Sometimes the key to progress is to take one step back before taking two steps forward. Unlike most people, however, Josee Belanger has stepped back a good 100m. Normally fielded as a forward by 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup™ hosts Canada, the 29-year-old has been hugely impressive since the tournament began. Only, instead of trying to score goals, she has been thwarting them as a defender.
Repositioned by coach John Herdman due to a number of injuries at the back, Belanger feels just as comfortable at the base of Canada's formation as she does further upfield. "As a forward who plays out wide, I already had a lot of defensive duties," she explained to FIFA.com. "I had that experience of defending from one end of the pitch to the other. What's interesting as well is that I have a lot of pace. That helps if my positioning isn't perfect. I can 'cheat' a little thanks to my speed."
An honest judge of her own abilities, Belanger did not hesitate when Herdman initially came to her with the idea. "I smiled and said: 'That's great. I'm ready for the challenge.' I was kind of confident about it, but I also had a slight doubt in terms of whether I'd be able to do the job. I got a better idea in our preparation game against England, which let me see how I measured up. It was a good test.
*Leaving the door open
* So good, in fact, that the Quebec native was a veritable wall against English attacks, and also served up the assist for Sophie Schmidt to strike the only goal of the game. As a result, the experiment has continued, and Belanger is set for another stint in defence when Canada face Switzerland in the Round of 16. "Amazingly, I love playing in this position," she explained, surprised by the recent turn of events and now pondering a full-time switch. "I'm leaving the door open for the future, and we'll see if I get played at the back again. Whether you play as the last line of defence or the first line of attack, you feel a similar kind of responsibility. As a forward, you have to make the difference in front of goal, and you can't afford to make a mistake as a defender either. You feel that you have a real impact on the performance of the whole team."
Currently without a club, the former Laval Comets player has certainly been fully involved in Canada's run thus far, and she is thrilled to bring her influence to bear. Belanger has experienced both highs and lows in her international career, having been a key figure during qualifying for the 2011 Women's World Cup only to miss the trip to Germany through injury.
Despite that disappointment, she does not look back with any bitterness. "I'm someone who believes that life takes you where you need to go," she said. "When I missed that World Cup, which was a little bleaker for us than this one, I was able to recover from my injuries, both physical and psychological, and come back into an environment that was a lot more positive. Because of that, I'm feeling a lot more enthusiasm in this tournament. I'm back to my best level and playing with more maturity and a better understanding of the game. Life has a way of working itself out and it's brought me to the right place at the right time."
She was also in the right place at the right time when selected by a Quebec regional side at the age of 12, having previously played for her local team in Coaticook, the town where she was born. "I didn't even imagine back then that you could play professionally," said Belanger, who has also picked up a qualification in Kinesiology, the science of human movement. "I didn't understand that there was more to the game. I was already enjoying it and we got good results, but it was only when I played for that side that I realised soccer could offer women a lot more. Later, I was very influenced by Mia Hamm, who began to have more of a voice in the media, and I realised that I too could become a professional one day and represent my country."
Her dream came true in 2009, when she was called up by Carolina Morace, and she promptly proved her worth by helping Canada seal their spot at Germany 2011. Disaster beckoned when she was cut down in full flight by injury, but Belanger is on the Women's World Cup stage at last, and she is determined to keep moving forward – even if it means dropping back.