It's okay to cry about Nichelle Prince going to the World Cup

Onions were chopped as the Houston Dash winger's injury recovery in time for the summer tournament was confirmed.

Two identical chairs sit across from each other.  In a hotel function room. On the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia.

Earnest and supportive, Bev Priestman sits in one chair. In the other is Nichelle Prince, a footballer who hasn’t kicked a football in an official match in 237 days. From two feet away, one stares back at the other for a beat.

This is the Canada womxn’s national team head coach revealing to her nervous player whether she will be in the squad for the 2023 World Cup squad.

Leading up to this moment is Prince’s ruptured Achilles tendon in November 2022 in a friendly against Brazil. Even without the injury, that match was scheduled to be her and Canada’s final outing for 2022. A year where the Houston Dash winger made 37 appearances and played 2,608 minutes for club and country.

Priestman cuts to the chase. Opening with “I am immensely proud of you” before confirming to Prince that she has in fact clinched a spot in the 23-player Canada squad for the tournament. “You’ve defied all odds,” adds Priestman.

The plainness of the room, the monochrome walls, and the muddy lights belie the brilliance moment.

Prince recoils in a relief-come-joy expression that is so candid. So real. All of this is being shared by Canada’s social media team - and while grateful for it - it does feel rather invasive to be able to witness the moment through a screen.

The announcement was paired with the equally welcome news that fellow winger Deanne Rose, who coincidentally suffered a ruptured Achilles in September 2022, had also made the final Canada squad.

Nichelle Prince reacts to the news of her World Cup inclusion | Courtesy of Canada Soccer

Watch Deanne Rose & Nichelle Prince learning they are going to the World Cup:

“My heart is overflowing with gratitude”

Thousands of miles away, chests feel heavy and eyes feel misty. Crying (at least for me) can sometimes feel not like a dam bursting but a dam being filled. A pool of emotion collects around your fluttering heart, eyes, and nasal cavities.

Maybe it spills over the levee, maybe it’s kept at bay. These days, I’m trying harder not to suppress feelings.

Honestly, to watch this footballer realize a dream had me in pieces. Mostly because it was a dream that felt so far off last Autumn when Prince was stretched off in Sao Paolo.

Prince did defy all odds. A seven/eight-month recovery from an Achilles rupture is quick. Many, including myself, didn’t think there was a chance that one of the NWSL’s best defensive forwards would get a chance to play in her second World Cup. It was a pipe dream laced with hope.

Even though publicly Prince has not made a footballing appearance, behind the scenes in Houston she’s been hard at work. Millions (seriously, it could be millions) of intentional tiny and large physical therapy movements and calf stretches led up to that triumph in a conference room in the Southern Hemisphere.

Last December, Prince even walked down the aisle, to get married to now-husband Adrian Michael Joseph, with her leg wrapped and cast in a boot. No excuses, only vibes. It was iconic.

Last month, Canada Soccer sent their medical team down to Texas to check in on Prince and carry out adequate tests to clear her for travel and training in Australia.

“They saw her [Prince] in our environment. It was a big step for her…we’re happy with the progress that she’s making. For her, it’s a really positive step,” Dash head coach Sam Laity told the media last month after a training session.

Cleared to be on the preliminary roster, Prince still had to get to Australia in late June and show that she was fit enough to be ready to play at the highest level. Compete in the training camp at her premium performance levels and prepare for a behind-close-doors friendly against England next week. And incredibly she did that.

“My heart is overflowing with gratitude!” Prince said on her Instagram when the Canada roster was made public on Sunday. “The last few months have brought a lot of challenges but I’m so thankful for all the support to help me get here and for the opportunity to represent my country.”

Nichelle Prince draped in a Canada flag at her NWSL club’s stadium in Houston | Courtesy of Houston Dash

The timing of injuries, as well as the types of injuries themselves, are not made equal either. To rob a footballer of an international tournament when they are at their peak feels inexplicably cruel.

One of the narratives of this Summer’s World Cup has been the absentees. Predominantly due to ACL tears and other knee injuries, there’s a double-digit list of luminaries that will not take to the pitch in Australia & New Zealand. From Leah Williamson, to Marie-Antoinette Katoto, to Cat Macario you could go on and on lamenting the absentees.

Maybe because so many players have cruelly been ruled out, this was why it felt so emotional to learn of Prince’s successful journey back from a major injury.

Maybe it’s because I have a spent balmy evening in Texas watching her score a hat trick, witnessed her smother defenders on the press, or been up close when she has twisted the ball at speed along the touchline.

There’s also something to the fact that Prince was the last player to score in a World Cup win for Canada, a 2-0 win over New Zealand in Montpellier in 2019. Nine days later, she would injure her knee in the Maple Leafs’ Round of 16 defeat to Sweden, and she wouldn’t play soccer again until June 2020. And when she did return three years, she looked better than ever.

The winger was also vital when Priestman led Canada to a gold medal in Tokyo in August 2021. Known as one of the kindest souls on the team, there’s no doubt that Prince brings a calming and caring energy to the group as well.

Look, I’m in my feelings. But to have Prince defy expectations and make this tournament is a happiness I didn’t know I needed. A reminder we can fight back to where we want to be even after a major setback.

Let yourself get lost in a player that you admire’s unlikely comeback. You won’t regret it.