Adriana Leon: From Canada to Carrington

Adriana Leon: From Canada to Carrington

One of the game’s biggest international players has been moving devilishly on the pitch for years, but now she’s officially a Red Devil, Leon’s been tearing things up at club level too with Manchester United.

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December 22nd 2022

Adriana Leon has been lighting up the women’s game like no other since turning pro almost a decade ago.

From sitting down defenders with Toronto Lady Lynx back in the day to being crowned Olympic Champion last summer with Canada. Her journey to the top has been a herculean one but there’s plenty more this baller wants to achieve before hanging up her boots.

Grew up in Maple, Ontario and went on to taste the sweet taste of success on the ice as a competitive figure skater and ice hockey maestro. Ice has been running through her veins since day one. Stone cold clinician in front of goal but never failed to bring the heat when it was needed most. Made the decision to dedicate her life to the ‘beautiful game’ at 17-years-old and represented Notre Dame and Florida while at college. Scored the only goal in the 2010 Women’s College Cup to single-handedly bag the trophy. This Doctor of Ballernomics went on to dominate the NWSL before moving to Switzerland to climb a new mountain. European football. For the last three years she’s put on show after show in the Women's Super League, helping to earn West Ham an FA Cup final spot just four months after signing with the Irons. Hammered so many goals into the back of the opposition’s net, footballing giants Manchester United had to get her signature.

The two-time CONCACAF W Championship runner-up signed with the Red Devils earlier this year, and has already experienced an electric atmosphere at Old Trafford as well as the team’s best-ever start to a WSL campaign. Champions League football is on the horizon, and with the likes of Leon now in their midst, Manchester’s finest are on the cusp of achieving another club milestone.

VERSUS sat down with PUMA’s latest star signing to talk about her journey to the very top, her thoughts on the formation of Canada’s first-ever women’s professional football league, and her hopes for the future of the game that’s helped to shape her into the person she is today.

Photography by Jake Millers for VERSUS.

VERSUS: How have you found living in Manchester these past six months or so?

Adriana Leon: I spent three seasons in London whilst I was playing for West Ham, a place where I made quite a lot of friends and some really great memories. It’s a really exciting city and I enjoyed my time living there but I think the transition from London to Manchester has actually been a pretty easy one in all honesty. It’s definitely a slower pace of life up here…

The weather isn’t always great either, a bit like today.

Yeah, it is quite cold! But, I noticed quickly people here are really nice and friendly, which makes moving a lot easier, of course. So overall, it’s been a straightforward, easy transition to make.

Love to hear it. It probably also helps that Mancunians are football mad too.

Absolutely! They are football crazy here, I love it! Just to even see how the city promotes the game as well, it’s amazing. There are always advertisements dotted around town showcasing the women’s game, you really feel the passion for football they have here.

You’ve already experienced one of the most iconic grounds in football history since moving here too, Old Trafford. What was that experience like?

Just being in the presence of that stadium was amazing, and like you’ve said, it’s such a historic place. You definitely ‘feel’ that whenever you step into the stadium, too. And to have tens of thousands of people there chanting for us, especially on a cold day in December! You really felt that energy. The fanbase in Manchester is like no other I’ve experienced. It was an incredible day.

To say that, having played at some of the best venues in the world, it must have been something else! Playing in an FA Cup final for West Ham at Wembley also must have been a real career highlight?

Absolutely! I’d say, playing in that Cup final was the best experience I’ve had in England so far. We had over 30,000 people at Wembley for that game and it was incredible. I’m never going to forget that moment for as long as I live.

Growing up, you were a figure skater and played ice hockey. We classify those as winter sports, right?

Oh we definitely classify those at winter sports!

How did you make the transition from ice to grass?

I grew up with two older brothers and we were all super competitive! As a family we were always playing sports outside and I actually grew up a dual athlete. I first started figure skating then moved onto ice hockey – whilst still playing football…

Oh wow. At what point did you have to decide between those sports?

I actually had a really tough time making that decision in all honesty. I wasn’t sure what sport I wanted to pursue professionally, and I was still playing and doing everything competitively until I was 17-years-old. So, most – if not all – of my childhood was spent learning, playing and competing in various different fields. But, when the time came, I decided to pursue football at University and I haven’t stopped playing since!

When it comes to playing sport at University in the UK, it is of course to a very high standard! But it still feels as if the United States is ahead of the curve in terms of taking young people, putting them on sporting scholarships and developing them into professional athletes. Collegiate soccer is huge for example. For you, how important was your college experience for your development as a player?

Like you’ve just mentioned, playing sports at University is massive back in the U.S. You know, it’s just the next, natural progressive step for you to take from high school. The transition to college sports is something a lot of young athletes make when considering turning pro – and that was the exact step I took on my own pathway to the top. I think maybe, that’s now changed a little as the game has progressed from a professional standpoint, but back then, it was the next step I needed to take. I mean, playing college sports is still pretty crazy over there, don’t get me wrong!

Did you grow up definitely knowing that you wanted to be a professional athlete?

When I was younger, I had this dream of playing for Canada and representing my country both on the football and ice hockey stages.

That would have been unbelievable.

Well, yeah! Because it’s not actually possible right? As I got a little older, and especially now having been a professional athlete for quite some time, that would have been virtually impossible to achieve! But, one of those dreams came true and I’ve represented Canada at some of football’s most prestigious tournaments around the world. It’s such an honour to be able to say that, and is still something I cherish and never take for granted.

What was your reaction to the recent news regarding the formation of Canada’s first-ever women’s professional soccer league?

Honestly, when I heard the news I said to myself: “it’s about time!” I cannot believe, we’ve been a Top 10 nation for so long now, and we’re the only ones to not have a professional league. So, hearing that news was incredible! And it’s going to be a massive change for Canadian soccer and it’s going to help progress the game to the next level. It’s exactly what I would have wanted when I was younger, the possibility to play professionally in your own country. To have that become a reality in 2025 for current and future generations in the sport, it’s a long time overdue, but still it’s amazing.

You’re now going to have children grow up in Canada knowing that they don’t have to travel across the border or overseas to fulfil their dreams of becoming a professional athlete. They can develop their game in their home nation. Something, possibly, a lot of other players and teams take for granted.

When you’re young, let’s say, 15, 16, 17…you shouldn’t feel the need to move away from home just to play professionally. So to know, in the next few years there will be so many young people who don’t have to make that sacrifice, it’s huge. The youth development we’re about to experience in Canada as a result of this league…

Watch this space!


You’ve spoken about how phenomenal Canada’s been on the international stage, and you’re of course an Olympic Champion yourself! Over the years there have been some truly iconic individuals in those teams, one of them being Christine Sinclair – who is responsible for the prospective women’s professional league we’ve just discussed. What has it been like to share the field with someone like that?

Christine is such a special figure for Canadian football, she’s known globally – she is an icon. She’s the world’s top goalscorer for international football and it’s been just a total pleasure and privilege to have trained, played and learned alongside her these past years. She really is an incredible leader, and lives every aspect of her life leading by example. I’m still in awe of her every time she steps out, and to still be in the lineup with her, it’s amazing.

How does it feel to have the backing of one of the biggest brands in sport? You’re now officially a PUMA athlete, congratulations!

Thank you! I’ve been a sponsored athlete for the last 10 years or so, but to now be with PUMA, it’s been such a nice change. And yeah, it means everything to be supported by one of the biggest and most progressive brands in the game. I really like their product, but I especially love how they market their athletes. They do a really good job of showcasing them – well, now ‘us’ – as both athletes and people.

For a long time, brands have been reluctant to invest in the women’s game and its players, but we’re thankfully seeing that change. What is it, do you think, PUMA can do to push women’s football forward?

Something that really attracted me to the brand was the way they represent both their male and female athletes. They treat both sets of people exactly the same, and that’s something you don’t always experience in sport. I think showing that level of parity is really important, it brings more respect and prestige to the women’s game in the process. Hopefully other brands will follow suit, and choose to market their female athletes in the same way that PUMA does.

Something that PUMA’s been doing recently is designing and creating bespoke boots for their female footballers. How much of a game changer do you think that is?

Oh it definitely is. Women are built differently from men, our physiology is different so it’s important that we wear proper footwear that’s going to allow us to perform to the best of our abilities. It’s kind of crazy it’s taken this long for something like that to happen, but I guess it’s just the next step for women’s football and the direction we’re currenting heading in is a good one.

We’ve spoken a little bit about your journey on the way to the top, and you yourself had to travel far and wide to get to where you are now. You’ve played in the NWSL, the Swiss Women’s Super League and for the last few years or so you’ve been playing in the WSL. Of those leagues and experiences, what ones helped you to grow the most as a player and a person?

Oh wow, that is a question!

A lot for you to think about there.

I mean, it’s a bit tough to answer in the sense that I’ve learnt so much in very different ways in each of those leagues and places. I had to face some adversity at various stages, most recently having to rush back from a double-foot surgery to make the Olympic squad and it’s really tough when you’re presented with challenging situations through injury especially, but that’s when you grow the most both on and off the field. But, to really answer your question, playing in England has been such a special time for me. I enjoyed my three seasons with West Ham and to now be playing for a club like Manchester United, I’m really grateful and fortunate to be in this position. I’m still at a point in my journey where, everyday I’m looking to grow as a person and a player. I don’t think your growth ever stops.

Playing for teams like West Ham and Manchester United…I mean, if you’re going to play English football, playing for sides that have bags of history and heritage in the game isn’t a bad way to start.

Definitely. When I first moved to England, I only signed a short deal because I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the style of football or even living here. So, when I moved in 2019 I found out pretty quickly that I loved both of those things, and knew instinctively that I was going to stay here for a long time. It was a really pleasant surprise! And it’s been great to be here recently in light of the Euros, and having England bring the trophy home. You’ve really seen growth in the sport as a result of that milestone moment. There’s been more investment in the game and we’ve seen more people coming to games, for example. It’s been a really special time for women’s football in England, and it’s been nice to be a part of it.

We have seen exponential growth in the game these past few years especially, and next summer we’ve got what’s set to be the biggest year in women’s football courtesy of the World Cup, which you’ll be at…


But continuing to move forward, what are your hopes for the future of women’s football?

I want to keep seeing it grow as quickly as it has been recently. I don’t want the growth to slow down or become stagnant. The landscape is completely different from when I was growing up and playing football, and that’s great! But we still want more because for such a long time we weren’t supported enough.

Back in the day, there were many players on my team that didn’t have sponsorship deals, and they were still having to go out to stores to buy their boots. So, to see how much has changed in the last few years, and the investment that’s now being put into women’s football, the people watching in person or online, the support we now feel as players from broadcasters, journalists, brands like PUMA and most importantly our fans…we want that to keep happening. There’s still so much room for this game to grow, and with the World Cup next year, it’s a really exciting time to be a part of the women’s game.

We were actually in Australia for a fall camp not too long ago, and you just immediately felt the excitement for next summer as soon as we stepped off the plane. It’s going to be one helluva tournament! One that will push the game into new areas, and develop it even further.

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