Former Griffins goalkeeper Burns lands with French first division team Sainte Étienne

Emily Burns, who starred for the Griffins from 2015-20, has signed on with France's Saint Étienne (Chris Piggott photo).
Emily Burns, who starred for the Griffins from 2015-20, has signed on with France's Saint Étienne (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Emily Burns cemented her name in the record books after an illustrious career for the MacEwan Griffins women's soccer team from 2015-20.

But she might just be getting started.

A year after turning pro with Spanish second division team Real Racing, the Griffins women's soccer team announced Thursday that Burns has signed a pro contract with French Division 1 team Saint Étienne.

At this level – the highest ever achieved by an alum of the program – she'll be going against top-calibre players such as longtime Canadian national team member Kadeisha Buchanan, who plays for Olympique Lyonnais.

"It's amazing," said Griffins women's soccer head coach Dean Cordeiro. "To go from Real Racing in the Spanish second division and do so well there that you catch the attention of a first division side in France. I think it speaks volumes to all the work Emily's put in to make this opportunity for herself. 

The sky seems to be the limit for the Sherwood Park product, who finished her final season with the Griffins as a Canada West first team – and U SPORTS second team – all-star.

"We've seen Emily dominate here and pretty much accomplish anything one can accomplish around these parts," said Cordeiro. "To have earned this opportunity overseas at the French first division is incredible."

Most recently, Burns wrapped up a brief season (shortened due to the pandemic) playing for the St. Albert Impact in the UWS semi-pro loop and made more than her fair share of highlight-reel saves.

"Emily holds herself to the highest standard possible," said Cordeiro, who was an associate head coach for the Impact. "Our home opener against Calgary Foothills was a 1-0 result in our favour. Emily shut the door on three point-blank opportunities. Her ability to step up in the those big moments really shows her class and composure." 

That hasn't been lost on her current Griffins teammates, who are gaining inspiration to pursue pro careers themselves.

"All five of our fifth-years are putting film together, (saying) 'we want to play pro,' " noted Cordeiro. "The mindset has changed so much over the last few years.

"Before, people wanted to finish their university eligibility and move on with life, maybe play competitively for fun in the top amateur leagues. Now, that mentality has completely changed. These players want more. They want to see if they can have a career in the game, as they should."

After all, has there really been a better time in history for Canadian women's soccer?

"With Canada soccer winning the Olympic gold medal last week, it just goes to show you how much we've grown as a nation. We're the best in the world right now," said Cordeiro.

"Now is the time to support our players and open doors because the female footballers who are playing in our own backyard are at a top level and are ready for these opportunities."

While Burns is a torchbearer for Griffins players at the pro level, she also has a good mentor – none other than Canadian women's national team hero Stephanie Labbé. Burns had the opportunity to train with Labbe when they both played for the Calgary Foothills UWS squad.

The local keeper has also occasionally trained with the Griffins, who share a goalkeeper coach with her – Darren Woloshen. Even before she turned pro, Burns has been able to see what the next level looks like.

"Stephanie's been huge in Emily's development," said Cordeiro. "She's Canada's No. 1 goalkeeper. To see how she trains and how she conducts herself is really important for this next generation."