Jessie Fleming: Canada & Chelsea’s ‘clutch’ Olympic star who took out the USWNT

Jessie Fleming compositeGetty/Goal

When the U.S. women’s national team conceded a 75th-minute penalty in their Olympic semi-final against Canada, all eyes turned to Christine Sinclair.

This was an opportunity for the North American nation, so long in the shadow of their neighbours, to reach a first ever major tournament final. Who better to set them on their way than Sinclair, the greatest international goalscorer of all time?

But as the 38-year-old scooped the ball up in her arms, she didn’t place it on the spot. She walked right past the mark and over to Jessie Fleming, and put the responsibility in the hands of the 23-year-old midfielder.

Any talk of whether Sinclair had done the right thing was silenced within seconds.

After a few deep breaths and a confident run up, Fleming powered the ball past Adrianna Franch and into the back of the net, the execution of her knee-slide celebration almost as impressive as her 12th international goal.

It was the most important of the dozen, and it will take some topping – not just because of the occasion, but because it was also a strike that gave her country their first win over the U.S. in 20 years.

After winning back-to-back bronze medals, Canada will now have a shot at gold on Friday, when they take on Sweden in Tokyo.

Asked after the game if she knew she’d be given the penalty, and when she decided where she would place her effort, Fleming was succinct. “Yes,” she said. “And I decided the night before.”

Jessie Fleming Canada Women 2021Getty

To hear such composure from such a young player is rare, but Fleming has experience that defies her age.

Making her international debut at the age of 15, she has amassed an incredible 89 caps before her 24th birthday. She's been to two World Cup tournaments, and this is her second Olympic Games. Three of those major tournaments came before she’d even finished college.

"Oh my god, she’s so clutch,” the iconic Sinclair said of her team-mate after the semi-final win. “I don’t know a calmer individual.”

The coolness with which Fleming embraced such a huge moment was symbolic of this victory.

Beating the U.S. for the first time since 2001 was a psychological hurdle they had to overcome, as much as a tactical one, so it was fitting that it was won with a moment of such high pressure being approached in an ice-cold manner.

It means that Fleming will return to Chelsea for the new club season with at least a silver medal, with Swedish club-mates Magdalena Eriksson, Jonna Andersson and Zecira Musovic hoping that it is nothing more.

Whatever colour it proves to be, though, Fleming will hope this summer sets the tone for a breakthrough year in England.

While incredibly well known as a superb young talent at international level, she is still making a name for herself in the club game, having only signed her first professional contract last summer after graduating college.

In her first year at Chelsea, she made just three league starts, with Blues boss Emma Hayes, as she does with so many new arrivals, doing her best to ensure the young Canadian settled well.

But despite limited game time, there were plenty of glimpses of what she can bring to the club in the long-term as she played her part in helping the team win the Women's Super League title, the Continental Cup and reach a UEFA Women's Champions League final.

Jessie Fleming quote PS 4:5Getty/Goal

“She's intelligent, she's thoughtful, she's technically superb on the ball,” Hayes said. “She'll do anything for the team. She's got a training habit that's second to none.

“This is a world-class team and, just because you’re an international talent, it doesn't mean that you're going to get in. You have to work towards that. I'm sure Jessie will have a huge future with us.

“It's not easy coming far away from home to London, alone, in a pandemic, settling, but she's done all of those things in her stride.

"She values training and I always respect players that put training at the front of their mind, because I know that with those good habits, all of the good things will happen.”

Before Fleming can focus back on club football, though, there is the matter of just one more game with her country. That game is an Olympic final.

"There's a group of players on our team who have worked on this for 20 years,” she said after the win over the USWNT. “Seeing them cry after that match means so much more.”

What a gold medal would mean is indescribable – and it would certainly give Fleming some bragging rights when pre-season begins.