Carrying the fate of the Canadian women’s national soccer team on her shoulders, 20-year-old Julia Grosso made the long walk across the pitch and into the 18-yard box for the last penalty kick of the Tokyo Olympic final in August.

With Canada and Sweden deadlocked 2-2 in the shootout, Grosso set the ball down on the penalty spot with the chance to send Canada to a historic title. The midfielder later admitted she was pretending it was merely a training session.

Four-and-a-half million Canadians held their breath as Grosso released a long exhale from the top of the box and stared at the spot. Barely a second later, she charged at the ball and struck it low and hard with her left foot.

Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl got her fingertips on it before deflecting the ball into the top corner of the net.

Olympic Gold. Canada’s first ever in women’s soccer.

And now, Grosso is a household name.

The heroic goal concluded a revolutionary chapter in Grosso’s soccer career, one that head coach Bev Priestman is eager to see her build on as Canada heads into its Celebration Tour starting Oct. 23.

“Julia, for me, is the player over the past six months I’ve seen the most growth in,” Priestman said Monday.

At the 2021 SheBelieves Cup in February, Grosso didn’t see the pitch during the three-game tournament. It was a difficult decision for Priestman, who had coached Grosso on the U-17 and U-20 national teams from 2016 to 2018 and knew what the young star was capable of.

Five months later, the Vancouver native showed up to Tokyo more ready than ever for her Olympic debut. Through Canada’s six unbeaten matches on the path to gold, the center midfielder showed improvements in her passing, her ability to play forward and her level of physicality.

“She went away, she worked hard, she turned over to the Olympics ready, and was a pivotal player in the whole Olympic campaign,” Priestman said.

“To go and do what she did speaks massive amounts for her character. So, if she continues with that mindset, she’s got a great future.”

Grosso’s defense has also improved, making her case to share the holding midfield position with Desiree Scott even stronger.

Scott, a 34-year-old veteran, was one to take Grosso under her wing after Grosso debuted with the senior team in 2017.

“She’s really building that confidence, really settling into what the squad is, what it looks like, what our tactics are, and really developing that soccer brain and bringing her individual identity through it all,” Scott said.

Grosso, who was also on Canada’s roster for the 2019 World Cup, wasn’t a part of the regular starting lineup in Tokyo, but the team fed off of her energy every time she subbed in.

“I think Julia now has to establish herself as a starter for Canada, and that’s the challenge I’d set her,” Priestman said.

Another task for Grosso is figuring out what her plans are after college. The Texas senior ranks fifth in Big 12 points this season with three goals and two assists.

Grosso hasn’t announced anything yet, but Priestman says she’s been on the phone with “many, many” people inquiring about her. Grosso is one of two players on Canada’s gold-medal winning squad still playing college soccer, with the other being defender Jayde Riviere.

After the summer Grosso has had, it’s fair to think this is only the beginning of a long and prosperous career for her on the professional and international stage. Canada’s two exhibition games against New Zealand on Saturday, Oct. 23 and Tuesday, Oct. 26 will serve as another proving ground.

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.

After the Washington Spirit announced that head coach Richie Burke was stepping down due to health reasons Tuesday, a new report is saying that he actually was fired.

Multiple sources familiar with the team told The Athletic that they were not aware of health issues with Burke following the Spirit’s press release Tuesday morning. In it, the team said that Burke would assume a front office position when he returned. According to a follow-up report by The Athletic, the Spirit now are expected to announce that Burke has been suspended pending an investigation.

The Spirit have begun the search for their next head coach. Assistant coach Kris Ward will lead the team against the Houston Dash on Friday.

Washington is 5-3-5 this season and seventh in the NWSL standings.

The murky details around Burke’s departure add another layer to what has already been a hectic season for coaching in the NWSL, with four of the league’s ten teams announcing a head coaching change in 2021.