Author Topic: Veteran Chapman chases Olympic soccer dream  (Read 731 times)

Offline David

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Veteran Chapman chases Olympic soccer dream
« on: April 06, 2008, 08:04:41 PM »
Candace Chapman can be excused for wanting to celebrate her birthday for, oh, say, 10 days or so.

The veteran defender/midfielder for the national women's soccer team turned 25 on Wednesday. But her present was one of the best ever, as the Canadians defeated Trinidad and Tobago 6-1 on Wednesday night in Juarez, Mexico, to the open the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualification tournament.

Ironically, the victory came against the country where Chapman was born. "In that sense, it was pretty awesome," said Chapman, who moved to Canada when she was six. "But I'm Canadian now and that's where my allegiance is."

Chapman and the Canadians battle Costa Rica today in their final preliminary match of the tournament, with hopes of a victory and a trip to the semifinals. A victory in the semifinal showdown not only sets up a trip to the April 12 final, but guarantees a trip to the Olympic Games.

Since women's soccer became an Olympic event in 1996, Canada has never had a ticket to the big dance. The men's team fell short in its Olympic bid last month, losing to the United States in its semifinal match of the men's qualifying tournament. So Chapman knows the country is pinning its hopes on the women's team.

"I think there is always pressure when you play at this level," said Chapman, who now calls Ajax, Ont., home. "As a team we've all come together. I think that because our team has had some of those conversations about that, it has kind of released a little of that pressure. We can just go out there and perform to the best of our abilities."

Chapman first joined the senior team in March 2002, earning her first international cap at the age of 18 in a 3-0 victory over Scotland at the Algarve Cup. Since that time, she's been one of the key players on the Canadian squad, picking up plenty of fodder for her resume along the way.

Among her highlights was a pair of second-place finishes CONCACAF Women's Gold Cup, including the 2002 and 2006 events. She was also part of the bronze-medal winning team at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janiero, and was with the Canadians at the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup in China. Competing at last summer's World Cup has been the biggest highlight of her career and helped get over the disappointment of being sidelined with a torn ACL during the 2003 event hosted by the United States.

"The World Cup was definitely the highlight of my career so far," she said. "Just having four more years to prepare for it, I was a bit more mature. Other than that it was what I expected. It was a high level of competition and just really competitive."

She also scored one of her four senior team goals during the World Cup, firing Canada's lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Norway in the team's tournament opener.

While the Canadians have a mixture of veterans and young talent, many of the players are in their mid-20s and have climbed the Canadian system. Chapman, though, still sees herself as one of the team leaders.

"A lot of the team has come form the under-19 world championship team that we all played with each other," said Chapman, who now has 47 senior caps, to go along with 19 youth caps. "So I think in that sense, I consider myself one of the leaders on the team."

Chapman said playing in the World Cup ranks high on her list of career highlights, as would a trip to the Olympics - something from which she and her team are just two steps away.

The last time Canada was in this position, back in 2004 in Costa Rica, it was upset 2-1 by Mexico in the semifinals, sending the Canadians home and Mexico to the Summer Games in Athens.

"I don't think you could choose which one you'd rather win. I think we'd always love to win both," said Chapman. "In terms of preparation, I think it's the same. You have to go in knowing that competition is going to be high.

"Especially with what happened last time with Mexico when we got knocked out. I think we just weren't prepared for it."

The Canadian team didn't have much time to bask in the aftermath of their victory over Trinidad and Tobago. Costa Rica comes calling today, with a semifinal match possibly on the horizon next Wednesday and a potential date with destiny on April 12.

While it's easy to look ahead to the semifinals, Costa Rica is the team's first concern.

"They are probably a bit more physical (than Trinidad and Tobago), and they have speed," said Chapman. "But other that it's pretty much the same as what we saw against Trinidad and Tobago."