When the referee blew the final whistle on the careers of three Canadian women’s soccer icons, the message from Melissa Tancredi, Rhian Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault was clear — the torch is yours to carry from this point forward.
Canada picked a 3-2 victory over Mexico with two goal from Janine Beckie and another from Deanne Rose in an international friendly on Saturday that celebrated the national team’s back-to-back Olympic bronze medals and also marked the end of the road for a trio that played 377 times for their country.
“They mean everything, they give everything,” Canadian head coach John Herdman said of Tancredi, Wilkinson and Nault. “Their whole adult life has been spent with this team. They don’t know anything different … and you only have to go into our locker-room to start to realize what they mean to each other.
“Each one of them has got something in their identity that Canadians can relate to, whether it’s the grit of Tancredi, the altruisticness [sic] of Marie-Eve or just that ‘true north’ of Rhian.”
All three players were joined by family members on the pitch for a ceremony following the game, with Tancredi’s grandparents surprising her after flying in from Ontario.
“So many emotions, but the first thing is proud that I’ve been able to call these three individuals teammates and friends,” said Canadian captain Christine Sinclair. “We’ve literally taken on the world together and shared heartbreaks and had our dreams come true in Olympic Games.
“It’s been quite the ride.”
The 35-year-old Tancredi, a powerful striker who scored 27 goals in 125 appearances, started on the bench before coming on as substitute in the 76th minute with Canada clinging to a 3-2 lead.
A member of the national team since 2004, Tancredi scored twice in Canada’s famous 2-1 victory over Germany in Brazil, the country’s first-ever win against the European powerhouse.
“It’s a bit overwhelming,” said Tancredi, who had tears in her eyes after Saturday’s game. “It was going to be an emotional day.”
A standout defender throughout her career, Wilkinson also started the game on the bench, but came on in the 57th minute to win her 181st cap. The 34-year-old made her debut for Canada in 2003.
Nault, meanwhile, started against Mexico for her 71st appearance. The 34-year-old didn’t play in Rio, but was an integral part at the 2012 Olympics after two defenders ahead of her on the depth chart were felled by injuries.
“We talked today about some of the things those women have stood for, and those things can’t leave our team,” said Herdman. “Someone in that room has to be ready to take on that sort of responsibility or we won’t see a podium again. It doesn’t matter how good the players are, how technically gifted they are.
“If they don’t have that spirit, that heart, if they don’t have the values and attitude that these women have, this team goes nowhere. This team has been built on their foundations.”
Janine Beckie scored twice in the first half, while Deanne Rose had the other goal for Canada. Nancy Antonio and Kaitlyn Johnson replied for the visitors.
Players from the 2016 bronze-medal winning Canadian squad were honoured before kickoff, while members of the 2012 team were given a rousing ovation at halftime.
Canada, ranked No. 4 in the world by FIFA, set a new women’s national team record in 2016 with 15 wins in a calendar year.
“One of goals is to leave soccer in Canada in a better place than when we joined the team,” said Sinclair, who is 33. “The young ones coming through, you can see we’ve done that. We have 15 and 16 year olds with us that literally started playing soccer because of Rhian, Tanc and Nault.
“Their legacy lives on.”