Lauren Sesselmann (Green Bay Notre Dame) played the full 90 minutes in her Women's World Cup debut Saturday as Canada got past China 1-0, but needed to persevere through a rough stretch in the first half that nearly saw her taken out.
"She had an 8-minute period that some people would want to define her performance by, but I thought she actually played really well considering it was only her third game back this year," Canadian coach John Herdman told reporters on Tuesday in Edmonton, where his team will face New Zealand in its second Group A match on Thursday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
"Certainly, putting her in there was about her growing through the tournament. She had that shaky period, she had me on tenterhooks as well. I came close to making a big decision and bringing her out, because we weren't sure if mentally she was in the right space. But she pushed through and that was great, the resilience, and she'll be stronger for that now. To get through that was fantastic."
Sesselmann, 31, returned from a torn ACL in her left knee after 14 months of rehabilitation earlier this spring, and had appeared in just three competitive matches before Saturday's highly anticipated tournament opener.
"I think any time you're going into a World Cup, it's a little nerve-wracking. It's my first big thing back and my first 90-minute game," the Houston Dash defender told the Edmonton Sun. (Read full article) "I think the nerves got the best of me a little bit, but there are no excuses. I don’t play that way; I play better than that. I just kind of had to refocus after I messed up a couple of times and get back on task and the second half, I felt a lot better."
Sesselmann, who was born in Stevens Point and has dual citizenship because her father is Canadian, made two mistakes that could have cost the home team.
In the 14th minute, she left a back pass for goalkeeper Erin McLeod short, giving Chinese forward Lisi Wang an opportunity on the right side. McLeod raced off her line and grabbed the ball just after Wang got a foot on it.
Then in the 22nd, Sesselmann's pass for Desiree Scott was too strong and China's Shanshan Wang picked up the ball on the left side and headed to goal. Scott took down Wang and was issued a yellow card, and Wang's ensuing free kick from 25 yards out clanged off the crossbar and then off the right post.
"I was pretty upset with myself. I told myself I was going to turn things around and that’s what I did, and we played great as a team in the second half," said Sesselmann, who has 42 caps and was part of the Canadian side that claimed the bronze medal at the London Olympics in 2012.
"I kind of had a feeling John was thinking (of substituting me) and I was 'I got it, I got it, coach.' That tells me how much he believes in me as a player. There is always going to be those downfalls in games and it's about how you are resilient and respond to it. That's what I did at halftime – I turned it around and helped the team."
Canada ended up winning thanks to Christine Sinclair's penalty kick in second-half stoppage time, awarded when defender Zhao Rong was ruled to have taken down Adriana Leon in the box. Thursday's match against New Zealand kicks off at 8 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
On Twitter: @lsesselmann