Erin McLeod went to the far reaches of the Earth to get her soccer career back on track.
The Canadian national team goalkeeper overcame a lengthy injury to play with the Orlando Pride of the National Women’s Soccer League this past year, only to have COVID-19 pandemic disrupt the season and then force her team out of the summer Challenge Cup tournament due to a number of positive results on the roster.
So McLeod, 37, a St. Albert product, went to play with Stjarnan in Iceland to continue her illustrious career and keep hope alive of playing in a third Olympic tournament.
“I had been communicating with this club before the Challenge Cup happened because I had been preparing for nothing in the fall,” McLeod said. “At one point they (NWSL) said the Challenge Cup was the only thing there would be that season.
“Obviously, it wasn’t the best situation, but at the same time, it was nice to come to a country that had much lower COVID numbers and be able to play and be healthy and get some games in. That’s been the light at the end of the tunnel.”
McLeod has been part of the Canadian national senior team since 2002. She’s a member of the Canadian golden generation, which first made its mark at the 2002 FIFA Under-19 Women’s World Championship, losing to the United States in the final in front of more than 47,000 fans at Commonwealth Stadium.
McLeod has since participated in four FIFA Women’s World Cups and two Olympics for Canada. She’s also a member of the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, backstopping the country to a bronze medal in London 2012.
She overcame a knee injury shortly after the 2015 World Cup in Canada and battled back from a foot issue, which kept her out of the 2019 World Cup in France.
“I was injured off and on for about a year,” McLeod said. “I had some nerve pain, and carpal tunnel in my foot. Then I got a stress fracture that turned into a full fracture and I was forced to take time off. It wasn’t until January of this year that I’ve been feeling healthy and feeling good. So I was pretty pumped to play or have the opportunity to play.”
McLeod returned from a four-year stint in Europe to join the Pride for the 2020 NWSL season. However, the pandemic forced the league to alter its course and play a tournament in a central location. The NWSL was the first professional league in North America to get back on the field after the pandemic put a hiatus on sports. Yet, the Pride was forced to drop out of the tournament when a number of players contracted the virus, reportedly after a night out on the town.
It wasn’t until mid-August when McLeod was able to get back on the field for a competitive game. She’s played eight games for Stjarnan, who have two games remaining on its schedule.
“It’s always nice to get a lot of games in a row,” McLeod said. “As a ‘keeper, our fitness is different than field players. Getting game-sharp and positionally, it usually takes a few games to have it come back. It’s been really nice. The team here is very young. I think I’m like the team mom, but it’s always great to play with young players who have a lot of potential and it’s exciting.”
McLeod is hoping her road to the Olympics goes through Gardabaer, Iceland, where her current club team is based.
Canada qualified for the Tokyo Olympics back in February prior to the pandemic reaching North America. The Olympic Games have since been pushed back to next summer. giving McLeod an opportunity to earn a spot on the roster.
Currently the women’s team is without a coach after Kenneth Heiner-Moller resigned to take a position with the national soccer association back home in Denmark.
“I got called into a (national team) camp, but they had to cancel, because it’s challenging to travel right now because people were coming in from all over the world,” McLeod said. “I definitely think there’s a chance (at the Olympics). At this point for me, it’s about staying healthy and getting games in. I think it’s one more year and I would love to just give it everything that I have. If it works out, it does, and if it doesn’t, I’m sure the team will choose the right ’keepers for the tournament.”
Currently, McLeod is listed as one of three goaltenders on the Canadian national team roster. At the Olympics, however, teams are expected to carry just two goalkeepers because rosters are limited to 20 players from the usual 23 at other events.
For now, though, McLeod is not thinking that far ahead. She wants to end the season with Stjarnan on a good note and will then return to her current off-season home in North Vancouver to ponder her future.
“I have an option year in Orlando, so we’ll see, nothing is set in stone yet,” she said. “But I definitely know that I would like to play another year and I’ve been going pretty solid since January, so it’ll be nice to take some time off and then get back at it.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest