By: Keith Raad – Asst. Sports Editor
For 146 minutes, junior forward Ashley Campbell represented her family and friends, Holy Trinity High School, Bradford, Ontario, Newmarket United Soccer Club, the University of Dayton and the country of Canada.
As a starter in the Canadian Team’s second game of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup played in Montreal and running Aug. 5-24, Campbell walked out onto the lush, green field and stood with her 10 teammates. Under the lights of Toronto’s National Soccer Stadium, Campbell stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her countrywomen staring out into the colorful crowd of 16,503.
As “Oh, Canada” poured over her from the speakers above, Campbell was hit with a tidal wave of emotions when she realized what she was doing.
“As we were all singing, there were parts in the song where I was just thinking to myself, two years ago I never thought I would ever be standing here representing my country,” Campbell said. “It just overwhelms you. You think back to when you were a kid starting to play soccer and all of the things you’ve gone through to make it this far. After all of the hard work and sacrifices you’ve made, the emotions all come at once.”
With the help of the 20-year-old mid-fielder, playing in the second of four games for the national team, Canada would win the match 3-2 over Finland. Canada won the next match, 1-0 against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but a 1-0 German win knocked Campbell and the Canadians out of the elimination round.
Campbell’s ties to her country’s national team began after her freshman season with Dayton when Campbell was offered to attend Canadian National Soccer camps. Her performance at camp, as well as her stellar sophomore season in which she was named Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year and First Team All-Atlantic 10, secured a spot for her on the national stage.
“[Canadian National Soccer] said, ‘we’ve tracked you and we’ve followed your progress at Dayton and we would really like to see what you can do for us,’” Campbell said. “Honestly, I was shocked. It was a surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I was just really happy and really honored.”
Preparing for the national spotlight, Campbell and her countrywomen practiced and trained for 18 months. With the pace of play a few steps ahead of NCAA Division I Soccer, Campbell was able to mesh well with her new team because of the well-developed Canadian program.
“The Canadian Soccer Association [taught] all of the teams to play the same starting at a young age,” Campbell said. “So when you make it to the senior level, you already have that under your belt. It wasn’t hard to mesh with them. We had great chemistry even from the beginning. They teach how to play the same formations the same way.”
On her own country’s soil, Campbell’s family-fan club was able to attend most of the games. While her parents supported her throughout the tournament, her extended family in Ottawa was able to see her play in Montreal. Only a two-hour drive, her aunts and uncles made the trip from Ottawa to the Olympic Stadium to watch Campbell and the national team defeat Korea DPR 1-0 in the team’s third tournament game. She was called on the field in the 83’ to help defend a late surge and secure the win.
The experience on the national stage will help to slow things down when she returns to Baujan Field in the fall season, Campbell said. Her skill set has increased on both the individual and team level.
“Not only do I have a better sense on the field, as far as thinking quicker and making decisions faster, but I think I’ll be able to help out the team as well,” Campbell said. “If it’s giving advice at half-time or things that I see that I’ve experienced I know I can help my team exploit the other team in a certain way.”
Named to the TopDrawerSoccer Preseason Top 100 list as No. 56, Campbell has grabbed the eyes and attention from the soccer world in the United States.
But for 146 unforgettable minutes, she stole the eyes of Canada.