Canada’s journey through the women’s under-20 World Cup has come to an end. Although it was a disappointing finish for the ladies on the field, the rest of the country has a lot to be proud of.
After advancing out of the group stages and losing a hard contested 2-0 quarter-final’s match against the world’s number two ranked team Germany, Canada has shown that the next generation of young ladies are ready to compete at the top of the world’s stage.
The tournament itself is being seen as a warm up to the senior women’s World Cup that Canada host next year. With that in mind, I went one-on-one with one of Canada’s next bright young stars on the attack, 18 year-old Forward Nichelle Prince.
Nichelle Prince (photo: Canada Soccer/Bob Frid)
Prince recorded two assists and a goal, a game winner in a 3-2 match against Finland back on August 8th, which helped solidify Canada’s advance out of the group stage. The goal helped the Brampton native establish herself as Canada’s most effective striker in the tournament. Unfortunately however, Prince had to pull herself out of Canada’s quarter-final against Germany this past weekend due to a quadricep injury.
I had a chance to sit down and speak with Prince yesterday evening over the phone while she was in North Carolina for her pre-season, as she prepares for her sophomore season with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
I asked her how it felt to be a part of such a huge time for the Canadian soccer association, what her performance on the field taught her about herself, and what it felt like to play such a huge tournament on home soil in front of friends and family.
RG: First off, I just want to say thank you for taking the time to speak with me tonight, I know it has been a whirlwind week for you since the Quarter finals.
Prince: Absolutely, I’m happy I could do this.
RG: Let’s start with the Quarter final match last weekend. When you got injured, how difficult was it to make the decision to take yourself out of the game, and how were you able to find another way to motivate your teammates from the sidelines?
Prince: It was a really difficult decision. I knew this could be our final game and at first I definitely did not want to get off the field and let the team down. But once I realized the pain in my leg wasn’t going away, I just couldn’t keep moving and knew that it was best if I came off. I got really upset when I first came out, but after a couple of minutes, I accepted it. I had to find other ways to stay positive and keep motivating my team, even if that meant from the sidelines.
RG: What ran through your mind before walking through the tunnel at BMO for the first game?
Prince: I didn’t know what to expect before the first game. I didn’t know how the crowd was going to be in Toronto, how they would react to us. I was very nervous, but very excited all at the same time. But when we first got out there for warm-ups, I was shocked to see how many people came out and how loud they were. The interest in this tournament, and in us in general, really surprised me. I have even more appreciation for soccer fans in Canada as a whole.
RG: At what point did you get accustomed to the atmosphere, as if to treat it like just another game for Ohio State?
Prince: The first game against Ghana I came off the bench, so during the pregame I was extremely excited to see the passion and size of the crowd. By the time coach called my number to come in, I had butterflies and was thinking a lot, worrying about how I would perform. I could even here people I knew on the sidelines yelling my name and cheering me, which felt great, and as soon as I hit the field I felt in my element. I really wanted to make an impact and the crowd motivated me in that moment.
Canadian Striker Nichelle Prince battles two Ghana defenders for the ball during the opening match of the FIFA U-20’s World Cup at BMO Field (Photo: CBC/Getty Images)
RG: Was there any specific defence during this tournament that made you stop and say, “Wow I really have to be at my best here.”
Prince: Finland was tough. For the first half I had not been able to create many chances for myself. I’m the type of striker that relies specifically on my speed and sharp movements off the ball. I try to get behind the defence and find openings that my teammates can give me the ball in space and create chances for myself. Their back line was just not having it (laughs). By half time we were down 2-0 and at that moment I knew I had to make my movements sharper and really outrun their defenders if we had any chance of winning.
RG: And it worked out for you! As your team tied the game 2-2, and eventually won off a rebound scored by yourself. Describe what was going through your mind leading up to that game winner against Finland.
Prince: I was getting tired, we were in the final minutes of the game, but I knew if we just kept pressing like we had all half they would break at some point. We had the momentum and the fans were right behind us! I was making a cut to the net when Janine shot it and it came across and I was right there for it! At that point I was just trying to keep myself calm when the ball was on my foot and finish the game. When it went in, everything felt hazy and I couldn’t contain myself. I was so happy that we were able to battle all the way back from a 2-0 deficit like that and keep our hopes of advancing alive.
RG: It was a special moment definitely. Speaking of special moments, seeing as you are from the GTA, what was your favourite memory of this tournament off the field?
Prince: It was so awesome to see my friends from high school cheer me on in Toronto. I was gone all the time back then for soccer and they had never had a chance to really see me play live at that kind of level before. Another great feeling was seeing all the young girls and their mothers come out to support us and watch us both in Toronto and Edmonton. You don’t think people notice at the youth level because even though you represent Canada, most of our games and tournaments happen in other parts of the world. But to come here and really see all of those families and people who may have never even heard of us cheer for us so loudly, it left me in awe at one point. I’ve never experienced that before.
Nichelle Prince and the rest of her teammates showing some love to the fanbase in toronto after her game winning goal on August 8th against Finland (Photo: Getty Images)
RG: Tell me something that you have learned about yourself from playing in this tournament.
Prince: Just to have confidence really. When you just go out and play soccer, good things happen. I reminded myself before every game that I know how to play, so don’t let distractions bother you and just stay focused, but have fun. Before the Edmonton game I talked to my little sister and she said to have no regrets. You have one chance at this, so just give it all you have. When I thought about it that way, I could look back on this World Cup and be happy because I knew I really gave it my all every time I was out there.
Nichelle’s next stop will now be back to Columbus, Ohio, for her second year playing with the Ohio State Buckeyes. She is also being heavily considered for Canada’s senior women’s team for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, being held all across Canada.
Few young women have had the chance to play at the level these girls are playing at, but from what I saw this past week from Nichelle and the rest of this team, it’s safe to say the future of Canada’s offence will be bright.