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An Ode to Diana Matheson

Diana Matheson has retired from soccer.

In her post on social media, she promised that this isn’t the end of her soccer journey, simply a time when her body is telling her to hang up her boots. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing for somebody in their mid-30s to say. Soccer is not easy on the body. For a midfielder who was as active as she was when she was playing her best, it is a wonder she was able to play as long as she did.

This is not going to be a piece about her goals or her stats over the nearly 20 years she played for Canada. I’m sure over the coming days and weeks someone will write about her greatest goals or best on-field moments.

This is a piece thanking her for being part of a generation of players who changed the way so many of us thought of women’s soccer. For taking part in one of the truly great women’s soccer rivalries and grinning through it.

For a lot of NWSL fans, this announcement is going to pass with little notice. Matheson hasn’t been a solid contributor to any team in terms of minutes or goals in several years. Her most effective time came in a Washington Spirit kit from 2013 to 2016. She still is the leader for the Washington Spirit in terms of goals scored, and she took part in some of the league's most memorable early moments. I would urge anyone who doesn’t remember her time on the team to go to YouTube and find clips because they truly are a wonder to watch.

For those of us with a certain longevity with both the NWSL and international soccer, this is a sad moment. This marks another brick in the wall of retirements of players who taught us to love the game. It marks another line being crossed in which one of--and I admit my bias here as an American soccer fan--the greatest women’s soccer rivalries slowly fades from memory.

There are many new fans who don’t understand when some of us talk about our hatred for the Canadian WNT. These fans have known (nearly) all success from the U.S. in the last 12 years. It is hard to explain how different the U.S./Canada soccer rivalry was once upon a time. Whether the threat was real or imagined, any time the United States played Canada in what feels like a forgotten era, it felt like the Canadians might pull a victory out on a pass from Diana Matheson to Christine Sinclair (or Melissa Tancredi). There was a sense of danger when we played our neighbors to the north that can’t really be replicated in the year 2021 for the USWNT. The back line was weaker, the goalkeeping was better, the midfield play was dirtier and the forwards had a mutual respect and a mutual desire to make sure the other left in a bad mood.

Diana Matheson helped change international women’s soccer. Not by scoring the most goals or having the most assists, but by putting a level of advocacy for her teammates, professionalism in her own play and outright passion every time she stepped onto the field. I am going to miss seeing her giant grin as she tried to defuse a situation on the field. I’m going to miss watching her try to take the ball away from goalkeepers for a quick restart. And I am going to miss watching her be as tenacious on the field as anyone who came before and anyone who’s come after.

Women’s soccer pitches all over the world are losing a 5-foot giant today, but the sidelines and the boardroom are gaining an outright legend.