Almost every great athlete would love to play for their country one day. But very few actually live out that dream, especially when the national roster they’re trying to crack is filled with reigning Olympic champions.
Ottawa’s Clarissa Larisey always hoped she might someday get the call to play for Canada’s National Women’s soccer team. But when that phone call finally came back in August, she ignored it.
“It was one of the best phone calls of my life,” Larisey remembers. “I was speaking on the phone with my grandmother when I received a call from an unknown number. I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t answer it. A couple of minutes later, Coach Bev (Team Canada coach Bev Priestman) texted me, saying it was her and to give her a call back.
“I was in shock. I had been dreaming of the day the national team was going to call me and the day they did, I didn’t answer…good thing she texted me! I called her back immediately and she invited me to join her and the team in the next camp, which was in Australia.”
Larisey had to share the news immediately. The first people she called were her parents, Marc and Dalal, and her older sister, Helena.
They all picked up right away.
“They’re my biggest supporters and have been on this journey with me since day one,” Larisey said. “Then I had to call my cousin, Tony Mikhael, who plays in the CPL (Canadian Premier League) because we played soccer together our whole lives and share a love for the sport and our country. They were all excited and incredibly happy for me.”
Larisey has been an elite player at every level. Gifted with incredible acceleration and scoring touch, the 23-year-old striker played her minor soccer with Goulbourn, West Ottawa, and Ottawa South United. Playing at the provincial level (OYSL), she led the league in goal scoring from 2014-16 and a number of NCAA programs recruited her while attending Sacred Heart High School in Stittsville.
Larisey eventually decided on the University of Memphis, where she debuted in 2017 as a freshman, and went on to become the 6th best scorer in the school’s history (34 goals). In 2019, the young Canadian was an NCAA All-American.
After the 2020-21 campaign, her fourth and final season at Memphis, and still a few months before graduation, the professional ranks came calling with an opportunity to play in Iceland. Having been overlooked in January at the 2021 National Women’s Soccer League Draft, Larisey jumped at this new opportunity. She finished her school online, jumped on a plane to Reykjavik and suited up for Valur FC. Her new club went on to claim the 2021 Icelandic championship a few months later.
That experience immediately paved Larisey’s road to Scotland, where she’s now a top scorer for Celtic FC and had 8 goals in the club’s first five matches
– all victories.
Despite all her accomplishments so far, she didn’t know what to expect when she joined Team Canada for her first camp in August.
“Going into my first camp, I had zero expectations in terms of playing time,” Larisey said. “Considering it was my first time playing with the national team, I just wanted to make sure to have great practices and enjoy the moment. Whether I had playing time or not, I was incredibly thankful to be able to learn from the best. It was truly an honour.”
But in the September 3rd match in Australia, Larisey not only made her Team Canada debut, earning her first international cap, she also got a healthy amount of playing time in the second half – around 20 minutes’ worth. She even had a great scoring chance from the top of the box but the Australian keeper made a fine save on a ball that looked for a moment like it was headed for the back of the net.
“I was shocked and so nervous when they told me I was going in,” Larisey said. “The players and the coaches were very supportive and encouraging. They told me to have fun and just do what I do. We were up by one goal so it was a matter of scoring, when possible, but mostly to defend and/or keep the ball. But it went well. I have never played for so many people before so that was a new experience for me.”
On October 6th, Larisey was called on again for Canada in an international friendly against Argentina in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain. Up 1-0, Larisey subbed in and helped put the match to bed in the 87th minute, with a fierce sprint down the right wing and an excellent cross that led to an easy tap-in for Cloe Lacasse and a 2-0 Canada victory.
One week later in Morocco, on her mom’s birthday, Larisey scored her first for Canada in a 4-0 victory. It was a beauty, as Larisey used her trademark acceleration to blow past the defender, catching up to a clever through ball from Evelyne Viens and burying her own rebound from one knee. Delighted, she bounced up and down, arms in the air, as happy teammates ran in with congratulatory hugs.
“It feels amazing,”
Larisey said. “I mean, this whole week has been hard work. We’ve been put in the heat and all that and we’ve thrived. We worked really hard and (scoring my first) goal was just a plus.”
While Larisey is still developing, she significantly upgrades Canada’s speed up front, and speed is a weapon that can’t be taught.
Priestman has definitely taken notice of the young Ottawa striker, and mentioned her by name after the match.
“There were some outstanding performances I got to see from players coming in,” Priestman said. “Like Sophie Schmidt, Clarissa, Simi (Awujo). There’s some really exciting talent coming through. It makes my job harder… But we know to win a World Cup you need 23 players. It’s going to be difficult finding out who those 23 are.”
There are several more international camps before the next World Cup (July-August 2023) and Larisey is sure to get more calls from Team Canada.
And yes, she now answers on the first ring.
By Steve Warne