Tag Archives: Interviews

Interview with Kara Lang: Being inspired by Street Soccer Canada

 

Canada's 2011 Women's Homeless World Cup Team. This image is courtesy of Paul Gregory and Street Soccer Canada.

I spoke to Kara Lang in April about Street Soccer Canada for a project outside of AllWhiteKit and RedNationOnline. Upon the eve of the 10th Annual Homeless World Cup in Mexico City October 6-14, it’s a perfect time to revisit her insight on the women’s program in Toronto. Here’s a condensed version of the conversation.

Since September 2011, weekly indoor soccer matches in a western Toronto recreation centre have become a solace for women living in the local shelter system. They are some of the most marginalized individuals in the city, battling poverty, mental health concerns, various forms of addictions and abuse, and/or other socioeconomic effects. In spite of their circumstances, they’ve developed a familial bond with fellow players brought together by Street Soccer Canada (SSC), “a grassroots program with sport as social inclusion as its focus. Its aim is to engage and connect with marginalized shelter users and individuals that have been isolated and are on the fringes, using the positive power of sport to enrich and empower.”

Paul Gregory, who founded SSC in 2003, meshed his interest in soccer with his 16 years of experience in the public and non-profit sectors tackling issues of homelessness and poverty. What started with a men’s team that later represented Canada at the 2004 Homeless World Cup in Gothenburg, Sweden now has programs in Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, in addition to women’s teams in the latter two cities.

Among the coaches in Toronto is Kara Lang, a nine year veteran of the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team, who is also the SSC technical director. Following a successful national team career that includes representing her country at the 2003 and 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cups and 2008 Beijing Olympics, Kara is currently a soccer analyst at Rogers Media Inc. and passionately volunteers her time with SSC.

Melissa Tan: How are the sessions going?
Kara Lang: It’s a little bit tough because we have to depend on the holiday schedule of the community centre. For the most part, other than Christmas, New Years and Easter, we’ve been every Mondays since September [2011]. We’ll run a session whether it’s one person that shows up or eight or whatever.

MT: Do you usually start off with drills and then head into a recreational game?
KL: Mhmm, it’s always a bit of a warmup. A lot of the women aren’t physically active at all throughout the week, or some of them had never been physically active before, certainly not any part of an organized team. We’re trying to get them into certain habits of being healthy and safe. They get warmed up, then some drills, some first touch. We work on whatever they want to work on.

A lot of the time it’s finishing that they like to do; they like to shoot. We usually put Billy in net, he’s the men’s team coach; they love shooting on Billy. He’s quite the trash talker, too, so it makes for a lot of fun.

Then we divide up the teams depending on numbers and we just play a scrimmage for an hour, hour and a half. We always have to be cautious to take breaks because everyone’s at different fitness levels and some of the women’s health isn’t the best. When one person needs a break, everyone needs a break. We’re trying to instill that idea of team, which is also new for a lot of the women. It’s basically two hours of fun, two hours of freedom.

MT: It’s like there are two parts to the equation: trying to instill healthy habits in their daily lives and also building trust because it’s difficult to break down their personal barriers.
KL: Absolutely, there’s a huge difference between the first few sessions and now where the women are totally comfortable with us and talking about their outside lives and sharing their stories with us. And, accepting advice from us even about soccer.

In terms of healthy habits outside, for some of them it’s not just that one day a week anymore. It was only a few weeks ago when some of them were asking to take some soccer balls home to go to the park and train on their own. They want to get better, especially with those who haven’t played before; it’s that learning curve that they’ve seen and how quickly they’ve started to get the hang of it. Then they just wanted more and wanted to get better. They’re goal setting and recognizing that they’re good at something that can be fun. I think for a lot of them, it’s extremely encouraging.

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Catching up with Kara Lang

On August 20, soccer players of all skill levels gathered at Allan Lamport Stadium to compete in Athletes for Africa’s third annual Rock the Pitch Charity Soccer Tournament. The top eight fundraising teams had the opportunity to go head-to-head against teams made up of celebrities ranging from media personalities to musicians.

Funds from this year’s events in Montreal and Toronto will help “support a number of programs focusing on child and maternal health, HIV/AIDS, and clean water” through the African Medical and Research Foundation Canada, The Stephen Lewis Foundation, and WaterCan. Rock the Pitch Toronto raised a total of $31,329.

The top celebrity fundraiser was none other than former Canadian Women’s National Team forward/midfielder Kara Lang. While in between games (and scoring goals), she was kind enough to chat with All White Kit about participating in charity events, music, her foray into sports broadcasting and, well, life.

All White Kit: How are your games going so far?
Kara Lang: Good! It’s a lot of fun and we’ve won every game so far. We’ve let in a few goals, but we’ve got a really great team. I don’t really have to do anything; it’s nice.

It looked like Daniel Squizzato’s game plan yesterday was to pass it to you, let you do your thing, then victory.
Yeah, I think that’s what he said, that he was just going to stay out of the way. But he’s actually done a really great job. He’s a way better goalkeeper than he let any of us know and he’s saved us a few times.

We’ll just pretend he’s wearing #15 for you.
I didn’t even notice he had #15 on. I’m going to have to rib him for that one!

Did you and your A4A Soccer Scribe teammates all know each other before this?
I knew people like Ben Rycroft and Ian Clarke. I know some of the people on the other teams. On my team, I’m meeting a lot of them for the first time.

I know there are some indie rockers and other artists competing today. Did you meet any of them or maybe you already know them.
Yup, there’s a guy from Grand Analog here today, a local band. And a guy from Bedouin Soundclash was supposed to be here, but I’m not sure if he made it.

You’re definitely a huge indie music fan.
Yeah, I love music in general, but indie music especially. I’m a big music fan; it’s a big part of my life. It’s exciting to be here and meet some of these people.

Name some good bands.
Good bands? Right now I love a band called Grouplove. They’re kind of mellow, but awesome. Band of Skulls is one of my favourite bands. This guy, Hanni El Khatib, he’s got a two person band and it’s total ’60s rock and it’s awesome. I love that guy right now. Who else? Lissie.

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20 Questions with Carmelina Moscato

Courtesy of Claudio Pasquazi; Canadian Soccer Association

For Carmelina Moscato, a midfielder/defender on the Canadian Women’s National Team, the opportunity to represent her country faded in 2006. Skip ahead a few years later and Moscato is now preparing for her second FIFA Women’s World Cup. She recently took the time to chat with All White Kit about her return to the National Team, the impact that Carolina Morace and staff have had on the team’s success, fond memories, her plans for the future and much more.

All White Kit: How do you feel the team’s preparations for the 2011 Women’s World Cup are coming along?
Carmelina Moscato: I don’t think our preparations could’ve been any better leading into this year’s World Cup. The amount of time and complete concentration put in has really been incredible by the players and staff alike. We have [two] days left and just like we’ve made every day count I know these last few are just as crucial.

The best part about our preparation is that there has been so much time put into intelligent progressions both tactically and physically. It’s come together perfectly and we are all excited to see how we do at the World Cup!

AWK: The WWC roster was recently revealed. What’s that feeling of anticipation like before any roster is announced?
CM: We’ve become a family here, so of course hearing the roster, alternates and cuts was never going to be easy. No matter who is officially on the roster, we have benefited from everyone’s energy and time here for our World Cup goals. You wish it was more than 21, but having said that we are completely happy and confident with the roster we have! We all believe in each other.

AWK: You competed at the 2002 U-19 Women’s World Cup in Canada and may represent your country at another WWC on home soil in 2015. Talk about the opportunity to play at home for such important tournaments.
CM: Regardless of if I play in the 2015 World Cup at home or not (it’s hard to say right now) I hope to be involved in some capacity. It’s actually pretty hard to think beyond one competition at a time.

In general, the opportunity for the best women’s soccer players to come to Canada is special, powerful and will only bring the game to another level. I think we’ve needed something like this for a long time and I know I don’t speak for just myself when I say we feel fortunate to host.
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20 Questions with Rhian Wilkinson

Courtesy of Claudio Pasquazi, Canadian Soccer Association

In just 10 days, the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 will kick off when hosts Germany face off against Canada. The Canadian Women’s National Team’s right back, Rhian Wilkinson, was kind enough to take time from her busy training schedule in Rome, Italy to share her thoughts on the team’s preparations for the tournament, her transition from being a forward to a defender, and some memorable moments both on and off the field.

All White Kit: In the lead up to the Women’s World Cup, the CanWNT has been in camp since late March and you’ve played several friendlies. How’s the team feeling about the preparations so far?
Rhian Wilkinson: We have played in a number of preparation matches, and I think these have done a good job in letting us try out new tactics and combinations. Of course, the games allow us to pump ourselves up as well and we need this to begin peaking for our first game of the tournament. As a team we are feeling good about our preparations. With only two more lead up games to go [Editor’s note: Canada defeated Hungary 1-0 and North Korea 2-0], we are almost there.

AWK: What will be key for Canada when facing your Group A opponents (Germany, France and Nigeria)?
RW: I know it is a cliché, but we have to take each match as one game at a time. We cannot get caught up in looking any further than our next game, our next opponent. We plan on winning each game we are involved in and this is the attitude we will bring into the World Cup tournament.

AWK: Germany 2011 will be your third WWC. What’s your mindset been like for each tournament?
RW: In the 2003 World Cup, I had only just made the Canada squad and I could not believe I was actually there, playing for my country. I was a little overawed by it all, but the team did extremely well and we punched way above our weight, finishing 4th overall in the tournament. The whole event was an amazing experience and the feeling of elation was something I will never forget.

In the 2007 World Cup tournament, we had been experiencing a rough year. We had lost our form and we struggled against most opponents. Not much changed in the World Cup tournament; we did not do well. I left the 2007 tournament suffering from one of my lowest athletic mindsets. Like many on the team, I found it hard to find motivation and to perform consistently. This was especially so as the 2007 World Cup tournament came right after a poor performance at the Pan Am Games.

I enter into the 2011 World Cup tournament with memories of these two events in my mind. But, I have found new inspiration in my teammates, in the coaching staff, in myself, and even in the support and attention the team is now receiving. I go into this next World Cup with an understanding that we really have to experience the moment. We cannot allow the tournament to become so big that it overwhelms us. We know how to win and we have found the means to win. As a squad, we have great experience and mutual support, and we will not underestimate the importance of the event. We are looking forward to an international competition, an amazing event and I expect Canada, including me, will enjoy the ride all the way to the top of the podium.

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An Interview with Monica Gonzalez, Part 2: Life as a Footballer and Beyond

In part 1 of this interview series, you found out about Monica’s ventures in establishing Gonzo Soccer and Leadership Academy, the importance of generous people and organizations in sustaining and growing a program, and how Gonzo Soccer players have benefited from their experiences.

In the final installment of our conversation with Monica, we learn more about her career as a footballer and how life has been following her retirement from the international and professional game. As a versatile player who helped lead the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish to three NCAA final four appearances; the 11th overall pick in the 2002 WUSA draft by the Boston Breakers; and a key player for the Mexican Women’s National Team since its inception, with World Cup and Olympic experience, and who wore the captain’s armband from 2003 to 2007, all of these experiences came to impact her life both personally and professionally.

A special thanks to Monica for taking the time to talk to AWK, and Alyse LaHue for helping to make this interview possible!

All White Kit: Your soccer career has taken you to many places around the world. Let’s start from the beginning: what did the sport mean to you while growing up and how did all of this come to be? What were some of your most memorable moments?
Monica Gonzalez:
Growing up, I was just competitive and a perfectionist… I was never the best, but I always wanted to be and kept trying to work hard. I remember the day I found out that you could go to college for free with a scholarship I made that my goal, because I thought it would be the best way to thank my parents for everything they gave me growing up. I was always very inspired growing up…and every time I went to a summer camp or an ODP training or a USWNT game, it just kept that inspiration going.

Not until I got to the Boston Breakers and was forced to go to appearances, speaking engagements and community events did I realize how good it felt to be a role model and to have the power to impact others in the community. Those things are a must for the pro teams, but before that, I really didn’t care for it much. I became involved with the [Women’s Sports Foundation] because I wanted to go to a golf tournament, and while there, I listened to women like Tuti Scott and Billie Jean King speak and became motivated to use my position as a pro-athlete and a Mexican National team player to help out in the Hispanic community. These events and the camaraderie of it all has become my favorite part.

AWK: Elaborating on your versatility as a player both collegiately and internationally: at Notre Dame you started off as a forward and moved on to become a stalwart in the defence as an outside back then as a centre back. While you were mainly a sweeper for the Mexican National Team, you also played pretty much every field position for them. What went through your mind when called upon to fill these different roles? Did it have an impact on your confidence?
MG:
I first got moved back to defense at Notre Dame because Randy recruited some awesome freshmen that were fast, and I felt like my position was being threatened so I moved back to defense in practice during preseason to try to make them look bad. Then I got stuck there. I really like outside back because I would just go forward unmarked and do a scissor move every time and then pass or cross.

With Mexico, I ended up playing everywhere else mostly because I got bored with center back and I was frustrated with our midfielder’s lack of initiative to score, so I tried to take matters into my own hands. I convinced Leo to put me there and in hindsight, I was mistaken. I should have just stuck to what I did best and trusted in my teammates, but everything in life that doesn’t go your way ends up being a lesson learned, right?

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An Interview with Monica Gonzalez, Part 1: Gonzo Soccer and Leadership Academy

I’m certainly not the first person to point this out, but athletes can and will make differences in the lives of others, especially the young people who come to look up to them.

The former captain of the Mexican Women’s National Team, University of Notre Dame defender, and 11th overall selection by the Boston Breakers of the WUSA in 2002, Monica Gonzalez, went to Chicago with the intention of playing professional soccer, and by chance ended up establishing a soccer academy for underprivileged Latina girls. In addition to coaching young girls in the beautiful game, the staff of Gonzo Soccer are also teaching important life skills, providing academic support, and exposing their players to a myriad of opportunities that will hopefully allow them to take on their future with confidence and aspire for more in life.

Monica was kind enough to share her story in establishing Gonzo Soccer and she tells us more about the important people who make the academy possible.

A special thanks to Monica for taking the time to talk to AWK, and Alyse LaHue for helping to make this interview possible!

All White Kit: Describe Gonzo Soccer and what it offers. What do you hope to achieve with such programs and why do you think it is important to have these types of personal, athletic and academic support systems available/accessible?
Monica Gonzalez:
Well, first of all, these programs are important because the statistics for obesity, drug and alcohol use, pregnancies, and gang/domestic violence for Latina girls in America are going the wrong way. Secondly, they are important because these girls have just as much potential as students and as athletes as anyone else, so it’s important to have women from all walks of life educated and in the social and economic mainstream. It’s how America remains genuinely diverse.

Gonzo Soccer is an after-school program that offers soccer training, life-skills and leadership lessons, and academic assistance. What separates our after-school program from any other is the fact that our coaches all played soccer in college and many played professionally, so our girls are not only being trained by the area’s top coaches, they are being influenced on a regular basis by wonderful role models who know how to transmit the guidance and life lessons that sports participation offers. Each session we also either do a writing lesson, or a life-skills lesson, much of it similar to GoGirlGo [edit: GoGirlGo link], but with a touch of sport psychology in there as well. We also take field trips to Red Stars games, and through a sponsorship with Ringling Bros, were invited to sit front row at Disney on Ice.

AWK: How did the journey of establishing Gonzo Soccer begin?
MG:
By accident.  I had just moved to Chicago to try to play pro soccer and needed work in the meantime, so I went into the Hispanic community to try to put on a clinic. When the clinic was over, the girls began to ask when the next one was, and the owner of ChiTown Futbol [edit: ChiTown Futbol link] told me that people were asking him as well, so I spoke with him and he graciously said, “Use the field. I love what you are doing for these girls”. So, it turned into an every Monday affair. And little by little I started to add on the life-skills and other components. Girls of any socioeconomic background in any part of any country need to learn core values of teamwork, discipline, etc. and I already had experience with many of the ways the Women’s Sports Foundation [edit: Women’s Sports Foundation link] impacts young women through sport, so I just let it take on a life of its own.

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Interview with Christine Sinclair

Sinclair2009

Do you really need me to provide context? Maybe I’ll just leave it at this: Christine Sinclair is the Canadian poster child for “awesome”!

Okay, fine.

As a Portland Pilot, Sinclair scored 110 goals and guided the team to 2 national championships, all while reaping back-to-back M.A.C. Hermann Trophy awards and breaking Brandi Chastain’s NCAA record by scoring in 17 consecutive games. She also led the Canadian U-19 Women’s World Cup team to a second place finish at the inaugural tournament in 2002, scoring 10 goals to secure the Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards as the tournament’s top scorer and MVP respectively. Sinclair was an integral part of FC Gold Pride’s tandem of unstoppable offensive threats, scoring 10 goals and providing 9 assists en route to winning the 2010 WPS Championship and Regular Season Title. Since debuting on the Senior squad in 2000 as a 16 year-old, and subsequent World Cup and Olympic appearances, Sinclair has scored 102 goals. Perhaps it’s fitting that the very team she debuted (and lost) against 10 years ago, China, was the same team she blasted a goal past during Canada’s 3-1 victory last Thursday.

All White Kit: Carolina has had you guys lining up in a 4-3-3, which is a bit different from what you used to play. How has that changed your role as a striker? Is it fluid movement among the 3 of you?

Christine Sinclair: Yeah, we’re rotating all over the place up top. She wants movement, she wants creativity and unpredictability, whereas before, under Even, it was very rigid and we were in our set positions. This is a lot more interesting game to play under Carolina.

AWK: That sort of style has obviously brought you guys a lot of success over at Gold Pride. Congratulations about that. Can you talk a little bit about those two goals, the final, celebrating and all that?

CS: Thank you very much! Wow, it was a long day. It was the perfect end to a great season for FC Gold Pride. We completely dominated the league and I think it would have been so unfair had we not won that championship. To score two goals is obviously very nice, but we had so many attacking options on our team. Our motto is that they can’t stop us all. And they couldn’t in the final.  Continue reading

Interview with Diana Matheson

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If you’re looking to name a hard working midfielder then Diana Matheson has to be mentioned. The 4-time first-team All-Ivy honouree led the Princeton University Tigers (2004-2007) with 23 goals and 26 assists. Since debuting for the Senior National Team as an 18 year-old in 2003, Matheson has played every minute in 91 of her 101 caps. Most recently, she displayed her tenacity in Canada’s September 30 friendly against China while patrolling the midfield and playing great one-touch soccer with her teammates. Matheson started the match with a bang, scoring the opening goal after making a great run from the centre circle to the 18-yard box. Perhaps AWK likes the idea of Western New York signing her?

All White Kit: You, Kara Lang and the rest of the team recently hosted a clinic with the Oakville Soccer Club to help raise money for the Haitian National Team. Talk a little bit about that, and your experience playing for OSC as you were growing up.

Diana Matheson: I had a great experience growing up with OSC. It’s a huge soccer club and they do a great job with women’s soccer. Kara grew up there as well, so they do okay in producing soccer players I think ;). The clinic went really well. I think we basically wanted to try and connect with girls’ soccer players out there. With Kara and I being from Oakville and they being such a good club, we thought of them first. The club did a great job organizing the event, and Carmelina Moscato and Kara organized it on our end and the drills and everything. We did 2 hours of coaching with the girls and it was a great turnout. I think we had about 300 people from age 4 to age 51. We did signings afterward and we met everyone. It was a great experience for us.

AWK: Did you and Kara grow up playing against each other?

DM: No, Kara’s 2 years younger so we never played against each other.

AWK: You had a foot injury earlier this year. Are you all healed up and ready to go? Continue reading

Interview with Carolina Morace

Since taking over as the head coach of the Canadian Senior and U-20 Women’s National Teams in February 2009, Morace has always made it clear that her intentions are to implement a possession-oriented style that wouldn’t hinder the creativity of her players. A highly successful striker herself, Morace scored 105 goals in 153 appearances for the Italian National Team and absolutely dominated Italy’s Femminile Serie A with 550 goals over her 20 year club career before moving on to coach at the club and National levels. After seeing the promising performance that Canada had against China last Thursday, there’s no doubt that the new training drills and game tactics have reinvigorated Morace’s team.

All White Kit: You played China this past April and since then they’ve made a coaching change. You played them again in a scrimmage on Sunday [September 26]. Did you notice any differences in how the Chinese team plays?

Carolina Morace: I know that the coach has changed since China didn’t qualify for the Women’s World Cup. I think the team was also good when we played them in China and we lost 2-0. We played against them, also, two days ago. The team is very organized and many players are fast and good players. The Chinese team is good.

AWK: The team’s been playing a 4-3-3 since the beginning of 2010. Is that the formation we should expect against China or even during the CONCACAF Qualifiers?

CM: During our previous game [the closed door scrimmage], we played a 4-4-2. I think that we can play both. I have to decide. It’s based on two different things: I have to decide which players are good or are fit and then I’ll decide afterward.

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Interview with China’s Captain Xu Yuan

Dubbed as the “next Sun Wen”, the Chongqing native was a part of the Chinese team that won 2nd place at the 2004 U-19 Women’s World Cup in Thailand, defeating Nigeria, Italy, Kara Lang’s Canada, and Marta’s Brazil in the process. Xu’s soccer journey began after being inspired by the Chinese National Team’s silver medal wining performance at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. The 24 year-old forward debuted on the Senior squad in December 2007, and wore the captain’s armband for the first time during China’s September 30 friendly against Canada.

Xu was kind enough to have a quick chat with All White Kit following the team’s practice that ended at 8pm on a cold night before game day. She ended up being the last person to board the team bus, so I didn’t want to bother her with a whole list of questions and wasn’t able to ask about the game.

All White Kit: How would you compare your previous coach to your current coach?

Xu Yuan: With the previous coach [Shang Ruihua], each training session was really long. Our current coach [Li Xiaopeng] understands us very well as a team. He doesn’t normally coach women’s teams, so he treats us in the same type of way that he’d treat a men’s team.

AWK: Can you describe a typical day of training with the National Team?

XY: I’d say the daily training sessions are different each time. Sometimes we practice our defence and sometimes we practice our attack. Honestly, each day’s training is done for the purpose of becoming more competitive for future games.

AWK: What’s your favourite soccer memory? And who’s your soccer idol?

XY: It’d be the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was my first Olympic experience and I scored a goal during our first match [against Sweden 6 minutes into the game, nonetheless]. And my favourite soccer player is Brazil’s Ronaldo.

A special thanks to Elaine Sun for making this interview possible! And a shout out to my Mom for speaking 5 languages/dialects and helping to translate this interview.