Matheson looks forward to post-soccer career

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Having closed one door, veteran midfielder Diana Matheson is looking forward to opening many more.

Matheson, whose stoppage-time goal earned Canada a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, announced her retirement Wednesday after a long, distinguished playing career. Matheson, who turned 37 in April, won 206 caps for Canada (193 starts) with 19 goals and 25 assists, logging 16,715 career playing minutes.

The native of Oakville, Ont., ranks second to captain Christine Sinclair in Canada matches, starts and minutes played.

"Diana has had a massive impact on Canada Soccer’s women’s national team program,” Canada coach Bev Priestman said in a statement Wednesday. “Not only has she been a great leader for this team both on and off the pitch, she also inspired an entire nation during her incredible career.

"The winning goal at the London 2012 Olympic Games will forever be a turning-point moment in the history of this program. We all wish her the best in her next adventure."

Matheson plans to start her MBA at Queen's next month and hopes to do more TV work, having impressed as an analyst during the 2019 World Cup. She is also keen to help bring both an NWSL team to Canada and has already started work on laying the foundation for a domestic women's league.

"It's an exciting time to be retiring because there's a lot on the horizon for women's soccer here in Canada," she said.

Peter Montopoli, Canada Soccer's general secretary, called Matheson "a real leader of women's sport."

In an international career that spanned 18 years, the diminutive midfielder is best known for putting Canada on the podium nine years ago in a 1-0 win over France in the Olympic bronze-medal match in Coventry, England. Matheson pounced on a rebound off a Sophie Schmidt shot and slotted it home past out-of-position France goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi before embarking on a victory celebration that ended with her kissing the Canadian badge on her jersey.

The Canadians had weathered a second-half storm that saw the French hit the woodwork twice and Desiree Scott make a goal-line clearance.

"I'm so grateful that I have an Olympic moment. And that's the moment that will always define my career," Matheson told reporters. "And for that to be the case is unbelievable and cool. I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world."

Matheson believes the 2012 bronze medal was a "watershed moment for Canadian soccer," shining a bigger spotlight on the women's team and the sport.

"We were playing for something bigger than us," she said.

It worked. Canada hosted the 2015 Women's World Cup and Matheson and her teammates went on to win bronze again in Rio in 2016.

"You have changed the game of soccer within Canada," Sinclair said in a video tribute by the Canadian women's team on the eve of its departure to Tokyo. "This team, this sport would not be in the place it is right now without you and your dedication."

"Your shoes may be small but they've left a big footprint, in our hearts and in women's soccer in Canada," added Schmidt.

Matheson, listed at a hair over five feet, cited injuries for her retirement.

She missed the 2019 World Cup because of an avulsion fracture in her toe. The ligament had pulled off a little piece of bone that was hitting a nerve, resulting in constant pain when she walked or tried to run. Matheson had foot surgery and returned to action in March 2020 at an international tournament in France.

And she made a difference right to the end, scoring one goal and setting up the other in Canada's 2-2 tie with Brazil on March 10, 2020, in her final international appearance.

She started Canada's comeback in the 74th minute in Calais, finding space in the penalty box to slot home a fine Nichelle Prince cross with a slick finish. In the 87th minute, her through ball set up Janine Beckie's tying goal.

However, the injury to her left foot remained an issue. While not the exact same injury, the foot cannot handle the demands of high performance.

"Unfortunately in December, during the off-season, the same foot that kept me out of the World Cup just broke down again," Matheson said in an interview. "And this time no surgery to fix me. My body sent some pretty strong signals that it couldn't handle the load any more. And then the conversation shifted a little bit towards I'd like to be able to run into my 40s and later. The load of soccer wasn't really any option any more.

"So the decision was made a bit for me. But it was nice to go out, that (Brazil match) being my last game. That was kind of nice."

While Matheson was not a prolific goal-scorer, she had a fine soccer brain and a knack for finding space.

She appeared in four World Cups (2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015), three Olympics (2008, 2012, 2016) and two Pan American Games (2007, 2011).

She once set a Canadian women’s team record by playing 45 consecutive international 'A' matches and was Canada’s co-leader with 16 international matches at the Olympics. Matheson and Sinclair are the only two Canadians to score in three different decades (2000s, 2010s, 2020s).

Matheson will be rooting for the Canadian soccer team in Tokyo and living the Games vicariously through her partner Anastasia Bucsis, a former Olympic speed skater who is part of CBC's coverage in Japan.

Matheson started her soccer career at age five with Oakville SC and played her collegiate soccer at Princeton where she won All-Ivy League Team honours all four years, and was named Ivy League Player of the Year as a senior.

Her club career included stints with Norway's Lillestrom SK (then Team Strommen), the Washington Spirit, Seattle Reign, Utah Royals and Kansas City.

Matheson made her senior debut for Canada on March 18, 2003, in a 1-0 loss to Norway at the Algarve Cup. She scored her first goal on June 15 that year against Mexico and recorded the assist on Charmaine Hooper’s winning goal at the 2003 World Cup, helping Canada defeat China and reach the tournament semifinals for the first time.

She was honoured for reaching the 100-cap milestone in 2010 and, two years later, was named to to the All-Time Canada XI women’s team as part of the Canadian Soccer Association’s centennial celebration. In May 2017, a street in Oakville was named in her honour when Rambler Court became Diana Matheson Way.

The 2012 Olympic soccer team is honoured in the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame's Class of 2019.

Matheson battled injuries later in her career, but showed great powers of recovery.

In 2010, she was sidelined by a broken metatarsal bone in her left foot.

After surgery to repair torn knee cartilage in November 2011, she recovered in time to play in the 2012 Olympics. She won another injury battle to make the 2015 World Cup roster after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in a friendly against Japan in October 2014. She made it back despite breaking the fifth metatarsal in her right foot during her comeback.

She was an unused substitute for the first four games at that World Cup before starting the quarterfinal loss against England.

In March 2017, she underwent surgery to repair the same anterior cruciate ligament after going down on an innocent play during an intrasquad game training with Canada at a camp in Los Angeles.

"I know I gave everything I could for Canada and for my professional clubs those 18-odd years," she said. "And I'm pretty comfortable I truly did leave it all out there. I'm very grateful and i recognize what a privilege it is to have represented Canada for so long.

"It's been my whole life for 18 years and I loved every minute of it."

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2021.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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