World Cup LeBlanc’s last hurrah

Maple Ridge keeper will retire after from international play following World Cup.

Maple Ridge's Karina LeBlanc will retire from international play following the 2015 World Cup staring June 6 in Edmonton.

Maple Ridge's Karina LeBlanc will retire from international play following the 2015 World Cup staring June 6 in Edmonton.

After 110 appearances donning the red-and-white Canadian women’s soccer jersey, Maple Ridge’s Karina LeBlanc has decided to retire from international play following the Women’s World Cup.

LeBlanc will suit up for her country for this last tournament, starting June 6 in Edmonton against China. The eighth-ranked host Canadians look to capture World Cup supremacy when the tournament concludes July 5 in Vancouver.

LeBlanc said ultimately the decision to play her final games in a Team Canada jersey was based on the chance to say goodbye, right where it all started.

“The chance to end my career on home soil, in front of friends and family, felt like the perfect way to end my international career,” said the 35-year-old goalkeeper. “It would be pretty special to look out into the crowd and see the faces of all those people who have supported me over the past 17 years.”

While her focus right now is preparing for the World Cup, she is looking forward to the opportunity to spend more time with family in Maple Ridge.

“I’ve never been able to visit for more than four days at a time since I started playing professionally,” she said. “So I’m really looking forward to having that chance of being around family more.”

LeBlanc said she had intended to let word out about her impending retirement via her Twitter account, but she was convinced by Canadian national team head coach John Herdman to go a different route. Instead, Herdman arranged for LeBlanc to go on national TV with Canada AM, and make her announcement with her teammates on hand.

“It was pretty special. The national team has been a part of my life for the past 17 years, so to be able to say goodbye with my teammates with me was incredible.”

The veteran goalkeeper is the longest serving player in Canadian women’s soccer, having made her debut in 1998. She has 110 national team appearances and 101 starts in goal. She has played in four World Cups, three Pan American Games and two Olympics. LeBlanc was part of the Canadian women’s team that won bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and that has been the highlight so far.

While the end of her international career is just on the horizon, LeBlanc will finish the season with the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.

She admitted it will be hard to take off the jersey for the last time.

“It’s been a big chunk of my life. It’s been an incredible journey and I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many wonderful people and making so many truly remarkable friends along the way. It will be tough, no question.”

One of her biggest accomplishments off the pitch is being named a Unicef ambassador, she said. Building on that work, once the soccer season comes to an end, she’s going to focus on a new initiative – the Karina LeBlanc Foundation, the goal being to continue helping the less fortunate around the globe.

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