Women's soccer has won over many skeptics at the 2012 Olympics, including members of Britain's footy press who have been smitten by the integrity of on-field effort and what they see as uncompromising play.
And when Canada advanced to the semi-final match Monday against the United States at Manchester United's Old Trafford by beating Great Britain, a player who found herself mentioned in some of the dispatches was 25-year-old Winnipeg native Desiree Scott, known to her teammates and now to readers of The Guardian as The Destroyer. She is 5-foot-1 and it's safe to say there isn't a player in the national program who has blossomed as quickly under coach John Herdman.
The emergence of Scott and the 21-year-old Jonelle Filigno has been one of the stories of the London Games for Canada. They are significant players, because the core of this team will be in its 30s when Canada plays host to the World Cup in 2015. And Herdman is openly concerned about where the next generation of Melissa Tancredis and Christine Sinclairs will come from, given Canadian soccer's tendency to eat its own.
Everyone knows that the United States owns Canada in women's soccer. Herdman doesn't even bother with the actual numbers, saying it's "4-46-5 or something like that," but after tying Sweden 2-2 in a game the Canadians could have won comfortably and muscling Great Britain all over the pitch, there is a sense in the Canadian camp that they are a different team.
Filigno's goal in the 2-0 win over Great Britain was a splendid one-touch shot taken in mid-stride. She has started the past two matches in which Sinclair has played an attacking mid-field role. But it was Scott who set the tone for an uncommonly poised yet aggressive defence. She routinely bundled over Great Britain's mid-fielders and forwards and, in a 24-minute span of the second half, made three strong defensive plays in her own third of the field.
"She's been a find and a half," Herdman said. "When I came into this program, she was pretty much on the outskirts. So we had a tough conversation about breaking out of a performance cage. Every time I saw her play, it looked like the fear of failure and self-belief was caging her into something that wasn't productive. She released herself in the Pan Ams [2011 Pan American Games] and never looked back."
This is basically the same team that was ripped wide open during the 2011 World Cup, yet the addition of Scott to the lineup and the decision to move Sinclair into an attacking mid-fielder's role have given the group a different texture. There is a noticeable decrease in fluster factor. Sinclair credits Herdman for making better use of his depth than his predecessors. It was always there, Sinclair said, just never utilized.