Whether it be during her time with the Iowa Hawkeyes, or with IBV (Vestmannaeyjar) in Iceland, or during her current stint with the SL Benfica powerhouse in Portugal, Sudbury native Cloe Lacasse has displayed, time and time again, the willingness to outwait defenders and keepers alike, all before calmly depositing the soccer ball into opposition nets.
Yet despite goals piling upon goals on her impressive resume on the pitch, nary came a sniff of interest at the national team level - until now.
Just a few weeks ago, the 27 year-old graduate of Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier received the long awaited phone call, informed by officials of Canada Soccer that she would be among the 26 women who are assembling in the United Kingdom for an 11 day training camp that will also include friendlies against both England and Wales.
The patience of Cloe Lacasse is finally being rewarded.
“You put in the work for so many years, there comes a point where you wonder if you are ever going to get the call,” said Lacasse on Friday, just a day before leaving Lisbon for Britain. “I didn’t want that to bring me down as a football player because I know my worth, I know what I am capable of.”
“I just need to be given the chance.”
That is a theme that has followed the gifted Sudbury Canadians goal scorer around for a while now. Even as she earned NCAA accolades (the four-time Hawkeyes Offensive MVP would finish her career tied for the program lead in points and shots, sliding into second in goals, game-winning goals and assists), it wasn’t as though doors were being opened around every corner.
“Iceland was the best opportunity that I received to play professionally in Europe, so I jumped on that chance,” she said. No regrets there. In hindsight, the four years spent in the nordic wonderland proved to be a near ideal next step in her development as a premier footballer.
“At the time, we had English coaches there (in Iceland), and the English game has always emphasized strategy and technical ability,” said Lacasse. “I was lucky to be surrounded by that staff because they were able to develop my game in the direction that I wanted to go. Iceland helped me get to where I am today.”
In the summer of 2019, however, it was time for a move. Sure, the warmer climate of Portugal was alluring - but this key step forward was about so much more than the weather.
“When I agreed to come to Benfica, I knew that I was going to be competing with world class athletes,” noted Lacasse. “Basically all of my teammates are on either the Portuguese national team or the Brazilian national team. I believe that when you’re being challenged daily by people that are very successful, it makes you elevate.”
“I definitely feel that helped my game; I’ve gained a lot of confidence from that.”
And, as is so often the case, individual success fuels team success which fuels more individual success in return.
For Lacasse and the Benfica lot, winning their league championship would lead to one more setting where their talents would be on display, for one and all to see.
“When we qualified for the (UEFA) Champions League last year, that put us on a more global stage,” she said. “But I think a lot of people anticipated that Benfica would be eliminated, first shot.”
Not only would Benfica upend P.A.O.K. Thessaloniki from Greece in the opening round (3-1), but Lacasse would net the game-winning goal. Two weeks later, they would edge RSC Anderlecht from Belgium, 2-1. “That’s a renown club in the Champions league with a rich history,” explained Lacasse.
“It’s essentially the Belgian national team on this club team, so we surprised even more people by beating them.”
A subsequent loss at the hands of Chelsea, one of four teams still vying for the Champions League championship, did little to take the lustre off the performance of the local star and her team. “We lost - but individually, I played a strong game against a pretty amazing opponent,” said Lacasse. “I think that convinced them (Canada Soccer officials) that I could compete with other high end players.”
Dating back to her high-school days in Sudbury, when she would team with the likes of Karolyne Blain, Nathalie St Laurent and Stefanie Vallee to lead the ESMC Pantheres to back to back OFSAA gold medal victories, the offensive wizardry of Lacasse was clear to see.
“I think what makes me successful, as an attacker, is my ability one on one, making dynamic runs, explosive runs past the back line,” she said. “But it’s not just that. A lot of attackers don’t have a sense of defensive work. I’m someone who is very reactive, so once the ball is lost, I have a very quick reaction to those situations, which is really helpful, especially if it’s a quick counter attack.”
And then there is her ability to thrive in crowded areas, an athletic foundation that was built as she excelled very early in tae-kwon-do, the sport that provided my very first interview with the then grade six student at Ecole Publique Franco-Nord back in 2005.
“A lot of attackers don’t like to be touched,” said Lacasse with a smile. “But tae-kwon-do always helped me in terms of my balance and strength. There are so many moves in soccer that are similar to tae-kwon-do. A roundhouse kick in TDK is a half-volley in soccer - but instead of it being a human being you are kicking, you are striking a soccer ball.”
Now comes the time to bring it all together, everything that she has learned via a lifetime of sport and soccer. “I was talking to my family about this as well,” she suggested. “I want to go in there with a very clear mind and do what has made me successful throughout the years. You don’t want to try and impress people by doing skills that you’ve never done.”
Regardless, and more than anything else, it’s the chance to simply give the best of herself, in the right setting, and hope that this is enough that most excites Lacasse. In doing so, she will have rewarded in spades all those who have stood behind her. “What kept me hopeful were coaches that I kept in contact with since my time with the provincial team, even university coaches,” she said.
“Those people have really helped me along the way, giving me advice, but also keeping that connection open with the Canadian national team. Now, I’m just really thankful for this opportunity.”
An opportunity that likely tested her patience, just a little.