Red Stars and Canadian Goalkeeper Will Retire At End of NWSL Season
By Sibyl Munoz
CHICAGO- Veteran goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc has decided that after 17 years playing at an international level, and 13 years playing professionally, it is time to hang up her gloves at the end of the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season. Although she announced her international retirement at the end of May, the goalkeeper has decided that the time is right to pursue other endeavors in life once the Red Stars finish their post season run in the NWSL.
“For the past 18 years, soccer has given me more than I could ever dream of, so it is with a heavy heart that I step away from the game I love so much,” said Leblanc. ”Having played in every professional league in North America from the WUSA and WPS to today’s NWSL, I have seen women’s soccer grow here and in Canada. It has been a tremendous honor to be a part of the wonderful organizations that brought women’s soccer to our fans. To have played alongside some of the greatest players, and people, while my job was to play in front of some really fabulous fans has been a dream come true.”
LeBlanc, also known as KK, is a two time Olympian, a two time gold medalist in the Pan American Games, an NWSL champion and has represented Canada in five FIFA Women’s World Cups. She won a bronze medal with Canada at the 2012 London Olympics. With so many accomplishments under her belt, LeBlanc felt that there was little left she could offer the sport, but so much she could do for other people in the world.
The goalkeeper was the first female soccer ambassador for UNICEF, and it was through working with the organization that she recognized her life had a greater calling than just playing soccer, “I realized that the difficulties in my life have happened so that I could help other people,” LeBlanc said. The goalkeeper actually spoke at the United Nations General Assembly in 2014, giving a talk about “Tapping into Your Greater Purpose”. She plans to continue to work as a UNICEF ambassador and doing speaking engagements, but the vivacious goalkeeper also hopes to work as a TV personality. She was an analyst for Fox Soccer during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and now has meetings planned with networks following the end of the NWSL season.
Red Stars General Manager Alyse LaHue has little doubt that LeBlanc will make an impact off the field, “In spite of her legendary career on the soccer pitch, one can’t help but get the feeling this is only the beginning of the impact Karina is going to make in her lifetime. Her ebullient personality and desire to do good in the world is something that countless are sure to benefit from even after she hangs up her keeper gloves. I’m grateful that she was a part of our club and left a lasting impression.”
The first thing most people mention when they speak about LeBlanc is her energy and her personality, “Karina is a force of nature. From the moment she set foot in Chicago she has fully embraced what we are trying to do. At the end of every game she is the last one signing and energetically thrilling the fans until the last fan leaves,” said Red Stars Owner Arnim Whisler. “What she does for UNICEF, for soccer, and in her personal interactions with folks leaves a lasting positive impression. Her leadership on and off the field will be missed.”
It is the charm and charisma of LeBlanc as well as her hard work ethic that makes her such an impactful person to be around, and it is why her teammates enjoy playing next to her. Though they are occasional international rivals, Chicago teammate Julie Johnston said she felt honored to have played beside the veteran. The defender spoke of the impact that LeBlanc had during her rookie season last year, “As a brand new player to this team, I could not have had a better mentor on and off the field. Her vivacious energy and charisma are contagious. She has the gift of helping others enjoy the game of soccer. As KK retires from this sport and the Red Stars, she leaves us as better players, teammates and people as well as elevating the love of the game for those who will take our place someday.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Canadian and Red Stars teammate Melissa Tancredi, “Karina has been a great ambassador for the women’s game and an amazing mentor to so many including myself. Karina is someone who brings an incredible level of passion to the field, always a professional and someone every young player should look up to.”
One young player who was directly influenced by LeBlanc is current Red Stars rookie Sofia Huerta. “I’m fortunate to have met someone like KK and I’ve been motivated and influenced by my time with her. KK knows when someone is having a rough day or if something is going on, and she always goes out of her way to help other players and myself,” Huerta said. “I’m sad but excited for her retirement because I know she’s got a lot to do, and a lot to give to this world.”
All of her teammates were sure that no matter where life takes her, LeBlanc will go far. Tancredi admitted that the goodbye would be bittersweet, but admitted that her teammate would flourish outside of soccer, “It’s extremely sad to see a teammate and one of my closest friends leave the game that we love and that ultimately brought us together, but I know Karina’s next chapter will be full of excitement and success. I know she will inspire so many in the next phase of her life.”
Julie Johnston also added that, “Whatever KK decides to do and wherever she chooses to go, she will continue to be an amazing ambassador of soccer. I’m so excited to see her continued success off the field.”
LeBlanc was sure to mention how grateful she was for the support she has been given throughout her career, “Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey: my family, friends and teammates, the fans, and every organization and team I’ve ever been a part of. Every one of you has made my dream bigger and better than I ever would have imagined,” Leblanc said, “And one last big thank you to the Chicago Red Stars organization, my Red Stars teammates, the city of Chicago, and our fans for making my last season one I’ll never forget.”
The Chicago Red Stars look to retain their second place standing and earn semifinal home advantage, when they host World Cup star Carli Lloyd and Houston Dash for their Fan Appreciation Night and last regular season game at Toyota Park in Bridgeview on Sunday, September 6 at 4 p.m. CDT. Tickets for all Red Stars matches may be purchased by clicking here or by calling 773-698-6001.