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  • Q & A with CWNT star Rhian Wilkinson



    By: Alyssa Ally

    In just 40 days, Canada will take part in it's fourth Women's World Cup. I recently caught up with nine year veteran of the team, Rhian Wilkinson to discuss her career, road to the World Cup and future plans.

    It's a thorough look at one of the national team stars and where the team is at mentally right now.


    Q. You'll be playing in your third Women's World Cup this summer, what will be the difference this time around compared to 2003 and 2007?

    A. Every major tournament is unique in its ups and downs and I expect this World Cup to be no different. I was young and very new to the team for the 2003 tournament, so the experience was slightly lost on me. Even though I loved every minute of it and knew that what we were experiencing together was really special, our fourth place finish, because I had not been with the team for the whole build up to the tournament the significance did not hit home for me like it did for the senior members of the team.

    The 2007 tournament was a bitter disappointment. We played below par and knew that we had let ourselves down and our fans. I think every member of that team will remember that feeling, the feeling of being eliminated early, and dig even deeper to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. We are all excited and looking forward to this World Cup in Germany, it can not come fast enough. We have been in residency camp for a while now, away from family, friends, and home and all because we believe we can really do something special this tournament. We have a good team and if we are able to play to our ability this coming June and July it should be a tournament to remember.

    Q. Being coached by Even Pellerud with the long ball system now being coached by Carolina Morace with a more possession style of play, speed and skill, how has it changed your game?

    A. Even was my coach for a long time and I really enjoyed playing under him. Even was extremely patient with me and gave me every opportunity and encouragement to succeed, I will always be extremely grateful for that. Carolina’s arrival was both exciting and scary. We would have to prove ourselves all over again, earn our spots again. She has been an amazing addition and has really brought the Canadian Women’s Team to a whole new level. Under her guidance I feel that my game has really changed. Under Even I was a forward who occasionally played defense, now I am a full time member of the backline and actually like it back there. Learning a new position is like learning a whole other game, a challenge I am enjoying. She focuses on the small things and puts a lot of emphasis on them, an example being the time she puts into our reaction times and positional fitness

    Q. At the club level you've played in North America and in Norway how does the style and culture compare?

    A. There are so many differences between the two cultures and styles of play that it is hard to know where to start. Firstly the European game is generally more technical that the North American game, with the players having stronger basics, such as first touch, passing, dribbling etc. Europeans grow up focusing on these aspects much more than we do and are as a result generally much better at them. On the other hand, I think North Americans often have the ability and willingness to outwork other players. I think we focus more on fitness and the physical aspects of our game, and with the hockey mentality in Canada, we often have a ‘never say die’ attitude. One thing that is the same anywhere you play is the understanding of the game. If you have a good ‘soccer brain’, you will succeed anywhere you play.

    Q. In the history of the program Canada has never defeated Germany. What will this squad have to do to ensure a 'W' in the opening match at the Women's World Cup?

    A: It is a cliché but to win we have to do all the little things right. I am not going to lie, Germany is a great team, but when we play to our ability so are we. We are going to have to be very disciplined defensively and are going to have to make our offensive chances count because against Germany you don’t get many scoring opportunities.

    Q. Since October 2010 at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Canada has only lost two out of 16 matches. What has been the biggest difference in the back line's dominance?

    A. I really believe that winning is a mentality and I think we are finally understanding that. The great teams in the world have to win every single game they play in, they are expected to win, and they embrace that. When you look at the U.S. or even the University of North Carolina, you see teams, albeit at different levels, that do not understand the concept of losing. They expect to win every game, even though every team they play wants to win that one game more than any other game they play that year. For a while we were too comfortable with just playing well, a draw or even a loss was acceptable, if we played well out on the field. This is not the mentality needed to be a champion. For the past year there has been a change, we believe. We believe in ourselves, one another, and we believe that we can achieve great things, once this attitude is embedded in all our psyches nothing can stop us.


    Q. You are 4 caps away from 100 appearances with Canada. What will this mean to you? And do individual statistics matter to you?

    A. Am I? I look forward to reaching such an incredible milestone as so many of my Canadian idols have gotten there before me, it will be an honour to be in their company. I have to admit that stats don’t mean too much to me, an easy stance to take when you have almost 100 caps and very few goals to your name. Stats are for the game’s heroes, the Sinclair’s, as they need to be pitted against other great players to see how great they really are - turns out Sincy is amazing!

    Q. What will it feel like when you step on the pitch in front of 80,000 people on June 26th?

    A. Scary, exciting, nerve jangling, momentous, epic, thrilling……… a bit of everything I’m sure.

    Q. Has there been any more progress made with the players compensation issue and the CSA?

    A. At the moment this is not something I can comment on, apologies.

    Q. You've been with the national team for nine years now, what moment(s) will you never forget?

    A. I don’t think you ever forget you first cap, although seeing as mine was a huge loss to the U.S., my second cap probably means more to me. We played Brazil in Montreal and I managed to score my first international goal in front of all my friends and family in my home province and in my home town - amazing. I also remember coming fourth in the 2003 World Cup, that was a fantastic experience, as was winning the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament this past November.

    Q. What has been the best or worst fan encounter you've experienced?

    A. I have only ever had great fan encounters. My best are probably when I get to meet young women who, after I have gone to talk to their teams, come up and let me know how they are doing. I don’t care whether they stay in soccer or not, I just love when they have found something in their lives that they care about as passionately as I do about soccer.

    Q. Any advice for youngsters out there hoping to wear that red and white (and now black)jersey?

    A. I guess the best advice I can give is to find something you love to do and to give it everything you have, no matter what it is………. If it’s legal. There are always going to be setbacks along the way, but it is those people who find that extra motivation, those that are inspired to work harder, and those that push themselves further, who are successful in life.

    Q. You ladies pull a lot of pranks on each other. Which has been the best prank you've seen. Have you been a victim of any pranks?

    A. I was the victim of a prank on the 12th (of May), but have to admit to rarely being a victim because of my status, “extremely scary and bad tempered!” The 12th was my birthday so I, as is traditional on this team, got pied in the face. I was ready for it, but they were ready for me being ready for it. Sincy had the pie plate in the hand and said Rhian they want me to pie you and I don’t know what to do. As I was looking at her, Tank pied me from behind - grrrrrr. I took off after Tank and pied her back, I think she was the only one brave enough it have done it.

    One of the best pranks we ever pulled was on April Fools day. The coaching staff expected something from us, so we did a few little things to throw them off the scent. The real event though was during training when Tank and I pretended to get into a physical altercation. We managed to get most of it on video, which is awesome as you can see the fear in our assistant coach Betty’s eyes. She yells, “girls, girls,” while stepping further and further way, hilarious.

    Q. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

    A. In school full time and just about to finish my masters in physiotherapy. I am in the middle of trying to get my pre requisite classes out of the way through the online University of Athabasca. It has been a challenge to be in school while trying to train and prepare for the World Cup, but I am plugging away at it knowing that it is something I want to do in the future.

    You can stay caught up with the national team and Rhian by reading her journals at www.rhianwilkinsonsoccer.com


    Alyssa Ally writes about the Canadian Women’s National team, the WPS and women’s soccer in general. You can find her stuff at cdnwomenssoccer.blogspot.com

    Follow her on Twitter at @cdn_chica

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