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Rose cements status on Canada’s backline

Canada soccer Jade Rose - Getty Images

Canadian defender Jade Rose was on the verge of a breakout year in 2023.

The 20-year-old was riding a wave of momentum with Canada’s women’s soccer team. In the fall of 2022, in just her third-ever appearance for the senior team, she shut down one of the world’s top forwards, Sam Kerr, in a 2-1 win in a friendly against Australia.

She started in the final three matches leading up to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She was a virtual lock to make the 23-player roster. Everything was coming up roses for Jade.

But just days before the roster announcement, a massive blow struck Rose and the national team. She was forced to withdraw due to injury.

“The World Cup being the tournament that any player aspires to play in… It was a massive disappointment. I don't think words can really describe that,” Rose told TSN.

Now, over six months after that setback, Rose has all but cemented herself as the future of Canada’s backline.

Since missing the World Cup, the native of Markham, Ont. has started in all but one of Canada’s matches, including the two Olympic qualifiers against Jamaica.

Rose is back with Canada for the inaugural CONCACAF W Gold Cup, a 12-team international tournament. The Canadians are in Group C and kicked off the tournament with a 6-0 win over El Salvador in Houston on Thursday.

It has been a seamless transition back into the fold for Rose, who credits the support of her teammates and Canada’s staff.

“Honestly, they're the reason why I think that I was able to recover so smoothly,” she said. “Not only are injuries upsetting and disappointing, but they can also easily knock a player's confidence on the field. To be able to pick up kind of where I left off before that World Cup was really reassuring for me.”

Rose is still not completely sure about the exact nature of her injury. “Mainly because I'm the type of player who would then be on Google and go down a rabbit hole,” she smiled.

But she does know some details. She had a third-degree tear in a tendon that attaches her hamstring to her sit bone. If she had pushed herself and kept playing, she was told she risked career-ending surgery.

“To be so close to the World Cup and to have an injury like that –  it's definitely just made me push harder on that pedal, to work harder on and off the field, to make sure that I'm in the best possible position,” she said.

After Canada’s early World Cup exit, where the team failed to make it out of the group stage for the first time since 2011, head coach Bev Priestman changed formations, opting to go with a three-player backline. Rose, who has experience playing as both a centre back and fullback, has been a mainstay of that trio, alongside Kadeisha Buchanan and Vanessa Gilles.

“I think it naturally unlocks her identity and her personality,” Priestman told TSN about Rose in the three-player backline. “Often when you play with three centre backs, you're stepping beyond the forward... She's not just passing a ball between two players. She can venture into spaces that I think she's very, very natural at venturing into.”

Carmelina Moscato, a former centre back with the Canadian national team and an analyst for TSN during last summer’s World Cup, believes Rose’s versatility is crucial for Canada’s success.

“I think her ability to play the fullback position, the centre back position, and the No. 6, was what Canada was missing at that World Cup,” Moscato told TSN. “And I think it’s a testament to her to say she’s versatile enough to almost shift a way a whole country’s play. They’re playing that 3-4-3 system, if you want to call it that, and that’s because of her, genuinely. A big part of that, anyway. Their ability to do that is contingent on Jade.”

There has been plenty of early success for Rose at the senior level. She recorded a memorable assist, her first career point with the senior team, in her breakout performance against Australia in 2022. In her 14 appearances for the senior team, 13 of them have been starts.

“I don't know if I necessarily expected myself to have the success that I'm currently having. To say like an ‘expectation’ is kind of a weird word,” she said. “I think that any committed and motivated athlete is aspiring to have the most amount of minutes.”

Rose, who has also won Canadian Youth Player of the Year three times since 2020, nonetheless recognizes that, despite a strong start to her international career, there are still many areas for her to grow.

“There is, I guess you could say, that realistic side of things that transitioning from the youth program to the women's team comes with a little bit of immaturity, just on the international stage,” she said. “In the past two years, getting the minutes that I've had, I've definitely grown in that area. I think that I definitely need to compete in a major tournament, and that's something that the Gold Cup provides.”

Priestman coached Rose at various youth levels before she took the reins of Canada’s senior team. Despite Rose’s relative inexperience, Priestman has noticed a comfort level from the defender that belies her age.

“When she's in this environment, she's just one of the players. She's not a younger player,” Priestman said.

The coach also points to the respect Rose has earned from veterans past and present.

“I'll talk to Christine Sinclair – absolutely loves Jade Rose for what she can be for this team moving forward,” Priestman said. “I think that speaks volumes.”

With the three-player backline formation, Rose is often given the freedom to push forward, to carry the ball into midfield and find space. Not only does this offer the opportunity to join the attack, but it shows off one of her key characteristics: composure on the ball.

“You wouldn't believe how old she is,” Priestman said. “People around her feel more calm and composed because of the way she can operate on a ball.”

But Rose doesn’t necessarily entirely agree with that assessment.

“A lot of people tell me that I look calm. I think that in my head, I'm a little less calm than I might look from an outsider,” she smiled.

Jokes aside, Rose believes that her experience in other positions has benefited her as a defender. Growing up, she mainly played as an attacking midfielder. When she was 14 and part of the provincial program, one of the team’s centre backs suffered an injury. Rose’s mom had advised her to play any position in order to maximize time on the pitch.

So, when the coach asked for volunteers to take the injured player’s place, Rose’s hand shot up.

She said she only played around five minutes in the position, but it was enough to make an impression on Joey Lombardi, who was the regional talent Excel director with Canada Soccer at the time.

“We saw someone who was very good two ways – good on the ball, but also very solid on the defensive part of the game,” Lombardi told TSN. “And she had the height, some of the physical profile pieces that we felt are important for a centre back.”

A short time later, Rose was brought into Canada’s under-15 camp, her first experience with the national youth program. Moscato, who had just retired from the national team, was part of the camp and worked closely with Rose.

“I think what made her really different and special was her demeanour,” Moscato said. “She was just an inquisitive, thoughtful, observant young professional.”

Moscato, a Canada Soccer Hall of Fame inductee, said Rose possessed many exceptional qualities that helped her transition to centre back, including her distribution, her aerial prowess, and her ability to disrupt play. But one intangible stood out for her.

“Her desire to get better,” Moscato said. “I think when you look at all the greats and all the players we’re talking about these days, there’s a growth mindset similarity. You basically cannot be successful in this modern day without it, and she still has it.”

The same year that Rose first made the transition to centre back, she was invited to the Canadian under-17 camp, and she hasn’t looked back.

Lombardi, who also coached Rose as part of Canada’s staff at the 2022 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, has continued to work with the defender. This past Christmas, while she was home for the holidays, Rose joined him for training sessions with a group of younger girls at the Ontario National Development Centre.

Lombardi sees strong leadership qualities in Rose, who also captained Canada’s under-20 team at the 2022 U-20 World Cup.

“She'll speak up when the group needs to hear the honest truth and she has the leadership and the clarity to communicate in those types of settings,” he said. “She's a self-sustaining player. You don't have to be on top of Jade. You just have to set the path and the program for her, and she'll do all the hard work.”

Priestman has been on the journey with Rose since her first youth camp, where the Englishwoman was head coach of the Canadian under-15 team. She’s had a first-hand look at Rose’s growth these past seven years.

“Jade is a very natural footballer, but highly intelligent. You sit down with her with a tactics board, and she could be coaching the team,” she said.

With her intellect, it’s no surprise that Rose is finishing her third year at Harvard University, where she is studying psychology with a minor in government. She earned numerous accolades in this past season with Harvard’s women’s team, including third-team Academic All-America honours and Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.

Rose said generally her course load is manageable. This semester, she has opted to take three classes so that she can prepare for the Olympics and devote more time to the pitch and to recovery. She attributes her ability to balance school and national team duties to a good relationship with her athletic director and professors.

“We kind of have a mutual understanding of my commitments to the national team and to my athletics. I've always been someone who wants to uphold both aspects of my life, and I think being able to have those close relationships has allowed me to do so,” she said.

There has been a lot of recent debate regarding the pathway for young players in women’s soccer, especially in North America, and whether it’s more beneficial for players to turn professional at a younger age rather than play in college.

Rose said she did have a “What if?” moment about turning pro when she was in high school, but ultimately college was a non-negotiable for her.

“From a very young age, it was instilled in me to go and get my education and to make sure that I have a degree to fall back on – God forbid, injuries, or just life in general,” she said. “I'm not saying that everyone has to go get their education, or everyone has to go pro. I think it's very much up to an individual.”

Rose has one more year with the Harvard Crimson. Beyond that, she says she’s unsure about what her professional career may entail and wants to keep her options open.

“Right now, I think just because I'm so far out, I don't necessarily know exactly where I want to end up,” she said. “I think also, the women's game is young in the sense that, year to year, leagues look very different… So, I'm trying to keep as many doors as open as possible for as long as possible until I have to make that decision.”