Veteran goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who survived a string of injuries to win 119 caps for Canada over a distinguished senior career that spanned more than two decades, has announced her retirement from international soccer.
McLeod, who turns 40 on Feb. 26, plans to continue playing club football for at least one season. The Orlando Pride announced Tuesday that McLeod and her new wife, midfielder Gunny Jonsdottir, have left the NWSL club for Jonsdottir's native Iceland where both will play.
While still enjoying her soccer, McLeod says she has found a new passion. The native of St. Albert, Alta., is transitioning to creating equity programming for grassroots soccer programs in Halifax where her older sister lives.
McLeod has long served as an LGBTQ spokeswoman. In 2014, she combined with fellow Olympian Adam van Koeverden, now parliamentary secretary to the minister of health and minister of sport, in the successful campaign to add sexual orientation to the Olympic Charter.
"I think since that moment I felt an immense amount of pride to wear the (Canadian) jersey and understand there's a bigger purpose out there, to make sure that I'm continually fighting for more people to play the game, more people to have access," McLeod told The Canadian Press. "Less discrimination and more inclusivity and more diversity.
"I think these things are really becoming more and more of what I think is important and what I want to be committed to for the rest of my life."
She says playing in Iceland will place fewer demands on her time, allowing her to "make a difference at the grassroots level."
"I have a lot of things ahead of me that I am so excited about," she said.
McLeod is also looking to help former Canadian teammate Diana Matheson in her bid to establish a domestic women's pro league.
As she leaves the international game, McLeod takes pride in the Canadian women's team on and off the field, citing its welcoming and inclusive culture.
"As I'm watching the team do unbelievable things on the field, the culture is there — the team is incredible. They stand not just for themselves, but all Canadians. I've been so incredibly lucky my whole career. I know I've had a lot of ups and downs but just to be surrounded by so many people … I'm grateful to have worked with them for my country so many times."
She also credited her family for its support.
"My family has always been there and my No. 1 supporters.."
McLeod last played for Canada on Oct. 26, 2021 in a 1-0 friendly win over New Zealand in Montreal — her 47th clean sheet.
She was in goal for the Canadian women's bronze-medal run at the 2012 London Olympics and started throughout the 2015 World Cup on home soil. She was an alternate with the team that won gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 but dressed for the game against Chile when Kailen Sheridan stepped in for the injured Stephanie Labbé.
Labbé, who took over from McLeod as Canada's No. 1, hung up her gloves in April. Labbé is now general manager of women’s soccer for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
McLeod was 19 when she made her Canada senior debut in a 4-0 victory over Wales in March 2002 at the Algarve Cup. An 18-year-old Christine Sinclair scored twice that day, her 22nd and 23rd career goals, the only remaining active player from the game's roster.
"I don't remember much of the game. I just remember being so nervous — like shaking," McLeod said.
"It just seems like a million years ago," she added. "I can't even believe it."
John Herdman, the Canada men's coach and former women's coach, called it an "absolute privilege" to work with McLeod.
"A real leader and pioneer in the women's game," he said. "She was one of the consistent threads that ran through an unprecedented period of time in the women's game ... She helped lead changes to the women's game off the pitch -- from NWSL contracts to better conditions to finally helping young players progress and meet their potential through her leadership capabilities.
"Just an exceptional human being .. A really special person."
McLeod began her career with the Vancouver Whitecaps in the USL W-League in 2004. She went on to play for the Washington Freedom (2009), Sweden's Dalsjofors GoIF (2011-12), Chicago Red Stars (2013), Houston Dash (2014-15) and Sweden's FC Rosengard (2016-17) and Vaxjo DFF (2018-19) before joining the Pride.
At the collegiate level, she played two years at Southern Methodist University and two at Penn State. As a senior, she led the led the Nittany Lions to an undefeated regular season in 2005 when she was a MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
McLeod signed with Orlando in February 2020 but was loaned out to Iceland's Ungmennafelag Stjarnan during the pandemic.
She signed a new deal with the Pride in May 2022, starting every game last season barring a brief concussion-related absence. McLeod also had an arthroscopic procedure on her right knee in April.
McLeod was front and centre in Canada's memorable loss to the U.S. in the semifinals of the London Olympics. With Canada leading 3-2 in the 76th minute, Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen controversially ruled that McLeod had broken the rarely enforced six-second handling rule.
Megan Rapinoe's shot, after Tobin Heath passed her the ball from the ensuing indirect free kick in the Canadian penalty box, produced a penalty after the ball struck defender Marie-Eve Nault on the arm. The U.S. tied the game from the penalty spot and went on to win 4-3 after extra time.
McLeod was in goal as Canada defeated France 1-0 in the bronze-medal match.
She missed the 2016 Rio Olympics after undergoing her third anterior cruciate ligament surgery. At the time, one doctor told her it was time to stop playing.
McLeod, who also had surgery on her right knee in 2008 and 2010 as well a shoulder operation, thought differently.
She underwent an operation that saw a sliver of her kneecap inserted into a hole in her tibia from a previous surgery and a small strip of quadricep used as her new anterior cruciate ligament. An extra ligament, from a cadaver, was also inserted.
A painful foot issue kept her out of the 2019 World Cup in France. While it was initially thought to be plantar fasciitis, a specialist eventually diagnosed tarsal tunnel syndrome in both feet — a condition that sees swelling in the foot put pressure on the nerve.
In early 2019, McLeod announced she was joining international soccer stars like Juan Mata, Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Morgan in signing on with Common Goal, pledging one per cent of their salary to a central fund which is distributed to soccer-based charities around the world.
The organization said McLeod was the first Canadian to come on board.
That same year, she launched the Mindful Project, developed in tandem with Bethel University professor Rachel Lindvall. The goal is to help focus more on positive thoughts while moving past negative ones.
Away from soccer, McLeod is also an artist, musician and entrepreneur. In September, she designed a clothing line called "The Futures Collection" in collaboration with the Orlando Pride.
A portion of the proceeds were donated to the Zebra Coalition, an Orlando-based non-profit that aids LGBTQ youth facing homelessness, bullying and other challenges.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press