TORONTO - Most people would gladly do just about anything asked of them by Princeton University in order to get accepted.
Diana Matheson, however, got to go to Princeton on her own terms. A decade ago, she deferred entry to the school for a year to play for Canada at the 2003 Women's World Cup.
The Oakville, Ontario native has been on a track to soccer stardom ever since.
Matheson's rise to international prominence reached its peak at last year's Olympics, when she scored the goal that won Canada the women's soccer bronze medal. It was the country's first medal in a traditional Summer Olympics team sport since 1936.
"It was a life-changer for all of us," Matheson said.
This weekend, Matheson's team is back in the spotlight for its first home game since the Olympics. Canada hosts the star-studded United States on Sunday in the latest chapter of a burgeoning soccer rivalry. (4:30 p.m., ESPNews).
Any meeting of soccer neighbors is likely to carry some spice, but this one has particular resonance for Canada. It's their first game against the U.S. since the two teams met in the semifinals of last year's Olympics. The 4-3 U.S. win stands as perhaps the greatest game in women's soccer history.
Sunday's game is being billed as a chance for Canada to extract some revenge. It might not carry the same stakes as last summer's epic, but Canadian fans still haven't forgotten the extraordinary highs and lows of that day.
Since coming home from London, the players who led that roller-coaster ride have become major national celebrities. Now they get a rare chance to play in front of their home crowd. The demand to see the team play was so strong that tickets at BMO Field's 21,000 seats sold out in under two hours.
Ahead of Sunday's game, the Canadian Soccer Association held a public training session that drew a crowd of high-pitched youth players and their families. It was a chance for those fans to see their heroes, and Matheson fully appreciated the moment.
"Playing the best team in the world is always a huge challenge," she said, "but I think the most important thing for me is putting on a performance for the fans to thank them for [their support at] the Olympics."
Matheson admitted that her memories of the Olympics are "older now." But when she watches replays of that bronze-medal winning goal, she said "the emotions come through pretty quickly."
As kickoff approaches, Matheson and her teammates have gotten plenty of attention from Toronto's ravenous sports media. It's an impressive feat at this time of year, with the NHL playoffs in full flight. That has helped build attention for the 2015 Women's World Cup, which Canada will host.
Matheson was on both of those squads, even though her participation in 2007 meant missing the first six weeks of her senior season at Princeton. That was no surprise, though. Her international profile was high enough by then, and in 2004 - as a freshman - she helped the Tigers reach the semifinals of the NCAA College Cup.
That Princeton squad remains the only Ivy League women's team to have made such a run in the NCAA tournament. Some Ancient Eight men's programs have reached the national semifinals, but the last time that happened was 1993 - well before the expansion to the current field size of 48 teams.
"Easy now," Matheson joked when reminded that her College Cup heroics nearly a decade ago. "I still remember my freshman year pretty clearly, and our run to the Final Four. It was a fantastic team... everything just kind of fell into place at the right time."
Matheson admitted that deferring entry to Princeton for a year didn't come easily. But it certainly turned out to be the right move.
"I was young, and I didn't really know in the big picture what I was doing," she said. "But I knew I couldn't do the World Cup and Princeton at the same time, so it was a smart decision for me. And I was a little older going into school, which I think helped me be a little more mature."
Matheson's college memories have become ever more distant as her professional career has blossomed. Now that 2015 World Cup is beginning to loom on the horizon. The pressure will be on Canada to deliver on home turf, especially since they failed to get out of the group stage at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups.
The team has enough talent to be a contender. In addition to Matheson, there's serious firepower in the forward tandem of Melissa Tancredi and six-time FIFA World Player of the Year finalist Christine Sinclair.
Many of Canada's players are on club teams in the newly-launched National Women's Soccer League, which has eight teams spread across the United States. The Canadian, American and Mexican soccer federations are subsidizing the salaries of their national team players so they can get more game action outside of international tournaments.
"The league has made a huge difference," Matheson said. "Everyone comes in game-fresh, game-ready."
Matheson plays for the Washington Spirit alongside U.S. defender Ali Krieger. Tancredi plays for FC Kansas City with U.S. midfielder Lauren Cheney, who's engaged to 76ers star Jrue Holiday. Sinclair is teammates with Alex Morgan on the Portland Thorns, which not surprisingly are the NWSL's best team in its inaugural season.
Come Sunday, those club friendships will be splintered. All eyes across women's soccer will be cast on BMO Field, as the latest chapter in an increasingly fierce rivalry is written. It may be a "friendly match" in soccer terms, but the phrase applies in name only.
"When we play the U.S. it's not that friendly," Matheson said. "It's going to be a big measuring stick for us."