The road back to Canada led through Iceland and Portugal for Cloe Lacasse.
Lacasse, a former collegiate soccer star at the University of Iowa, had just turned 19 when she attended a Canadian under-20 camp in Montreal in 2012. Almost nine years on, Lacasse is back in Canadian colours — this time with the senior side as it prepares for friendlies against Wales on Friday in Cardiff and England next Tuesday in Stoke-on-Trent.
After Iowa, Lacasse played professionally in Iceland for IBV before moving to Portugal where she is now with Benfica, a Lisbon club with a rich heritage in world soccer.
"Everyone has their different challenges and different journeys when it comes to this. And this is mine," said Lacasse, adding she was "honoured and excited" to get Canada's call.
The 27-year-old winger from Sudbury, Ont., has added to her life experience — and skills along the way. The Franco-Ontarian, who lived on an island off Iceland while playing for IBV, speaks English, French, Icelandic and Portuguese, although she says her Portuguese is still a work in progress.
Did we mention she is a black belt in taekwondo?
Canada coach Bev Priestman, looking to expand the Canadian attack, gave Sky Blue FC striker Evelyne Viens her first cap at the SheBelieves Cup in February in Florida. Lacasse's scoring touch drew Priestman's eye.
"I've been tracking Chloe," said Priestman. "She played in the Champions League against Chelsea just before SheBelieves actually, Particularly in the first game, I thought she did well and showed what she can do. I wanted to see more and more from Cloe.
"Just given the injuries we've had, it was a great opportunity to bring her in and assess her. I think what we've seen is she scores goals, which is hopefully going to help. She can be quite direct, a threat in transition. I'm just excited to see how she fares in amongst the group and see what she can bring in her first (senior) camp."
Growing up, Lacasse played for the Sudbury Canadians under coach Frank Malvaso.
Lacasse finished her Hawkeye collegiate career tied for first in points (112) and shots (306), and second in program history in goals (43), game-winning goals (13), and assists (26).
She was a first team All-Big Ten honoree as a junior and senior and was named Iowa Offensive Most Valuable Player four times.
Iceland was the "best opportunity" available, so Lacasse started her pro career in early 2015 with IBV in Vestmannaeyjar, an archipelago known in English as the Westman Islands off the southwest coast of Iceland.
"I wanted to go play in Europe because it was a challenge and it was just something I've always wanted to do," she said.
She played four seasons there.
"It was definitely a really eye-opening experience," she said. "The country is extremely beautiful. Once I started learning the language, I was able to throw myself a little bit more in the culture. The Icelandic people were always really welcoming but they really appreciated it when I was able to speak Icelandic."
"It was an experience I really loved and I think I became a better soccer player from it," she added.
Heimaey, the only inhabited island, is home to IBV Vestmannaeyjar. It's a fishing island with a population between 3,000 and 10,000, augmented by visitors who take the 30-minute ferry ride to get there.
Lacasse earned Icelandic citizenship during her stay, at the suggestion of the island president impressed at her efforts to learn the language and culture. She says she's proud to hold dual citizenship but emphasizes it had nothing to do with widening her international soccer options.
"Truthfully I pursued becoming an Icelandic citizen just because I fell in love with their culture, the people, the language and I really immersed myself in that country."
Growing up in Sudbury, Lacasse was always outside — on the lake, fishing, hiking, biking or dirt-biking.
"Anything outdoors. So when I went to Iceland it was an easy transition as far as that," she said.
Her island featured two volcanoes, one of which was active. IBV's pitch is right by the ocean, in the shadow of a spectacular rocky outcrop.
She ended up in Portugal after a Portuguese agent saw her playing a pre-season game in Iceland. A few weeks later, he said Benfica was interested.
"It was really an opportunity that I couldn't say no to … So far it's been an excellent experience," she said.
The Benfica women were in their second year of existence and had just won promotion to the Portuguese top tier when Lacasse joined in 2019. She helped them win the league, earning Champions League qualification along the way
Benfica exited in the round of 32 of the Champions League this year, beaten 8-0 on aggregate by England's Chelsea and fellow Canadian Jessie Fleming. Lacasse played in both legs of the tie.
Playing Champions League was another goal for Lacasse.
Prior to the pandemic, Benfica was leading the league and was contending in the Portuguese Cup, only to see the season cancelled. The team is currently third in the standings at 15-5-2,
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press