Soccer North: Portland Thorns GM Karina LeBlanc inspired by major growth of women's game

Portland Thorns general manager Karina LeBlanc, right, holds up the Canadian flag with team captain Christine Sinclair after winning the 2022 National Women's Soccer League championship title on Oct. 29 in Washington, D.C. (Ira L. Black/Getty Images - image credit)
Portland Thorns general manager Karina LeBlanc, right, holds up the Canadian flag with team captain Christine Sinclair after winning the 2022 National Women's Soccer League championship title on Oct. 29 in Washington, D.C. (Ira L. Black/Getty Images - image credit)

The growth of women's soccer was on full display in last week's National Women's Soccer League final, where the league set a record with 915,000 viewers — a 71 per cent increase from last year.

Former Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc helped the Portland Thorns claim a record third title as general manager, and she is excited to see the women's game reaching new heights.

"I think it's only the beginning. The future of women's soccer, I'm so excited by it. I'm so inspired by what it can become," LeBlanc told Andi Petrillo on the second episode of CBC Sports' Soccer North.

"I think this is a new beginning again. I think if we keep evolving and we keep growing — you talk about the CBA, you talk about the attendance, ownership — I think it's a testament of what's been done but [it's] more exciting what really can happen in the future."

WATCH | Episode 2: Can Canada get out of the group stage in Qatar?

Soccer North airs every Friday on CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports YouTube channel. During the World Cup, the show will air live following all of Canada's games for as long it remains in the tournament.

Thorns head coach and former Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson also stops by to talk about the championship title.

WATCH | Leblanc, Wilkinson react to winning 2022 NWSL Championship:

The episode opens with the "Keeping up with the Canadians" segment, a rundown of recent standout Canadian performance from across the world of professional soccer — including a breakdown of the NWSL final between Portland and Kansas City.

Along with LeBlanc and Wilkinson, the title game featured other key Canadians at the forefront of the women's soccer surge.

Christine Sinclair captained Portland to the championship, while fellow Canadian Janine Beckie also helped the club secure victory. Canada's Desiree Scott led Kansas City to the final as team captain.

The episode features an interview with soccer journalist Grant Wahl, discussing the Canadian men's team's chances of reaching the round of 16 at the World Cup in Qatar. The Canadian men play their first group stage game against Belgium on Nov. 23.

"On paper, it's going to be hard for Canada when you look at all the talent with Croatia, with Belgium ... and yet those are both sort of viewed as older teams, and Canada is not. They're a young team, a very exciting young team with real quality talent," Wahl said.

WATCH | Grant Wahl on expectations for Canada in Qatar:

"I think it's going to be a test of something I've always thought about the Word Cup, which is that it's a young person's event. And if that actually is true then Canada does have a chance to advance from this group."

Canadian midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye joins the show to talk about coach John Herdman's unique motivational tactics during their impressive World Cup qualifying run, including the meaning behind the symbolic sword.

"The sword was like, we're going to do all these other things but go into other people's countries, home turfs, advantages and all those things, and show them that we can dominate and that we can be on the attack and we can be the protagonist," Kaye said.

Episode 2 closes with an in-studio interview with soccer analyst Chris Jones, who will be CBC Sports' eyes and ears on the ground during the World Cup in Qatar.

WATCH | Soccer North trailer: