Getting creative

AP Photo/Hussein Malla

Erin McLeod and the Canadian national team are already prepping for the 2015 World Cup, held in Canada. Their mission: to be the fittest and most organized team on the field.

When you’re a soccer player, sometimes you’re really happy with your performance, and sometimes you just want to hit your head against a wall.

Now that the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season is in the rearview mirror, I’m back full time with the Canadian national team, and we’re working on a bunch of new things -- call it a growing and learning stage.

Our recent performances in international friendlies have been both good and bad. We played in Edmonton, Alberta, with temperatures just above freezing and beat South Korea (3-0). Then we had a scoreless draw with Mexico in front of a crowd of over 20,000. I know it’s normal in the U.S. to have a crowd that size or bigger, but for us it’s been a big change. And since the 2015 World Cup is at home, we’ll have to be used to the crowds, so now’s the time to get comfortable with it.

As our coach, John Herdman, says, sometimes you have to be willing to lose to win. When you’ve got fans coming out you just want to show them a big game and get goals in the back of the net, but at the end of the day we really have to work on the tactics. It’s a process right now, and we just have to stay patient.

We have been in a residence program since mid-October -- basically a training camp situation. We’re in this beautiful new training facility called Fortius in Burnaby, British Columbia, that’s basically a sports science institute with all these soccer fields, a beautiful gym, chiropractors -- an all-in-one ideal training environment. And we’ll be living and training here through the Cypress Cup in the middle of March. There are few facilities like it, so we’re pretty lucky.

Courtesy of Erin McLeod

Erin McLeod: “This was a commission piece. I sat down with a 24-inch-by-36-inch piece of wood and went to town. I loved how it turned out and it’s amazing what a few colored pencils can do!”

John wants us to be the fittest and most organized team by the World Cup, so we’re working on fitness day in and day out. Being the most organized involves being very tactically aware -- spending hours and hours watching and analyzing different games.

When I was growing up in Canada we basically had “soccer Saturday,” where everyone watched a game or two on the weekend. These days it’s changing, though. Now you can watch soccer any day of the week, so we have 16- and 17-year-olds coming in with a similar understanding of the game to someone my age! (For the record, I’m 30.) The tide is definitely turning.

But a coach can only take you so far and there are going to be game situations when it has to come from the leaders on the team. For me as a goalkeeper, I’m working on being able to control the tempo of the game by reading the team and being more commanding in the back.

From a young age, people tell keepers to talk, but what they don’t tell you is what you should be saying. For so long I’ve been over-communicating, and now I’m trying to focus on seeing what the other players aren’t seeing and communicating that.

The keeper’s role is changing a lot in the women’s game, too. Instead of standing on the line all the time, I’m also hitting diagonal balls with both feet and serving as an extra player on the field.

Outside of soccer, I’ve been finding plenty of opportunities to stretch my creative muscle. I had an art show in Toronto in September that went really well, and I got four commissioned pieces that have been keeping me busy when we have free time. I feel lucky that I can just go to my room and do a little sketching and painting when there’s a break in training. My teammate Carmelita Moscato, who’s one of my best friends, will come in and put on some music and we call it “creative corner.” So far I’ve finished three of my commissioned paintings. It’s just fun to do something that challenges a different part of your brain!

I’ve also joined up with a couple of girls to start a clothing line that’s launching in January called Peau de Loup (translation: Skin of Wolf). We basically created a women’s button-up shirt that’s actually designed for a woman. It’s a brand for tomboys like myself who love button-ups but find that nothing fits right. Our shirts are all about the small details, like the button in the back of the collar, and an inside pocket. I have a BA in advertising, so this has been a really cool opportunity. I was proud to have our shirts as part of the silent auction at U.S. goalkeeper Jillian Loyden’s Break the Silence Gala to promote awareness of domestic violence. We’re slowly getting the word out, especially in a sport where there are a lot of tomboys!

And with all of our training, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel with some games coming up! We’re heading to Brasília, Brazil, this week for three weeks of games against Chile, Brazil and Scotland before we break for Christmas. It’ll be nonstop this holiday season with training, travel and games. And, of course, “creative corners” whenever it’s possible!