Canada’s gold medal resonates with JSU soccer players

Published: Aug. 8, 2021 at 8:33 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - When it comes to soccer, North America has definitely been open to the idea of the sport becoming a household item, but it still has a long way to go.

So when watershed moments that can accelerate the growing process occur, it is important to hold onto them.

That is exactly what nine Canadians on the Jackson State women’s soccer team plan on doing after they watched their country win its first ever Olympic gold medal last week.

“We thought it was at like five in the morning, but it was at eight so we got to watch it after training, it was really cool,” said JSU senior defender and Toronto native Keishawna Brown of fighting the time difference to watch Canada defeat Sweden on penalty kicks in Friday’s final in Tokyo.

“Everything is on an upward hill, in the previous years everybody was overlooking Canada in terms of soccer and I feel like because we were overlooked, we’re starting to prove people wrong. We actually have people that can perform and compete and win gold medals like we did.”

It was a particularly special moment for Brown who like, the majority of her Canadian teammates, developed through the Canadian youth system while it was still at its grass roots stage. The likes of Canada national team captain Christine Sinclair served as the highwater mark for thousands of young girls across the country. The 38-year-old Sinclair has been the face of a program that has shown to be competitive since the early 2000′s, but never able to get over the hump whether in the Olympics or in World Cups.

That has finally changed this year and it can only mean gone things for soccer’s growth in Canada.

“I feel like women’s soccer (in Canada) has gotten a lot more recognition that it deserves,” said JSU sophomore forward Maya-Joy Thompson. “It’s moving it towards our goal of women’s soccer being just as competitive and just as important and exciting to watch as the men’s game.”

JSU head coach Ted Flogaites certainly agrees.

He started his soccer coaching career 41 years ago over on the men’s side, but made the switch to coaching the women’s side not long afterwards. As someone who recently completed a pair of coaching license course through the Pro Football Scouting Association in the United Kingdom, he’s no stranger to the international side of the game. The 2021 Jackson State roster boasts players from four other countries besides the United States. Canada is the strongest contingent of the bunch.

“We had a couple of good Canadian players come out of a certain club and when you get a good player from a good club, you go back there,” said Flogaites who came to Jackson State in 2019. “They like the experience of a different culture and they bring their culture over here so that makes a team a little different from a humanistic standpoint. That players from Canada that have done well have paved the pipeline for us to go and get additional players.”

What helps that pipeline strengthen is the environment Flogaites and the players have created at JSU.

It’s obviously not an easy commute from Canada to the deep south of the United States, and the weather is a little different. However the culture shock is manageable with a solid support group.

“We’re always texting each other in a group chat or hanging out together outside of training,” said sophomore defender Harper Bennett. “It’s not always cold in Canada but rarely ever gets this hot like in Jackson, so that took some time getting used to, but it helped to have the others here.”

JSU’s nine Canadians have spent the last few days celebrating their country’s great achievement -- but not too much. The Lady Tigers open the season open the 2021 season in a matter of weeks and players like Brown are now motivated more than ever to exceed on the pitch, knowing that she is representing a budding soccer nation every time she steps on it.

“It makes me think I can get to the point that they’re at also,” she said of Canada winning the gold. “It’s like we can be in that position as well if I decide I wanted to go and continue to compete and maybe play with them one day.

“I know I can.”

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