Fleming ready to step up as Canada’s leader
If you didn’t know who Jessie Fleming was before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, she made sure her name was known by the end of the tournament.
In the Olympic semi-final match with the United States, Canadian captain Christine Sinclair infamously handed the ball off to the London, Ont., product to take the penalty kick and Fleming didn’t miss, beating American goalkeeper Adrianna Franch. Fleming’s goal would stand as the winner as Canada edged the United States 1-0 for their first win over the Americans since 2001.
Fleming wasn’t done there, as she stepped up once again in the 67th minute with a penalty shot that tied the gold medal game 1-1 with Sweden. She later scored the first goal in the penalty shoot-out as Canada won its first-ever gold medal in women’s soccer and first major championship for the program.
The accolades would continue for Fleming as she won the Canadian Player of the Year award in back-to-back years (2021-22), joining Sinclair and Charmaine Hooper as the only players to earn that honour.
In 2022-23, Fleming played in her third season in England with Chelsea, starting a career-high 14 games in her 20 appearances. She scored three goals with one assist. Just after the start of the campaign, she re-upped with Chelsea on a contract that takes her through 2025.
Alongside Canadian teammate Kadeisha Buchanan, they helped the club win its fourth straight league title and third consecutive FA Cup.
On March 12 after a big 1-0 win over Manchester United, Chelsea manager Emma Hayes had praise for Fleming’s play.
“She had a magnificent game, she really needed that,” said Hayes. “That performance will do her confidence the world of good as she prides herself on her defending.
“She has been working so hard to master the physicality of this league and I think that is a performance for all the hours that you put in on the training ground with coaches and for yourself. It was her birthday on Saturday and I said to her, ‘you really needed that game.’”
Canadian national team head coach Bev Priestman, who took over from Kenneth Heiner-Moller in October 2020 and helmed the team to Olympic gold, has also seen the growth from Fleming since she assumed control of the team.
“I’ve seen massive improvements in a short space of time,” said Priestman last April in an interview with TSN. “She said she wants to add more goals and be that No. 10 that does score more goals.”
Fleming had five goals in 17 appearances with Canada in 2022 and captained Canada at the Arnold Clark Cup against England in February 2022 with Sinclair away from the team.
Already heading to her third World Cup, Fleming will be the focal point as Canada looks to improve on their round of 16 exit in 2019. The 25-year-old was one of four players (Buchanan, Prince and Sinclair) to find the back of the net for Canada in 2019 and will be more heavily relied upon in Australia and New Zealand as Sinclair gets set to take on a different role and the likes of Janine Beckie and Desiree Scott absent for the tournament due to injuries.
Sinclair has long been the face of the national team but now that she’s 40 with the younger generation taking on big roles, the torch has been passed to Fleming, who made her senior team debut at age 15, a favourite to wear the captain’s armband on a consistent basis in the very near future.
“I think it’s very much Jessie Fleming's team,” said TSN soccer analyst Amy Walsh in a recent interview. “How Fleming goes, I think Canada goes.”