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Look for Filigno to make an impact in Canada's Olympic soccer opener

Canada’s Jonelle Filigno, left, is ‘a determined person,’ her doctor says. ‘She did everything she needed to do and more’ to heal her injured ankle. Filigno is shown in a World Cup game last year against Germany’s Annike Krahn.

Markus Schreiber/The Associated Press

John Herdman has a hunch that Canadians will come away from the London Olympics remembering the name Jonelle Filigno. She won't necessarily start any games for the Canadian women's soccer team, but the 22-year-old Mississauga native is, in the words of her coach, someone who can be a finisher off the bench. "She could be," Herdman said, "a player who makes a name for herself."

She has a story worth telling. On Wednesday, Canada's women continue their quest for redemption from the 2011 World Cup when the team meets defending world champion Japan in Coventry. Nice gig, eh? The opening ceremony is two days away and there's already a statement game.

Filigno is comfortable with her role, dubbing herself a "supersub," someone who can be "an impact player off the bench." This will be welcomed by Herdman, since finding someone who can score goals, other than Christine Sinclair, will be important not just in the Olympics but in the future.

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Filigno, who has eight goals in 42 national-team matches and has scored seven times in her last 20 matches, is also grateful to modern medicine, to a doctor in New York City who had all the answers to three months of questions. And, yes, she's pretty proud of herself as well.

Filigno twisted her right ankle in September when she was taken out on a breakaway in a match for Rutgers University. She was fitted for a boot and brace and underwent therapy with little improvement. In December, she walked into the office of Dr. John Kennedy at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City with a package of magnetic resonance imaging results, X-rays and bone scans and a determination to be ready for the Olympics.

She had been told by doctors at Rutgers that her ankle would heal with time. It hadn't. Then she was told that she "potentially" needed surgery, but detected uncertainty in the doctor's voice. She sought a second opinion and was told her ankle was stable. She didn't buy it.

"I know how my body feels," Filigno said Tuesday. "And I knew something wasn't right."

Filigno did not know – not until Kennedy's sensitive MRI machines did their work – that she had suffered four separate pathologies to the ankle. She had a high ankle sprain, in addition to a cartilage injury in the front of the ankle joint.

"She had sheared off some of the cartilage and had created this massive amount of scar tissue at the front of the joint that created some bone," Kennedy said. "That meant there was an anterior impingement of her ankle. Plus, she had broken a bit of the bone on her heel and damaged a ligament attached to it.

"For all of these things to occur at once, she really hit the unlucky jackpot," Kennedy added.

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"In terms of putting a number on it, in terms of all ankle injuries we see, something like this would be less than 1 per cent. The biggest problem was how to take care of all of the injuries without slicing and dicing her ankle joint. Surgery like that would keep her out eight, maybe 10 months."

In an operation that took a little more than two hours and was done solely through arthroscopy, Kennedy used wires instead of screws for the high ankle injury. "That holds it together and also allows for dynamic motion, which is important for a soccer player," he said. He also repaired the cartilage and used Filigno's bone marrow and blood to "grow" ligaments. "We drilled little holes and seeded them with her growth factors," Kennedy said. "It makes cartilage like gang-busters.

"Functionally, the ankle is perfect. But by comparison to what Jonelle had to do, our job was easy. These were hard, hard yards for her, but she's a determined person. She did everything she needed to do and more."

Filigno can't wait to get on the pitch on Wednesday.

"Everybody … we're all extremely excited to get things going," she said. "It felt so far away not too long ago."

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