Top News

'Wide-open' World Cup could see Canada in title mix: U.S. women's soccer pioneer Milbrett

Canada's Shelina Zadorsky, Christine Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi, Janine Beckie and form a wall to block a free kick from a Mexican player. - Gerry Kahrmann / Postmedia
Canada's Shelina Zadorsky, Christine Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi, Janine Beckie and form a wall to block a free kick from a Mexican player. - Gerry Kahrmann / Postmedia

'I can’t really tell you (who’ll win). I’m just excited to see this … 2019 will be the biggest display of the best we’ve seen of the world game yet'

Tiffeny Milbrett is a soccer legend, one whose resume can only be matched by a select few of her contemporaries and an equally small number of the opposite gender.

The World Cup and Olympic champion was capped more than 200 times for the U.S. women’s national team, and the names of the other American players who exceed her career 100-goal total — legends like Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, Carli Lloyd and Michelle Akers — are already in the Soccer Hall of Fame, which Milbrett joined in May 2018.

Her accomplishments are too prolific to list. Her reputation and experience, unimpeachable .

So why was her hiring as the Tampa Bay Rowdies director of coach and player development —  overseeing the programs of both genders for the USL club — viewed with such surprise?

“Why? Why should (my gender) matter?” said the former member of the W-League Vancouver Whitecaps.

Former U.S. international Tiffeny Milbrett (right) with her good friend and then-teammate Christine Sinclair of the W-League’s Vancouver Whitecaps in 2007. Sinclair, of course, is still starring for Canada at this year’s World Cup. Steve Bosch / Postmedia file
Former U.S. international Tiffeny Milbrett (right) with her good friend and then-teammate Christine Sinclair of the W-League’s Vancouver Whitecaps in 2007. Sinclair, of course, is still starring for Canada at this year’s World Cup. Steve Bosch / Postmedia file

 

Yes, it’s 2019, and the Battle of the Sexes continues unfettered. Expect to hear the word “equality” ad nauseam over the next few weeks with the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicking off Friday and running for the next month.

It inevitably remains a major theme in women’s sports, from the lawsuit filed by 28 members of the U.S. women’s team in March, accusing U.S. Soccer of “institutionalized gender discrimination” and suing for pay equal to their male counterparts.

Norway, the 12th-ranked team in the world, won’t have Ada Hegerberg — not only their best player, but the world’s best player as the first female Ballon d’Or winner — who has boycotted the team for the past two years because of a lack of equality between the men’s and women’s programs.

There is progress, with the World Cup’s US $30 million purse — $4 million goes to the champion’s federation — more than double of the total doled out during the 2015 tournament in Canada. But the whole purse was exceeded by what the French men’s team earned ($38 million) by winning the men’s tournament last year, their share of a US $400-million purse.

The game itself has grown, too. While equality is the buzzword, it should be “parity.”

The U.S. team is the odds-on favourites, having outscored its opposition 26-0 in qualifying, but Milbrett shows no nationalistic patriotism in saying this is anybody’s Cup.

“I can’t really tell you (who’ll win). I’m just excited to see this … 2019 will be the biggest display of the best we’ve seen of the world game yet,” said the 46-year-old Portland native, who’s spent the past four years working for the MLS’s Colorado Rapids as a director and head coach for the Storm and the Rapids youth.

The tournament begins Friday with the hosts, France, taking on South Korea. Canada’s first game is Monday against Cameroon.

“This is the most wide-open World Cup we’ve ever seen. I think the U.S. obviously has a shot. I think France has a shot; it’s just a matter of how much pressure they can handle, and be able to compartmentalize that and be able to perform,” Milbrett said. “Looking to your not-so-usual suspects, let’s see which dark horse emerges. Canada is by far and above the best we’ve ever seen. I think you still have more talent than ever, but more inexperience than ever.

“So it’s like that balance; Canada did so well on their experience and grit, and now it’s this turn of talent but lack of experience. So hopefully that’s enough for the best-ever tournament.

“I believe that this World Cup, if anything, could be the host, or it could be a surprise. Really, if that’s going to happen, this will be the first World Cup that a surprise team could really happen.”

The Americans have won the tournament three times, including the last edition in Canada four years ago, while Germany won back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2007. Norway (1995) and Japan (2011) have each won once.

Canada’s best finish was fourth in 2003, when it had a 1-0 lead in the semifinal on a 64th-minute Kara Lang goal, only to see Sweden score twice in the final 11 minutes to take the victory. Canada then lost 3-1 in the third-place game to the U.S., with Milbrett scoring in the 80th minute. Canada’s long goal that day came from her good friend Christine Sinclair, who is of course taking part in this year’s tournament.

The U.S. currently tops the FIFA rankings, followed by Germany, England, France and Canada. But Canada isn’t even the favourite in its group, with that honour going to the eighth-ranked Netherlands.

“The first thing is, I think the world game is really impressively growing so fast. That’s exciting,” said Milbrett. “The second thing is, you get into these big tournaments and it’s almost like teams play out of their skins. This is what happens. You can play them in friendlies, you can play them the year before, but when these big tournaments happen, this is when you play out of your mind.

“It’s good, it’s good for the U.S. to be challenged. It’s good for the U.S. to think about how they need to move forward, and build, and become better. We need to be held accountable as a youth system to be better for the game. Because if the world game is growing by leaps and bounds so quickly, what are they doing? It’s really fascinating.”

jadams@postmedia.com

twitter.com/TheRealJJAdams

Canada’s World Cup schedule

Monday, June 9 — Canada vs Cameroon, Noon PT, at Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier.

Saturday, June 15 — Canada vs. New Zealand, Noon PT, at Stade des Alpes in Grenoble.

Thursday, June 20 — Canada vs. Netherlands, 9 p.m. PT, at Stade Auguste Delaune in Reims.

Canada’s roster

No. 1: Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, age 32, from Stony Plain, Alta. Club: Linköpings FC (Damallsvenskan)

No. 2: Fullback Allysha Chapman, age 29, from Courtice, Ont. Club: Houston Dash (NWSL)

No. 3: Centre back Kadeisha Buchanan, age 23, from Brampton, Ont. Club: Olympique Lyonnais (Division 1 Féminine France)

No. 4: Centre back Shelina Zadorsky, age  26, from London, Ont. Club: Orlando Pride (NWSL)

No. 5: Midfielder Rebecca Quinn, age 23, from Toronto. Club: Washington Spirit (NWSL)

No. 6: Forward Deanne Rose, age 19, from Alliston, Ont. Club: University of Florida Gators (NCAA)

No. 7: Midfielder Julia Grosso, age 18, from Vancouver. Club: University of Texas at Austin (NCAA)

No. 9: Forward Jordyn Huitema, age 17, from Chilliwack. Club: Paris Saint Germain (Division 1 Féminine France)

 B.C. teenage forward Jordyn Huitema has just joined Paris Saint-Germain on a four-year deal. Bob Frid / Postmedia file
B.C. teenage forward Jordyn Huitema has just joined Paris Saint-Germain on a four-year deal. Bob Frid / Postmedia file

No. 10: Fullback Ashley Lawrence, age 23, from Caledon, Ont. Club: Paris Saint Germain (Division 1 Féminine France)

No. 11: Midfielder Desiree Scott, age 31, from Winnipeg. Club: Utah Royals FC (NWSL)

No. 12: Forward Christine Sinclair, age 35, from Burnaby. Club: Portland Thorns (NWSL)

No. 13: Midfielder Sophie Schmidt, age 30, from Abbotsford.

eteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt talks to media as the Canadian women’s soccer team pose for a team photo in Burnaby in July 2016, before they head to the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. Nick Procaylo/Postmedia file
eteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt talks to media as the Canadian women’s soccer team pose for a team photo in Burnaby in July 2016, before they head to the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. Nick Procaylo/Postmedia file

 

No. 15: Forward Nichelle Prince, age 23, from Ajax, Ont. Club: Houston Dash (NWSL)

No. 16: Forward Janine Beckie, age 24, from Highlands Ranch, Colo. Club: Manchester City (FA Women’s Super League)

No. 17: Midfielder Jessie Fleming, age 20, from London, Ont. Club: UCLA (NCAA)

No. 18: Goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo, age 25, from Welland, Ont. Club: North Carolina Courage (NWSL)

No. 19: Forward Adriana Leon, age 26, from King City, Ont.

No. 20: Fullback Shannon Woeller, age 28, from Vancouver. Club: Eskilstuna United DFF (Damallsvenskan)

No. 21: Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, age 23, from Whitby, Ont. Club: Sky Blue FC (NWSL)

No. 22: Fullback Lindsay Agnew, age 23, from Kingston, Ont. Club: Houston Dash (NWSL)

No. 23: Fullback Jayde Riviere, age 17, from Markham, Ont. Club: Vancouver Whitecaps FC Girls Elite

No. 24: Fullback/F Jenna Hellstrom, age 23, from Sudbury, Ont. Club: Växjö DFF (Damallsvenskan)

No. 25: Centre back Vanessa Gilles, age 22, from Ottawa. Club: Les Girondins de Bordeaux (Division 1 Féminine France)

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

Recent Stories