TOPSHOT – Canada’s midfielder Julia Grosso celebrates after score the winning penalty during the … [+] penalty shoot-out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women’s final football match between Sweden and Canada at the International Stadium Yokohama in Yokohama on August 6, 2021. (Photo by Loic VENANCE / AFP) (Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images)
Four months after scoring the decisive penalty which won Canada Olympic Gold in women’s soccer at Tokyo 2020, Julia Grosso signed her first professional contract with Italian champions Juventus determined to prove her career will not be defined by that one glorious moment.
Speaking to me last week from new home in Turin, Grosso told me “it’s definitely a great accomplishment but I do think there’s a lot of things ahead of me that I’m looking forward to and I still have to accomplish in my career. That happened, but I still have a lot left to do and a lot I have to push for.”
At the age of 20, Grosso was the unlikely hero of Canada’s Olympic victory. A regular substitute during the tournament, she was not included among the mandatory first five kickers when their Gold Medal match against favorites Sweden went to a penalty shoot-out.
In a compelling, see-saw tie-breaker, Canada led, then were on the brink of defeat before Swedish captain Caroline Seger blew the chance to win Gold for her country by firing over the crossbar. After goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé saved Sweden’s next kick, up stepped the left-footed Texas Longhorn midfielder to write her place in Olympic history.
The reaction of Grosso’s family watching back home in Vancouver was broadcast on CBC and national team coach Bev Priestman subsequently hailed Grosso above others by claiming she had shown her “most growth” in the previous six months. Catapulted to fame, Grosso is only now coming to terms with the attention. “It didn’t really hit me at first after we won, it took me a couple of months, it was like a surreal moment. It’s definitely finally sunk in. It’s been great ever since that day just to know that my country has a Gold Medal at the Olympics. It’s been amazing ever since then.”
Grosso penalty also finally put a Gold Medal around the neck of the sport’s all-time leading international goalscorer, Christine Sinclair. In the immediate aftermath of victory, the two shared an intimate moment of shared wonder captured by the television cameras and broadcast live around the world.
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN – AUGUST 06: Christine Sinclair #12 of Team Canada celebrates with Julia Grosso #7 … [+] following their team’s victory in the penalty shoot out in the Women’s Gold Medal Match between Canada and Sweden on day fourteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at International Stadium Yokohama on August 06, 2021 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Staggeringly, the first of Sinclair’s 188 international goals came in March 2000, over five months before Grosso was even born. Growing up in Vancouver, Sinclair was already an established world star as far back as Grosso can remember. She recalls being star-struck when she came face-to-face with her hero at the age of eight. “I was like a ball-girl for one of the games for Team Canada at BC Place. I remember literally handing her the ball and I was like freaking out. I’ve been watching her for so long.”
A few years later, Grosso was among the crowds in Vancouver as Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup, going out in the quarter-finals to England in front of 54,027 spectators at BC Place. “I think that World Cup was a big turning point for me”, she tells me. “Being in Canada, just seeing the passion and love for the game. It just made me want to watch those players and want to be in their shoes and do what they’re doing. I think that World Cup was very significant for me to be able to actually watch it live and be around the crowd, just the whole atmosphere was phenomenal.”
Four years later Grosso achieved her dream of being selected for Canada’s World Cup roster, less than twelve months after her college debut for the Texas Longhorns. However the 18-year-old did not see any action at the tournament or subsequently, under new coach Bev Priestman, at the 2021 She Believes Cup which forced Grosso to re-evaluate her career.
“I think it definitely motivated me. I remember talking to (Priestman), really paying attention to what I needed to fix and improve on, and just keep striving to play and get in there. I remember when I went back to school, all I did was think about what I have to do every single day. It was some things on the field and some things off the field and I think the stuff off the field, I had to really, really pay attention to just to bring to my game on the field.”
Grosso’s dramatic left-footed match-winning penalty in a major tournament final shoot-out brought back memories of when her name-sake Fabio Grosso scored the decisive penalty for Italy’s men’s team in their 2006 World Cup final victory over France in Berlin.
Berlin, GERMANY: Italian defender Fabio Grosso (L) shoots the winning penalty against French … [+] goalkeeper Fabien Barthez during the World Cup 2006 final football game Italy vs.France, 09 July 2006 at Berlin stadium. Italy won the 2006 football World Cup by defeating France on penalties. AFP PHOTO ODD ANDERSEN (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
A young girl in Vancouver, Julia recalls how her surname was suddenly on everyone’s lips. “I remember watching, I was five years old at the time, I remember the game being on. I’m half-Italian so my whole mum’s side were at our house and they were all watching with me. I remember them saying ‘Grosso, like your last name!’. I was like ‘that’s my brother’ as a joke.”
Shortly after joining up with her new team-mates in Turin, Juventus organized for Julia to meet their former player and 2006 national hero Fabio, now the coach of Serie B men’s side Frosinone Calcio. “When I first saw him, I think I made a joke to him ‘oh, my brother!’ or something like that,” Grosso told me. “He just kind of played along with it”.
FERENTINO, ITALY – JANUARY 06: Fabio Grosso (R) and Julia Grosso (L) during the Juventus Women … [+] Training Session at Cittadella dello Sport, Ferentino on January 6, 2022 in Ferentino, Italy. (Photo by Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images)
Grosso’s father, Bruno, is Portuguese and encouraged Julia and her sister Carli to play the game. Her hero is former Juventus player and Portuguese captain, Cristiano Ronaldo which may leave her with split loyalties in March should Portugal and Italy meet in a play-off for a single spot at the men’s World Cup in Qatar. “My dad was definitely more (of an influence) with me in soccer, he was my coach for a long time. Growing up, I would say, I was more for Portugal but now because I’m at Juventus, it’s even!”
Immediately after the Olympics, Grosso returned to the University of Texas playing college soccer for the Longhorns. Lacking suitable options within her own country – “Canada definitely needs a professional women’s league, 100%” she tells me – signing a professional contract in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) seemed like the next logical step. She instead took the leap to go professional in Europe. As she explained to me, “I just loved the culture here. It’s just different. I love the training sessions. Here it’s very quick, sharp touches on the ball which I love. It’s also like that in the NWSL as well but I just like the vibes here in Europe.”
VINOVO, ITALY – DECEMBER 06: Juventus Women Unveils New Signing Julia Grosso at Juventus Center … [+] Vinovo on December 06, 2021 in Vinovo, Italy. (Photo by Filippo Alfero – Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images)
As part of a squad initiation, Grosso was compelled to stand up and sing in front of her new team-mates, performing the Miley Cyrus song ‘Party In The U.S.A.’. Grosso admitted to me “I was trying to find a song maybe that the girls would know. It was definitely fun because they all joined along but I don’t think they knew that song very well.”
Last weekend, Grosso watched from the substitutes’ bench as Juventus came from behind to draw 2-2 with Fiorentina, ending a remarkable run of 36 consecutive victories in Serie A. Grosso was impressed with the way the players have reacted. “The mentality is just a winning mentality. We all want to win. We don’t want to ever lose or tie. It was definitely disappointing but we’re looking forward to this week for sure.”
The Juventus Stadium will this season stage the UEFA Women’s Champions League final. Striving to be there, the Italian champions emerged from the toughest of the four groups to reach the quarter-final stage for the first time. There in March, they will face seven-time European champions, Olympique Lyonnais, so Grosso’s first taste of Champions League action may pit her against her Canadian international team-mate, Kadeisha Buchanan, a four-time winner of the competition.
In 2017, Buchanan became the first Canadian soccer player in history to win a Champions League title, a feat that Grosso one day hopes to emulate. “Kadiesha is definitely a big role model in my life. I just love how she went from college to Lyon, a similar story to myself so I just find her so inspirational. We have not yet talked about us playing each other yet but I’m sure very soon we will do. I’m just excited to be looking up to someone like her.”
Next month, she will be reunited with her fellow Olympic champions as Canada take part in the inaugural Arnold Clark Cup in England against the hosts, Germany and Spain. Grosso cannot wait, “I’m so excited to be back with everyone. I love being in camp, they are like my best friends. I’m going to keep working hard to get that starting position. I’ve got some amazing soccer players beside me. I get to work with them every day in camp. I know I’ve got to just keep working hard and focus on what I can control. Hopefully that will help me to get that spot.”

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