Sports

LeBlanc, Team Canada, qualify for 2012 Olympics

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Maple Ridge’s Karina LeBlanc helped backstop Team Canada to a berth in the 2012 London Summer Olympics with a 3-1 win over Mexico at the CONCACAF women’s soccer qualifier tournament in Vancouver on Friday.

LeBlanc was in net for Canada as the national women’s team advanced to Sunday’s tournament final against the United States, ensuring them of a place at the Olympic games.

Burnaby’s Christine Sinclair opened the scoring for Canada before more than 22,000 fans at B.C. Place Stadium in the 15th minute. Just eight minutes later, Melissa Tancredi scored to put Canada ahead 2-0.

LeBlanc had to be sharp in net to deny Mexico on a number of occasions before midfielder Veronica Perez blasted a volley home to cut the deficit to 2-1 in the 67th minute. Canada had done well to scramble the incoming corner away, but Perez’s blast from just inside the 18-yard-box left LeBlanc with no chance on the play.

Sinclair restored Canada’s two-goal lead, however, as she scored her second goal of the game less than 10 minutes later to ensure the win for Canada.

Canada opened the CONCACAF tournament on Jan. 19 with a 6-0 win over Haiti, with LeBlanc registering the shutout in net.

Canada went on to beat Cuba two days later by a score of 2-0, before downing Costa Rica 5-1 on Jan. 23, again with LeBlanc in net.

Team Canada did not fare as well in the tournament final against the United States. With LeBlanc on the sidelines in favour of Erin McLeod, Team Canada lost 4-0, settling for second place at the tournament.

Team Canada’s 4-1 record and silver-medal effort at the tournament was a far cry from the team’s winless, first-round exit from last summer’s Women’s World Cup.

Since bringing on coach John Herdman, the team has steadily improved their fortunes.

“We’re just a team that will never give up,” Sinclair said after the win against Mexico. “It’s that something John’s brought to this program, just the fight. When we gave up that goal in the second half, I think we would have collapsed. We just kept going and kept battling and got the third goal that closed out the game.”

However, LeBlanc, Sinclair and many of their Team Canada teammates received troubling news on Monday, as the Women’s Professional Soccer league announced it would be canceling its 2012 season, leaving them without a club team.

The league is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with a former franchise owner.

“Making the decision to suspend the 2012 season was a difficult and painful one, but it is necessary to take the time to address curent isseus and solidify our business in order to provide appropriate support needed to achieve the League’s long-term goals,” WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan said in a press release.

LeBlanc played for the Washington DC-based magicJack franchise before the team folded, later joining Sky Blue FC of New Jersey.

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