After Julia Grosso took the shot—as in the penalty kick that sealed Canada's first-ever gold medal in Olympic soccer—she whirled around to see her entire team running at her in sheer joy. If she had somehow been able to, she would've also seen 4.4 million Canadians leap up in a mix of excitement, surprise, and pride.
There were a lot of exceptional moments for the Canadian Olympic team in Tokyo this summer. But of all the triumphs—including huge wins on the track and in the pool—the women's soccer team's performance in the gold medal match was the most watched moment coast to coast. These women returned as heroes and, in some cases, new household names.
But what they did not return to is their own professional league. And these players—including the greatest international goalscorer of all time, Christine Sinclair—say that it's time for that to change.
They want a professional women's soccer league in Canada. Can it happen? Let's look at where soccer is at now.
The state of soccer
Soccer—or as it is known to the rest of the world, football—is without question the world's most popular, most played, most watched sport. For a long time, the one exception to that rule was North America—a place where baseball, basketball, hockey, and American football ruled. But over the last decade, even that has changed a bit, as North America's Major League Soccer (MLS) has been growing more and more successful.
Meanwhile, the women's game has also been growing. It started slowly in the 1990s, with most of the competition happening in either international matches or in very small leagues that received little attention. But as viewers became more and more excited by what they saw at the Women's World Cup and Olympics, pressure grew to make women's pro leagues more... professional!
Today, there are dozens of women's leagues around the world, especially in Europe, where women play for many of the exact same world-famous clubs as the men do—including Chelsea, Manchester City, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Olympique Lyonnais, and Bayern München. The United States also has the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), which also has some of the world's best players.
The state of soccer in Canada
So what about soccer in Canada? If you're a man, there's never been a better time to be a Canadian soccer player. Not only are there three teams in MLS (Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto), but the recently started Canadian Premier League (CPL) adds another eight teams. And in addition, the Canadian men's national team is looking better than it has in many years. A big reason why? It's pretty simple. Training academies at Canadian MLS clubs, plus the chance to play more often in domestic leagues (instead of always needing to leave home), means that more players are getting more of a chance to get better.
But the women's national team? It has been in the world's Top 10 for the last decade and has two bronze and one gold medal over that time. Its best players are found at the greatest clubs in the world, including Jessie Fleming at Chelsea, Janine Beckie at Manchester City, Jordyn Huitema and Ashley Lawrence at Paris Saint-Germain, and Kadeisha Bunchanan at Olympique Lyonnais. And it has done it all without ever having a league at home.
So the question is, If Canadian women are this good now... how great would they be with a professional league to play in?
Has the time finally come?
This is the big question being asked not just by female soccer players, but by female athletes around the world. Outside of tennis and golf, very few female athletes get anywhere near the support, money, training, and exposure that male athletes do. Dozens of the world's best female hockey players (where Canadians are also pretty terrific!) have been demanding a professional league for years now.
So what will it take? It's pretty clear that people love watching these athletes play. The talent is there and so is the excitement and desire. "It's remarkable what we've achieved considering there's no professional league in Canada," said Fleming, who was an absolute star all Olympics.
What's missing is money. Someone needs to invest in women's soccer the same way they invested in the CPL. A group of people need to be willing spend a lot of money to get a league rolling in the hope that it takes hold. If it sounds risky, that's because it is. But it's also the way that every single sports league ever has started.
Team captain Sinclair, who has seen it all, made her feelings clear after the match. "I've been on the [Olympic medal] podium twice before and nothing changed. If a gold medal doesn't change some things in our country, nothing's going to," she said.
"My plea is for Canada to fully support this team and it's time we get a professional league or some professional teams."
Will people hear her plea? If they do, you can bet that women's soccer will become the hottest ticket around! In the meantime, relive Canada's victory with this video of the entire penalty shootout below.