Keeper of the dream

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

HANGZHOU, China -- Remember Erin McLeod?

Remember the 19-year-old kid keeper who kept finding a new way to dye her hair red, once even having it styled into the form of a Maple Leaf, as she became a sensation of the nation.

Remember the girl standing on her head in the national nets for Canada until the USA scored after 108 minutes to win the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship gold medal game in 2002 in Edmonton?

SHOOTOUT

Remember the St. Albert-born, Calgary-raised keeper who beat Marta and Brazil in a shootout to get to the gold medal game and declared: "That was the best feeling of my life?"

Even Pellerud remembers.

"She became a big thing in the minds of Canadians. She became like a rock star."

Then she disappeared.

Until now.

There was every evidence here yesterday Erin McLeod is going to have a chance to duplicate the feeling here as the FIFA Women's World Cup is set to begin Group C play with Canada opening against Norway.

Pellerud wasn't announcing his No. 1 netminder for the tournament. But he guaranteed she's going to spend some significant time guarding the Canadian cage.

Five years later McLeod has finally made it back to a big stage.

"She worked very hard to get to the next level," said Pellerud.

"Four years ago we took her to the World Cup as the No. 3 goaltender. She spent the next four years training her ass off.

"She's showed tremendous dedication. Her goal was to get here as Canada's No. 1."

McLeod played a lot when Canada's other two keepers, Karina LeBlanc and Taryn Swiatek, were injured.

Pellerud didn't name her to the Pan-Am Games team, however. It was Swiatek in goal for the 7-0 loss to Brazil and LeBlanc in the nets for a loss to the U.S. U-20 team and the win over Mexico for the bronze medal.

"Last year Erin played the most games. I chose the other two for the Pan-Am Games to even things out," said the coach.

"Every single day she wakes up determined to be the best that she can be."

McLeod said it's been a long road back into the spotlight.

"It's just such a huge step to get to this level. At the last World Cup I didn't play at all. It was hard sitting on the bench. It was a different role for me."

Pellerud picking the other two to play the Pan-Am Games reminded her of that feeling.

"Even told me that he was going to give them a fair chance after their injuries.

"It was the best thing for me, too. It was a humbling experience."

REINTRODUCED

McLeod figures she's one of several Canadian players, other than Christine Sinclair and Kara Lang, who probably have to be reintroduced to the nation.

"I don't know if they remember me.

"This team kind of disappeared from the public eye after the last World Cup. But there are a lot of us on this team who played in the U-19 Women's Worlds.

"We still talk about it all the time. It was the best time of our lives. To play in front of that many Canadian fans. To get that kind of amazing support ..."

The semifinal against Brazil drew 37,194 and the final against the USA sold out Commonwealth Stadium and set a record for SportsNet TV viewership.

"It all kind of came out of nowhere. But we kind of have the same feeling here. We think we're going to do well. Even gave us a speech last night and I don't know how many dry eyes there were in the room.

"We have another chance to relive that experience. And I've got another shot at it."

There will, however, be no dipping her head in a vat of red hair dye.

"I don't think with the humidity here that my hair could handle it," she laughed.

But Pellerud thinks Erin McLeod can handle it.


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