Olympic soccer hero Julia Grosso a rising star after whirlwind 12 months

You can hardly blame Canadian women’s team midfielder Julia Grosso if her head is still spinning after a whirlwind 12 months. 

It was Grosso who scored the winning goal in Canada’s dramatic penalty shootout win over Sweden that sealed a historic gold medal for the Canadians at last summer’s Olympics. 

The Vancouver native was still playing NCAA soccer at the University of Texas at the time, but her exemplary performances in Tokyo caught the attention of Juventus. She made the jump from the collegiate to the pro ranks last December when the famous Italian outfit signed her to a short-term deal. 

The Canadian midfielder played a role in helping the Turin-based club win an Italian league championship, while also making her debut in the UEFA Champions League as Juventus reached the quarter-finals. Juventus was so impressed with Grosso that they signed her to a contract extension through to the end of the 2024 season. 

Now the 21-year-old is set to play a key role for Canada in the upcoming CONCACAF Women’s Championship, which serves as the qualifying competition for the 2023 FIFA World Cup. The top four teams will clinch a World Cup berth, while the winner of the tournament, which runs from July 5-18 in Mexico, will also qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. The second- and third-place teams will meet at a later date in a playoff to determine the other CONCACAF qualifier for the Olympics.

l Triple qualification on the line for Canada at CONCACAF W Championship:

CanWNT heading to Mexico for World Cup 2023, Paris 2024 and Gold Cup 2024 qualification

Canada’s national women’s soccer team is heading to Monterrey, Mexico for the CONCACAF W Championship. If they win, they secure qualification to three major tournaments stretching to the summer of 2024.

Rising star

Grosso’s star has been on the rise ever since he made her national team debut as a 17-year-old in 2017 under former coach John Herdman. Since then, the industrious central midfielder has been a mainstay in the Canadian team, including making an appearance off the bench in a 0-0 draw against South Korea last Sunday in Toronto. 

But of her 37 caps for her country, only 12 have been as a starter. Blocking her path to the starting 11 has been veteran Desiree Scott, a long-time servant to the Canadian national team with 176 appearances to her credit. Scott is nicknamed ‘The Destroyer’ on account of the indomitable spirit she displays in breaking up opponents’ attacks on the pitch. At age 34, Scott is at the tail end of her career, and once she decides to call it quits, Grosso will be waiting in the wings to take over.

Scott’s eventual retirement will leave Canada a very large hole to fill in central midfield. But even two years ago, when Grosso was still cutting her teeth with the national team and playing NCAA soccer, Canadian captain Christine Sinclair predicted big things for the Vancouver native. 

“Julia can do whatever she wants in this game, she’s that talented. She has an excellent role model to look up to in Desiree Scott, to learn from and absorb as much as she can. I fully believe [Desiree] is the best holding midfielder in the game and one day I’m sure Julia will fill her shoes. She has a long future with this team,” Sinclair said during the 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic qualifying championship.

‘Great vision of the game’

Grosso’s game isn’t flashy by any stretch of the imagination, as she often flies under the radar. But every team needs a holding midfielder like her who can retain possession, and effectively distribute the ball and link up with attacking players. 

It’s not all grunt work with Grosso, though. She effectively marries a physical style of play to other attributes that make her a vital creative cog in Canada’s midfield. 

“She’s got amazing technical ability, a strong left foot, great vision of the game,” veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt enthused. 

Grosso celebrates after scoring the winning goal during penalty kicks that sealed the Olympic gold medal for Canada at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

Taking the next step

All that being said, there is room for her game to advance and evolve. The transition from college to professional soccer has been relatively smooth for Grosso, especially as she’s had to adapt to a new language and culture in Italy. 

Canadian coach Bev Priestman has seen a measured growth in Grosso stemming from her short stint playing in the Italian topflight and in the UEFA Champions League. But with that comes more responsibility, and she’s challenged the young midfielder to become more aggressive and get more involved in Canada’s attack.

“What I need to see from Julia is the ability to play quicker, think quicker, and take more risks to play forward. I always felt when she came into [Canadian training] camps before from the NCAA that it would take her four days to catch up to the speed of the play. What my hope is with her being in a professional environment that it’ll continue to speed things up for her,” Priestman told CBC Sports. 

“Julia’s ceiling is so, so high — physically, tactically, technically. She’s a beautiful player on the ball. Now, it’s just that next step, to keep playing forward… I push her every time I work with her, to push forward and to take risks. She’s got that special ability to take risks and not to worry, because if we lose the ball, we’ll win it back. That’s what I want to see from her going forward.” 

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