Spotlight finds Canadian goalie, who was a standout at Penn State

Posted: August 09, 2012

LONDON - An added spotlight will be on Canadian goaltender Erin McLeod during Thursday's bronze-medal match, but not for the reason she wants.

The attention isn't about what's at stake - a win would give Canada its first Olympic soccer medal since 1904 - but rather about what happened in the previous game. And also what was said.

The United States defeated Canada, 4-3, in the semifinals, and the Canadians were livid over a call against McLeod that led to the tying goal.

"We feel like we didn't lose, we feel like it was taken from us," McLeod, a 2006 Penn State graduate, said after the game. "It's a shame in a game like that, which is so important, that the ref decided the result before the game started."

FIFA reviewed comments made by McLeod and her teammates, but decided not to take action until after the match.

Now the focus lies in how McLeod will respond. Canada will take on France at 8 a.m. at City of Coventry Stadium.

"Those who know Erin know that she will rise to the occasion," former Penn State coach Paula Wilkins said in a phone interview. "She is a true athlete, a true competitor."

Wilkins, now the head coach at Wisconsin, points back to McLeod's senior season for reference.

The Nittany Lions were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country when they were upset in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Then all-American Ali Krieger broke her leg and was sidelined for the rest of the postseason. McLeod broke her thumb, but played through the injury.

As Wilkins said, "The team was not doing well."

But Penn State made it to the national title game, bolstered by strong play from McLeod.

"Facing adversity, she was unbelievable," Wilkins said. "That last game was the best game of her career. She stood on her head for us."

Wilkins remembers at one point, a defender yelled to the rest of the team: "Come on, Erin's making us believe, we have to go for this!"

"Erin makes people believe," Wilkins said. "She knew how bad that loss in the Big Ten tournament was, and she never wanted to feel that way again."

McLeod transferred to Penn State from Southern Methodist University because, Wilkins said, SMU was not very supportive of her commitment to the Canadian national team.

The Penn State coaches understood the importance of international experience, and also knew how important it was to McLeod.

Now, McLeod is the backstop for a Canadian team looking to win the country's first summer medal in a traditional team sport since 1936. Since the semifinals, the team has been contacted by the Canadian prime minister and received thousands of Twitter messages praising their effort, including one from Samuel L. Jackson. Coach John Herdman insisted the team "officially moved on," but of course, the spotlight is still there.

"Emotionally it has been a hard couple of days," McLeod said Wednesday. "But I think now, the only thing we would regret will be not putting our whole hearts into this next one."

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