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Photo by Mike Pearson

Photo by Mike Pearson

Fan Lauren Owen, 9, left, met Olympic soccer stars Melissa Tancredi, centre and Erin McLeod at a Sept. 8 autograph signing at Phoenix Fitness.

Soccer players get rock star reception

By Mike Pearson, News staff

The Ancaster Meadowlands were buzzing with Olympic excitement on Saturday with the arrival of Canadian Olympic soccer stars Melissa Tancredi and Erin McLeod.

Tancredi, 30, was a key component of Canada’s historic bronze medal performance, along with McLeod, 29, who backstopped the team in goal.

Hundreds of Ancaster Soccer Club players dropped by Phoenix Fitness on Saturday to meet Tancredi and McLeod, who signed autographs and offered encouragement to the next generation of players.

Tancredi’s heroics helped put Canada into the knockout stages of the Olympic tournament, leading to the country’s first medal in a traditional team sport at the summer games since 1936.

Most importantly, Canada’s Olympic medal has put soccer on the map. While millions play the sport across the country, and more than 2,500 in Ancaster alone, success on a global stage has been limited, until now.

“I think it’s huge,” said Tancredi, describing the impact of the Olympic medal on Canadian soccer.  “It’s a huge event for our sport and it’s a huge event for women’s sports in general. To put women’s soccer on the map, I’m very proud to be a part of it.”

Tancredi scored both Canadian goals in a 2-2 draw with Sweden that helped Canada advance from group play. It was her first multi-goal game in international competition. Tancredi scored her first goal of the games in a 2-1 loss to Japan and added her second during a 3-0 win over South Africa.

After a controversial 4-3 loss to the U.S., Canada turned in a masterful defensive performance to hold off the French for a 1-0 win in the bronze medal game.

Now that Tancredi is back in Ancaster she’s enjoying more recognition than ever before. Young soccer fans were lining up in advance to meet the Olympian at Phoenix Fitness. Tancredi received a standing ovation from fans at the Labour Day Classic Hamilton Tiger-Cats game when her face was shown on the TigerVision screen.

“It’s nice to be recognized. It’s kind of a different feeling for me,” said Tancredi.

With the off-season approaching, Tancredi will continue to train before returning to finish her education at Logan College of Chiropractic in St. Louis, MO.

Soccer will gain even more recognition when the Women’s World Cup comes to Canadian soil in 2015. The tournament will include more countries than ever before, expanding from 24 to 32 with a total of 52 matches.

Tancredi hopes to crack Canada’s starting 11 for the 2015 tournament and help Canada advance into the medal round.

“Very huge for our country,” she said. “What a great time, especially after the bronze medal to build the sport, and I can’t wait.”

With a FIFA ranking in the top-10, Canada has qualified for every FIFA Women’s World Cup except the inaugural event in 1991. The country’s best-ever showing is a fourth place finish in 2003. In 2007, Canada set an attendance record that still holds for the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Phoenix Fitness owner and personal trainer Andy Childs said Tancredi trains at the facility from time to time when she is back home in Ancaster.

Claudio DiSante, communications director of Ancaster Soccer Club, made sure members were aware of Saturday’s rare opportunity to meet a local Olympian. The soccer club sent a mass email to its members, and Disante expected a crowd of about 500 to attend the event.

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