MORGANTOWN – Just to be clear, Nikki Izzo-Brown hasn’t lost her mind from one too many headers on the soccer pitch. West Virginia’s women’s soccer coach is eager to go on the record with a statement she truly believes.
“Kadeisha Buchanan,” Izzo-Brown said, “could be one of the best center backs to ever play the game throughout the world.”
As that sinks in, consider all of this: Buchanan is about to begin her sophomore season at WVU. She was first-team all-Big 12, the defensive player of the year and the freshman of the year in 2013. She’s also Canadian. Buchanan and classmate Ashley Lawrence both represent the Mountaineers on the Canadian national team.
The World Cup starts today, and soccer’s premier event can whip up all sorts of excitement about what it might mean for men’s college soccer or a boost in the sport’s popularity in the United States. Izzo-Brown’s program stands to experience an even larger and more immediate bump from the coming attractions in women’s international soccer.
The under-20 World Cup is in August. The regular World Cup is next summer. Both are in Canada and WVU has relied a whole lot on Canada as it’s become one of college’s premier programs.
“When you go to Canada, you see how multicultural it is up there when you know we’re so young and underdeveloped here in soccer, though that’s starting to catch up,” Izzo-Brown said. “But they have kids coming from all different countries to Canada who have 100 percent fully put their focus into soccer because that was the sport from their original countries.”
Canada’s Immigration Act in 1976 eased immigration regulations and started to invite more outsiders inside the borders. Many newcomers flocked to popular cities and populations swelled. Soccer’s national sport is lacrosse and its obsession is hockey, so soccer, a game like the other two that requires similar skills, appealed to many.
Buchanan, who scored against the United States in May, and Lawrence, who had four goals and four assists as a freshman, are both originally from Jamaica. Former defender Caroline Szwed came to WVU from Canada, but her family was from Poland.
Szwed started every match in the under-17 World Cup in 2008, started the first 67 WVU matches she played in and was the team MVP in 2011 before a serious knee injury ended her career. Defender Bry McCarthy played for the national team.
Deana Everrett had 102 points (39 goals, 24 assists) in 84 matches and was an all-Big East and all-America player her final two seasons. Amanda Cicchini was a valuable midfielder who started 86 matches in her career and had 10 goals and nine assists on the way to variety of all-conference and all-America honors.
Forward Amadine Pierre-Louis, who redshirted as a true freshman in 2013, was a finalist for the under-17 player of the year award. Incoming freshman midfielder Carla Portillo has trained on the under-20 team with the other three.
The pipeline to the north continues to produce and continues to make sense for Izzo-Brown, but the feeling is mutual. Her program has made 14 straight NCAA Tournaments and has won four straight conference championships.
“We have kids in the U.S. who have a longer drive home than it would be from here to Ontario,” said Izzo-Brown, an all-American herself near the border at the University of Rochester (N.Y.). “For me coming from upstate, that’s important for me not only understanding the dynamics of good soccer (in Canada), but that location makes sense, too. So we started to get into the Ontario area because it’s a six-hour drive for the kids. We’ve got kids from San Diego and Texas and it takes them two days to get here.”
Lawrence, Buchanan, Portillo, Cicchini, Everrett, Szwed and McCarthy are all from Ontario. Pierre-Louis is from Montreal. Michaela-Batya Abam, a prized recruit considered among the top defensive recruits in America, plays for the U.S. under-17 team. She’s from Houston, which is three times as far from WVU than the hometowns are for those Canadians.
Skill and development matters, too, though. The Canadian national team is ranked No. 7 and has come a long way after the sixth-ranked Canadians lost all three of their matches in the 2011 World Cup and changed coaches. New coach John Herdman promptly led Canada to a gold medal in the 2011 Pan Am Games and then a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics.
Pierre-Louis, Buchanan and Lawrence are training with the under-20 team and competed in closed-door friendlies against the Korea Republic this week. Herdman included Lawrence and Buchanan on his roster Tuesday for a full national team friendly June 18 against Germany. Izzo-Brown believes both will make the national team for the World Cup next summer.
“Obviously, for the reputation of the university itself, that would be huge,” Izzo-Brown said. “For sure it’s important for recruiting purposes, too, to show how they’ve developed and what kind of impact they have.
“Kadeisha literally got off a plane from West Virginia, went into the friendly against the U.S. and scored. That showed what her development has been like at West Virginia, so it’s huge for us for recruits to come in and look at Kadeisha and Ashley and see two kids playing on the biggest stage right now who get to develop at the highest level.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.