MOSCATO: On the legacy of CanWNT’s 2012 Olympic team

The 2012 London Olympics was originally not a part of the plans for me.

I was 17 years old when I earned my first cap for the Canadian women’s national team versus Australia in 2002. I don’t remember much from that game, except for receiving stern instructions from our captain and running my heart out.

A year later, despite being sidelined with a stress fracture eight weeks before the FIFA Women’s World Cup, I made the national team roster by securing the very last spot. I was told I was brought in for my set piece specialty, and as midfield depth. I played exactly one minute that tournament, the very last minute of Canada’s campaign, in the third-place match versus the United States. We came fourth, which still stands as Canada’s best World Cup finish. I didn’t take any set pieces that day, but I managed to take out American midfielder Shannon McMillan with an overzealous tackle.

In 2004, I made the Canadian roster for the Concacaf Olympic qualifiers. We lost 1-0 to Mexico in the semifinals, and failed to qualify for the Athens Games. Our Olympic journey and my international career ended before it began, as I would not return to the Canadian women’s team until 2009.

In the meantime, the 2007 FIFA women’s World Cup came and went, as did the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. A full quadrennial passed and I was not invited to participate in it.

I was told shortly after that 2004 loss to Mexico that I would never make it as an international footballer. I took that to heart, finished my collegiate career at Penn State, played some amateur soccer in the W-league and quit playing the game all together in 2007. An opportunity to be the assistant coach at the University of Louisville came along and I decided to start the next chapter in my life.

RELATED READING: CanWNT at Four Nations in China: A breakdown by the numbers

Then “the call” came in 2009. I was recruiting for Louisville when an ex-teammate phoned me and said, “Carm you have to come out of retirement, our new national team coach would love your style of play. She’s Italian.” I laughed it off, thanked her for the call and continued eating my bag of chips and drinking a Diet Coke.

It was a few days later and I couldn’t shake the call. Could I come back? Did I have anything to offer the game and the team? Was my coach right about my potential in 2004? There was only one way to find out.

I dedicated the next three months to getting myself into the best physical shape humanly possible. I hired people to help me, followed every single piece of advice I was given, and in the end I was down to 12 per cent body fat. I built up the confidence to email Carolina Morace, the new Canadian coach, for a “try out.” My email was received with skepticism and confusion, and rightly so, as I had been retired for a very long time and wasn’t a full time player anymore.

Morace told me if I was serious that I should find a team so that she could take a look. I took Morace’s advice and worked my way onto a roster for a team in Indiana at a game that I knew she would be scouting other Canadian players. My first official match back was against the Chicago Red Stars. Chicago featured Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, but instead of worrying about everything I could not control, I just controlled what I could: my work rate and desire to be on the ball. I did not stop running for 90 minutes to the best of my rusty ability.

That game and effort changed my life forever. I was invited into a national team camp, and had a second chance at a career that lasted six more years and included two more World Cups and a historic Olympic Games.

Despite the high of being on the national team again, I did not step on to the field at all during the 2011 World Cup in Germany. To add to it all, Canada came dead last in that tournament, our worst World Cup showing to date.

So, I was part of Canada’s best ever and worst ever World Cup experiences, playing one minute over those two tournaments. In spite of my best efforts, I still wasn’t able to play significant minutes for Canada when it mattered the most. I’d been trying my entire career and the idea that I just simply wasn’t good enough and had never been began to creep into my thoughts.

Carmelina Moscato (CSA photo)
Carmelina Moscato (CSA photo)

But with an unexpected coaching change after the 2011 World Cup, and an Olympic Games on the horizon, I decided to give my career another shot. The new coach, John Herdman, bought a breath of fresh air that we all needed. I also knew, deep down, that I loved my teammates and Canada too much to just quit.

Shortly after the 2011 World Cup, the same group of women were set to qualify and compete in an Olympic Games. Those next 10 months were nothing short of a miracle for myself.

After an abnormal number of injuries on the roster, specifically with our back line, I ended up being one of the last healthy centre back options by the time the 2012 Games began in London. I ended up playing every single minute of that six-game Olympic tournament, and I can assure you that was not part of John’s plans. It definitely wasn’t part of mine, either.

I played every game for my injured teammates who didn’t get an opportunity to take the field. I played every game knowing that our team made a commitment to each other and staff that we would see our flag rise and be on the podium at the end those Olympics. We made a promise to ourselves “to never be forgotten” and to inspire a nation through resilient and inspiring Canadian performances on the field.

RELATED READING: Heiner-Møller looking to get canWNT back on track at 4 Nations Tournament

After a crushing semifinal loss to the United States, we bounced back to beat France in the bronze medal match just three days later. Diana Matheson’s game winning goal in extra time changed our lives forever. We saw our flag rise that night while standing on a podium, and in that moment, the entire journey made sense.

With so many highs and lows, start and stops in my career, there would have been no way to plan to play in an Olympic Games. It was not part of the plans, but we got there, I got there, somehow, and some way, one step at a time.

So, here we are, seven years later, being inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, the highest honour a Canadian athlete can achieve. Not only was this notification received with shock, it was compounded by the reality that we would be amongst a class of inductees that we consider Canadian legends, such as Simon Whitfield, Randy Starkman, the 2010 Women’s Olympic Hockey Team and many more.

Many of us are now retired and moved on so the two-day, midweek event had everyone traveling from near and far to attend. Truth be told, this was a really good excuse for a team reunion in the heart of downtown Toronto. We shared stories, mostly embarrassing, about each other. We laughed our faces off and cried at the memories of our crazy journey.

The sisterhood we have formed from all the moments that changed us forever will be foundation of our unbreakable bond we will share for the rest of our lives. The funny part was, no one talked about the soccer part of it. The conversations were all about the shenanigans and memories from travel, hanging out, and the team meals.

They say we don’t take anything with us when we leave this earth, not our money, our belongings or the people we love; but our memories live on. Our team will live in each other’s hearts and the hearts of all the Canadians who we shared that Olympic roller-costed ride with along the way.

London 2012 was not part of the plans for me, but fate had a funny way of rewarding the brave. I’m humbled to be cemented in Canadian soccer history amongst my brave and amazing teammates and staff.

Carmelina Moscato scored two goals in 94 appearances for the Canadian women’s team from 2002 to 2015, helping the Reds win an Olympic bronze medal in 2012. Today, Moscato serves as Commissioner of League1 Ontario Women’s Division, as well as Manager of Women’s Professional Football Development for Canadian Soccer Business (CSB).