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Island flavour to Canada’s U-17 women’s World Cup soccer squad

A proud uncle calls this particular soccer storyline “movielike.

A proud uncle calls this particular soccer storyline “movielike.”

Ashley Cathro of Victoria and Hannah Taylor are starters on the backline for undefeated Canada — 1-0-1 following the 1-1 draw against Germany on Monday — at the FIFA U-17 women’s World Cup in Jordan.

Cathro, an emerging defender on the national and international scene, got to the World Cup from the Prospect Lake association and Vancouver Island Wave rep program. She was named B.C. Soccer youth player of the year. The Claremont student was also an outstanding all-rounder in a number of sports.

Taylor, who scored the winning goal at 83 minutes in Canada’s 3-2 opening victory over Cameroon on Friday, is a dual citizen and got to the World Cup only through a lot of pressure and effort from Island connections. She may turn out to be the find of the tournament.

Taylor is from Edmonds, Washington, but her dad Greg was born in Canada. Her uncle, Moreno Stefani, is well known within Island soccer circles as a former player and now coach and manager.

“This story is unique because of how [Taylor] got on the Canadian team, let alone that she scored the winning goal in the opening game, or that she was named by the TV commentators [TSN] as the best Canadian player, along with goalkeeper Lysianne Proulx, in the draw against Germany,” said Stefani.

“The cool thing is it involved a persistent uncle and a few well-known Victoria soccer personnel. I loved that the lobbying of three prominent soccer Canadians, who are locals, helped in this process.”

The latter included 1986 World Cup player Ian Bridge, UVic Vikes coach Tracy David and former Canada U-17 assistant coach Neil Sedgwick.

Taylor was identified early by the U.S. program. The Canadian soccer establishment, however, originally didn’t seem interested in their recommendation that she get a look.

“It all fell on deaf ears at first, and we got no response,” said Stefani. “But I said we have to get her noticed by Canada and we have to keep trying.”

The situation often goes the other way. Sydney Leroux is a Surrey product and dual citizen who has won gold medals for the U.S. in the World Cup and Olympics.

“There was no way I was losing my niece to the U.S. program. I wanted us to have her. She is a special player. I have won championships and MVPs in my playing career [Stefani was goalkeeper for the UVic Vikes and Gorge FC], but this is the most satisfying moment of my soccer life.”

The Island lobbying pressure finally paid off and Taylor was included on the Canadian U-17 team tour of China in the spring. By now, the Canadian program must be thanking its lucky stars that there was a persistent group from the Island that believed in Taylor. She looks to be the real deal and one to watch as she eventually makes her way up to the Canadian senior World Cup and Olympic roster in the future.

Because of the family connection, Taylor has been a regular visitor to the Island while growing up, so Stefani especially wanted his niece to become tight with Cathro.

“I mentioned she should track [Cathro] down during training camp because she is from Victoria and they could be buddies,” said Stefani.

“As fate would have it, they not only have become good friends, but they are both starting side by side in the backline for Canada in the World Cup.”

Canada needs only a draw in the final pool game Friday against Venezuela (9 a.m. PT on TSN 1] to advance to the World Cup quarter-finals. Deanne Rose, a member of Canada’s Olympic bronze medal team from Rio 2016, scored Canada’s goal Friday against Germany.

“I am really proud of the girls. I think they fought right to the very end and showed that resilient Canadian gritty performance that we really thrive on in our country … we also showcased the future players of Canada and the brand of football that we are developing,” said Canada U-17 coach Bev Humphries-Priestman, in a statement.

And all with a little help from a persistent uncle.