I don’t think anyone would be surprised that I’d choose Christine Sinclair. Not just for nostalgic reasons but because she’s nasty and you’d have to be crazy not to want her on your team.
“Plus I think we’d probably still have some chemistry from all the years we played together.’’