A fortuitous shopping trip led to Duncan’s Yuri Woodfall ending up on the Canadian men’s para soccer team, and now he’s playing a key role in the squad’s pursuit of a berth at the 2016 Paralympics.
"It was a coincidence," recalled Woodfall, who has played with the national team since 2010. "I was going to a shoe store with my mom, and they noticed my gait – I guess it’s pretty distinctive. From there, I got in contact with the coach, Drew Ferguson. It was just by chance. I don’t think I’d be where I am right now if not for that."
Canada’s quest for a medal at the 2014 America Cup last week fell just short, but there’s a bright future ahead for Woodfall and his teammates.
Canada fell to the U.S. 3-0 in the bronze-medal game at the sevena-side tournament in Toronto, but by finishing in the top four, the team has qualified for the 2015 World Championships in England, and remains on track to reach the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
"I think we have a pretty good shot," Woodfall said as Canada prepared to face Brazil in the America Cup semifinal last Wednesday. "We have a pretty solid team right now. We’re doing great so far, so we have that going for us."
Woodfall started playing soccer at the age of six, running right along with the rest of his Cowichan Valley Soccer Association teammates. He doesn’t remember his cerebral palsy setting him aside from the other players, and never once considered that he would one day play for a national team.
"Back then, I just wanted to play," he said. "It was just go, go, go, go. I just wanted to be with my friends and score goals. I didn’t expect back then to end up on a para soccer team."
Woodfall was a midfielder until late 2011 when he tried being a goalkeeper, where he has remained.
"I was afraid of the ball when I was younger, but now it’s like I fit into that position," he said.
The national team includes players with cerebral palsy, brain injury or stroke, all in classifications between 5 and 8. Woodfall’s dysplasia puts him in Class 5. Among his teammates is Trevor Stiles, one of several players from Vancouver Island, who played professionally as a goalkeeper with the Vancouver Whitecaps and Los Angeles Galaxy before suffering a brain injury and reinventing himself as a striker with the para soccer team.
Prior to facing Brazil in the semifinals last week, Canada had tied Argentina 3-3 and defeated Venezuela 2-0. Canada was ranked 11th in the world going into the America Cup, and will have to crack the top eight to qualify for the Paralympics.
They’ll have more chances to do that as they move through the Para Pan Am Games in Toronto next year and the 2015 World Championships. The team’s mindset is exactly where it needs to be to get to Rio, according to Woodfall.
"We take it more seriously than in the past," he said. "We still have fun, but we want to show the world that Canada is a force to be reckoned with."