You go, girls
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
PORTLAND, Ore. -- China 28, Canada 23.
That most certainly will not be the score of the women's World Cup quarter-final tomorrow. But it's the score going in.
Canada is the youngest team left in the World Cup.
"I worked it out," coach Even Pellerud said.
"I took all the starting lineups. Our average age is 23 and that includes (veterans) Charmaine Hooper and Andrea Neil," he said.
"Russia is 30. China is 28. The Germans are old. The Americans are getting up there.
"Our average age isn't going to be anywhere near 28 at the next World Cup or at the next two Olympics."
Pellerud is a "now" sort of coach. He says he hasn't made a single decision at this World Cup with the future in mind. But the big picture future of his team which had never won a World Cup game before and never made it out of a group before -- men's or women's -- is the rest of the story of what has happened and what could happen here.
With the successes of the under-19 women's team, the Gold Cup qualifying team and the Pan Am Games team, all of whom made it to the final and lost on golden goals in overtime, it's doing amazing things at the grassroots level.
Just about every boy who grows up in Canada dreams of becoming a hockey player. But it's not far from the point where a great many Canadian girls are growing up dreaming of being soccer players.
"It's fantastic,'' Pellerud said.
"Every success we have now prepares for more success for the future, with the players on this team and with the young girls who are kicking soccer balls around all over the country.
"For the 2004 Olympics, 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympics, we're still going to be young.''
But it's the young female athletes who might choose soccer over other sports with one day dreaming to be part of this, which really fires his imagination.
"Every game we played in Canada this year surprised me,'' he said. "In Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Vancouver and Edmonton it was the same. All the kids, the mothers, fathers and brothers showing up to the games with lights in their eyes ... this will not stop now. It will only get bigger and bigger.''
This, of course, has already happened in the U.S. with Mia Hamm and the success of their Girls of Summer.
When Brandi Chastain took off her top in front of 90,000 fans after scoring the winner on a shootout four years ago at the Rose Bowl, that was the freeze frame for it.
In Foxboro, Mass., on Saturday night, Hooper did the same thing. Except it was down under the stands and nobody noticed other than me and a Canadian equipment man who rushed to the scene with a replacement top to cover her sports bra.
"A young girl who is a member of Quebec's under-15 team came to the game and asked me for my shirt,'' Hooper said.
"She told me 'One day I'll be playing your position for Canada at the World Cup.'
"I gave her my shirt,'' she said.
"To see a girl like that who came all that way and is so clearly aspiring to be like us ... it's an unbelievable feeling.''
Hooper for the better part of the past two decades has been inspiring young Canadian soccer players almost by herself. She has played 104 games for Canada and scored 59 goals, more than any Canadian international player male or female. But mostly her years with the team have been that of disappointment.
Now to see something that she very much started come to this point.
"It's unbelievable for us all,'' she said.
"And I'm telling everybody on this team what amazing things will happen if we win the game on Thursday and get to the semi-final and the medal round. That will propel us even more.
"We can't forget that what we're doing here is spurring on young girls."
It adds a whole new meaning to be playing for your country.