Moments after taking the field against the U.S. at the SheBelieves Cup last month, Canadian forward Adriana Leon felt something wrong.
"I awkwardly twisted my foot and right away I knew something was wrong. But I played on," she said. "I had pain basically throughout the rest of the tournament and just played through it."
Upon returning to London and West Ham, she had a scan that showed a fracture in the fifth metatarsal — the long bone on the outside of the foot that connects to the little toe — of her left foot.
"It was a bit of a shock," she recalled. "I didn't know that you could play a few football matches on a fractured foot."
After coming off the bench in the 71st minute on Feb. 18 against the U.S. in Orlando, Leon started the next game and played 58 minutes against Argentina three days later. She came off the bench in the 65th minute in the final game against Brazil on Feb. 24.
"When you're in that tournament mode, you just want to play," she said. "You just kind of convince yourself that it's just like a minor thing and it's fine and you can play through it. And I thought it was quite an important tournament for me to want to perform at."
Doctors told her the break probably happened months ago but never healed properly, with the U.S. game likely aggravating the injury.
"Speaking with the Canadian physios in camp, we never thought it would be a fracture," she said. "We just thought it was maybe like a little strain that I need to rest for a week or two when I came back to London. But that obviously wasn't the case."
She had surgery on March 12. She is due to meet with doctor on Thursday to have another scan and hopefully have her cast removed so she can start rehab for real.
"It's just been a very slow last couple of weeks," she said. "I was told not to work out at all. and just put my foot up. So it's been challenging."
Leon will miss Canada's away friendlies with Wales and England on April 9 and 13, respectively. She is targeting a Canada camp in June.
"That's the goal to be ready for that. And I think it's a pretty realistic goal," she sad.
"I basically have the month of May to get myself extremely fit for that first camp back. I'm feeling very optimistic about it," she added. "I think that's something that's very doable. And I have all the resources here at West Ham to really get myself fit and ready to go this summer."
She has had time to ponder the injury.
Returning to London, her West Ham teammates reminded her she had complained a few times in the past of sore feet.
"I just never really thought about it," she said. "Thinking back now, the last couple of months playing, I haven't been feeling physically that great. I've played back-to-back 90-minute games for West Ham. I think you just kind of get lost in it. You focus on wanting to win and other components of the game. You kind of lose track of how you're feeling physically, if that make any sense."
The 28-year-old from King City, Ont., who has won 69 caps for Canada with 19 goals, said she jokingly told new Canada coach Bev Priestman "now you've seen what I can do on one foot."
More seriously, Leon said she though she only did OK at the tournament.
"I was quite frustrated after the games. Physically I was not feeling like myself and I think that was probably because of my foot, to be honest. I think I was overcompensating, using other muscles too much."
Leon made the move to West Ham United in January 2019. While the team is currently struggling in the FA Women's Super League basement at 2-10-3, she has enjoyed her time in London.
"It's not a normal London, that's for sure," said, referencing the pandemic. "It's been a very interesting year. We've basically been in lockdown since November. No one here has a social life. You go to work and then you come home. That's about it.
"It's been a bit challenging. But luckily I have four other roommates who obviously have been really nice to have around."
She shares accommodations with Canadian teammate Shelina Zadorsky, who captains rival Tottenham, and three other Canadians.
Leon's contract with the Hammers runs through 2022.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press