Orlando Pride centerback Shelina Zadorsky’s journey to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup wasn’t perfect.
She made her debut for Canada’s senior women’s national team in 2013 when she was 20 years old. She played in one match, a 3-1 loss to South Korea, then spent two years away from the national team. She was called in again in 2015, but that was after the 2015 World Cup in Canada was already over.
“It was a lot of learning and growth and playing abroad and then playing here in the NWSL, I think I’ve grown a lot as a player and as a person,” she said. “I’ve had my eyes set on this.”
She added, “I think, at a point, I still loved the game and knew I wanted to, I guess, keep striving for my potential. I never felt like I wanted to stop. I think, obviously, there’s highs and lows and struggles and whatnot, but I think there was always that fire inside me to keep going.”
That persistence was rewarded. Zadorsky was part of the 2016 bronze-medal squad for Canada at the Olympics in Brazil and has been a staple for Canada ever since. She’s been capped 52 times.
“I’ve been able to get a lot of caps leading into this World Cup and I’m just really excited,” she said.
She spent time counting down the days until her first World Cup appearance months in advance.
“Every time we go into camp with the national team, it’s just like the countdown is kind of crazy, right?” Zadorsky said. “Knowing it’s right around the corner is so exciting.”
Zadorsky said she leaned on her mother, Mary, during that two-year time away from Canada’s women’s national team. Before she landed with Washington Spirit in 2016, she played for Swedish side Vittsjö GIK and Perth Glory Women of the Australian W-League. The combination of support from her family and overseas minutes paid dividends.
“My mom is definitely my rock,” she said. “I’m so close with her and she’s been there every step of the way. And, of course, family and what not. I think I was really fortunate to work with great coaches. Coaches who believed in me and signed me abroad. I had a great time in Sweden and Australia, as well.
“That led to me getting the opportunity again with Canada. Them just seeing me still striving abroad and getting minutes abroad, I think that was big for me.”
There was a balance she needed to strike while she was still in Orlando. Zadorsky was the Pride’s starting centerback while she was with the team.
Pride coach Marc Skinner said Pride supporters are only beginning to see what Zadorsky, who was acquired by the Pride ahead of the 2018 season, can do. Orlando sent the Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe and the team’s natural first-round pick in the 2019 NWSL Draft for Zadorsky.
“I think there’s so much more to unlock with Shelina,” Skinner said. “There’s a consistency that I’ve seen in some games where she’s so hard to play against. She’s so confident in the moment. So aggressive. If you watch her for the national team alongside Kadeisha Buchanan, they both form a really strong partnership and Canada don’t really concede many goals because of that.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Shelina. I think when she comes back and when we have time to work with her … she’s young enough, she’s football-intelligent, but now I want to see the aggression.”
Fellow defender Toni Pressley said Zadorsky is solid every time she steps on the pitch.
“She’s such a wonderful personality and a positive person to have anywhere close to you,” Pressley said. “I’m just excited for her. She’s going to do well. She’s a leader. She is going to be great on that Canadian back line.”
Pressley added Zadorsky has an unsung hero role as a centerback.
“I think she’s smart and I think she reads the game well,” Pressley said. “Those are the kinds of things that do go unnoticed, but they do help in the long run.”
Canada begins its World Cup run with a match against Cameroon in Group E at 3 p.m. on June 10 at Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier. The Netherlands and New Zealand are also in Canada’s group.
“I just love international matches,” Zadorsky said. “I think it’s so fun playing other countries and different styles and the caliber of players around the globe, I think, is awesome to see in women’s football. You know, coming off a win against England right in Manchester, games like that, you’ll remember for your whole career.
“Being able to play the best of other countries is such a great opportunity. And then of course, the relationships I have with a lot of my teammates, that’s really special as well. Just working as a team is something really meaningful to me.”