There is no greater honour in sport than to represent one's country. To carry the hopes and dreams of a nation's fans onto the field of play is an immense privilege, and carries with it an equally immense responsibility.
There is a mantra that is repeated to athletes who don the Canadian Soccer Association jersey: "You are not just representing yourself, or your family; you are representing your country."
This mantra implies that athletes should conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the values that we, as Canadians, hold dear. Values like hard work, sacrifice, teamwork, perseverance and humility.
During their remarkable run to the bronze medal at last summer's Olympic Games in London, Canada's women's national team demonstrated these values in abundance, and in doing so, captured the hearts of the entire nation.
That they didn't come home with the gold medal is irrelevant; they overcame the disappointment of a heartbreaking, controversial loss to the United States in the semi-finals, then rode their luck against a dominant French team in the bronze medal game. An opportunistic Diana Matheson goal was all that separated the two teams at the final whistle, and the bronze medals that hung around the players' necks during the medal ceremony – while not as shiny and lustrous as the golds that hung around the necks of the Americans - represented our Canadian values all the same.
The media tidal wave that followed was unprecedented; yet throughout, the entire team carried itself with class - which only served to further endear the players to their legion of Canadian fans.
When casting a critical eye over the group, one can come to no other conclusion than this: Canada is deficient in relation to the world's top women's teams. A lack of technical ability in too many players, an overall athletic profile that lacks agility and speed, and no genuine creativity or goal scoring threat from anyone but Christine Sinclair are just some of the major concerns that head coach John Herdman must overcome leading up to the 2015 World Cup.
Yet for all of these flaws, I would not want anyone but these ladies pulling on the red jersey of Canada and representing our country. As a group and as individuals, they are the most genuine athletes I have ever come across.
If anyone has earned the right to be arrogant, it is Christine Sinclair. She is, without exaggeration, one of the best players in the world. Yet she is also one of the most unassuming and humble. She is only now - after being thrust into the spotlight by her three-goal performance against the U.S. in the Olympics and subsequent naming as Canada's flag-bearer in the closing ceremonies – starting to come out of her shell to the media.
They are splashed across billboards and appear on radio and television frequently, always preaching the message of hard work, sacrifice, teamwork, perseverance and humility.
They have not let their success go to their heads. They realize that what they achieved last summer is now in the past, and that they have an opportunity – a responsibility – to leave a legacy for the next generation when Canada hosts the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2015.
That legacy began on Saturday, when 22,453 people filled every seat at BMO Field in Toronto to watch their heroes take on the United States. The result – a comfortable 3-0 U.S. victory – was expected. Canada has only beaten the Americans three times, and has not done so in over 12 years.
But the desired outcome was achieved. The seed was planted in the hearts and minds of the next generation.
As I sat in the stands watching the game, I overheard one father say to another, "After this, my daughter is going to want to quit hockey and focus on soccer. This is amazing!"