Since 2003, Kelly Parker has played 1,034 minutes of soccer with Canada’s women’s national team. But the most important minutes of play came during her trip to Germany for the World Cup.
The midfielder, who grew up in Saskatoon, once wondered if she would ever get the chance to play on the world’s biggest soccer stage.
The lifetime dream of wearing the red and white at a World Cup came to fruition this summer after years of doubt. Despite not winning a single match at the tournament, the experience of running onto the pitch in front of an international audience is something Parker will never forget.
“It’s a matter of watching the tournament as a kid and believing you could get there,” she said. “I never stopped thinking I could achieve my goal of playing in the World Cup, it was just a matter of getting the opportunity.”
Sitting in the stands watching every moment was Parker’s mom.
“She’s 71 and it was her first flight across seas,” she said. “I think it was as much of a dream come true for her as it was me.”
Parker’s soccer career got serious when she attended the University of Texas at El Paso, helping the team to a then school-record 16 wins in 2002, while leading the nation in assists. When she was still at school in Texas, Parker joined the Ottawa Fury of the W-League, a North American soccer league recognized as a main women’s development organization. She is the only player in league history to have won the MVP award twice.
After playing for FC Indian in 2008 and the W-League champions, Buffalo Flash, in 2010, Parker joined SC Freiburg in Germany for the second half of the 2010 season. She says the skill level of soccer is very high.
“It’s almost a matter of having to do extraordinarily well to get noticed because you’re from Saskatchewan,” Parker said. “The quality of the league over there is amazing.”
Currently, Parker finds herself playing on the Atlanta Beat in the WPS league and is surrounded by US team members who are hoping for a World Cup championship. Parker thinks the Americans will win it all.
“I think Japan plays great soccer, but I’m not sure they can compete with the US speed and dominance,” she said. “The US just has a way of getting the job done.”
There were humble beginnings for Parker, says one of her first ever coaches, Tom LaPointe. The University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s soccer coach remembers how the prairie standout was discovered.
“When Kelly first started playing soccer, believe it or not, she was recruited off the playground,” he said. “You could tell right away she was something special.”
LaPointe first got his chance to teach Parker about the game in an Under-12 division league in the city and continued to coach her throughout most of her youth soccer career. There was something about the way Parker played the game LaPointe says sets her apart.
“Whenever we needed a goal, that was one thing we could count on her to do for the team,” LaPointe said.
He also says there were times she took over the game.
“I always chuckled on the sidelines because she would take people on and try and beat them one-on-one,” LaPointe said. “All these parents would be screaming at her to pass the ball.”
As Parker’s remarkable career continues climb, LaPointe is making sure not take too much credit for her success.
“It’s just been a real pleasure to watch her grow into the player she is today,” he said. “There’s lots of great players who have the same ability as Kelly, but to get it to that next stage is a huge testament to her mental strength.”
“It’s kind of a surreal moment when you get to step out onto the field,” Parker said. “It’s so much bigger than you think.” - Kelly Parker