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Riviere hopes injury issues are finally behind her

Canada Jayde Riviere - Getty Images

At just 23, Canadian defender Jayde Riviere appears to have the Midas touch.

She won Olympic gold in 2021, has played in two World Cups, and is coming off her first full season as a pro with Manchester United, where she helped the team win the FA Cup.

But despite all the highs, Riviere has spent most of the past year plagued by lows, going in and out of the lineup for both club and country with various injuries.

Riviere took the pitch for the Canadian women’s soccer team for the first time this year on Saturday, playing 57 minutes in a 2-0 win over Mexico in Montreal. Riviere and her teammates are now in Toronto for the second game of the Summer Send-off Series, the last matches before head coach Bev Priestman selects her roster for the Paris Olympics.

“I'm really excited to be back in with them and be reintegrated with the team,” Riviere told TSN prior to the start of camp. “I've had a great deal of unfortunate injuries… and I've learned that's obviously a part of the game. But I've been surrounded by good staff, good teammates that have helped me to heal.”

Riviere’s injury struggles began in the fall of 2022, when she elected to have hip surgery for a nagging issue, forgoing her senior year at Michigan University.

She then signed with Manchester United in January 2023, but was still recovering from surgery and didn’t play her first professional game until May 7. She represented Canada at last summer’s World Cup, starting all three games before the Canadians were eliminated in the group stage.

Although she missed more time in September and October, including Canada’s Olympic qualifiers against Jamaica, she returned to United in time for Champions League qualifying, and saw regular minutes for her club into January. Her stellar play earned her a nomination for the team’s player of the month in November.

But 2024 took her on a roller-coaster ride. She picked up a calf injury in a Women’s Super League (WSL) match in January that saw her miss nearly a month of action, including the CONCACAF W Gold Cup in February, where Canada lost in the semifinals.

Riviere returned to United for a pair of matches in March before what she described as a “freak accident.” She slipped, landing oddly on her hip, and ended up tearing her labrum.  The latest setback forced her to miss the SheBelieves Cup with Canada in April.

“I don't think I've ever had this amount of injuries in that span of time,” Riviere said. “It just felt like – right when I got back, right when I was hitting the ground running, and I felt great, and I was playing well, and I was confident, there was just something else that was added to it.”

Riviere admits the numerous hurdles led to her struggling mentally at times. She felt isolated rehabbing on her own in Manchester, separated from her family in Canada.

She attributes speaking to therapists who specialized in dealing with WSL athletes as a major factor in being able to navigate her mental storms.

“It's kind of funny speaking to a stranger about all these things you’re going through or feeling in the moment, but it's something that I really needed,” she said. “Going back to knowing that you can only control what you can control – I think that’s the highlight.”

Priestman – who has known Riviere since she was 14 and previously coached her on various Canadian youth teams – has seen the defender mature over the years.

“I've seen that mental development and she's definitely grown,” Priestman told TSN. “I feel like this particular recent injury, you could see those coping skills have developed. I don't think I got as frantic a response in terms of where she was at. She knew the process. She gets up every day. She works hard.”

Riviere was able to accelerate her rehab process in time to return to her club for the FA Cup final, where United beat Tottenham 4-0.

Despite only returning to the Manchester lineup the week prior to the final, where she played 32 minutes in a WSL match against Liverpool, Riviere found herself starting in the final at Wembley Stadium in front of 77,390 fans.

“That was something that mentally was a challenge for me, knowing that before that match, I only played about 30 minutes,” Riviere said. “To go from that to playing an FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium with 70,000 people was a big jump for me. It was definitely nerve-wracking, but I wanted to do anything that I could to make sure that those girls were able to lift that trophy.”

United had also made the FA Cup final in 2023, losing 1-0 to Chelsea. Riviere was with the team but was an unused sub during the match. Nonetheless, she cites that experience as a major source of motivation.

“I saw what it did, how it looked to the girls that came runners-up last season,” she said. “It definitely hurt for me because you don't want to lose. But obviously, it meant a lot more to those players that put their bodies on the line for those 90 minutes and came short.

“I wasn't necessarily playing it for me. I was playing it for those girls who came to Wembley last season with stars in their eyes and had that trophy taken away from them.”

While playing at Wembley was an unforgettable experience, for Riviere, nothing can beat stepping onto the pitch at Old Trafford.

“I've been a Manchester United fan for as long as I can remember. So, watching all those games, Old Trafford was the stadium that you wanted to be part of,” she said.

Injuries notwithstanding, Riviere’s first full season with United was a boon for the native of Pickering, Ont. Along with adding a trophy to her resume, she believes she developed exponentially in all aspects of the game.

“You can see the professionalism is through the roof. Everyone is there to get the job done, to bring trophies home for their club, and that's the primary reason that they show up,” she said.

“I found myself rapidly growing on the pitch, off the pitch, learning things about myself, what I like, what I don't, but very much just being a student of the of the game again, and really just learning more about my position and how I can potentially be one of the best right backs.”

When healthy, Riviere has been rewarded with some big minutes for her club. When asked about the early success she has enjoyed at United, Riviere simply calls it a blessing, but her national team coach is not surprised by the time on the pitch the youngster is seeing.

“You wouldn't want to go into a 1v1 battle against her. Against some of the quickest wingers in that league, she’s shown she'll stop every cross. She'll go to ground. She's lightning quick,” Priestman said.

“Jayde, when she's at her best, she's not overthinking. I always talk to her about the handbrake being off. That version of Jayde – I think I've seen that for United in some big moments.”

And despite her decorated resume, Riviere’s teammates believe this is only the beginning of her journey.

“I feel like Jayde is like my little sister… I'm just really proud of everything that she's been able to do and how she's grown through her career so far, and there's just so much more room,” Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan told TSN. “I think that's the most incredible thing for me – this is like the bottom level of Jayde. I think she just has so much more space, and we're going to see so much more of her in the future.”