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By Tyler Harper

It’s probably not fair to say that Andrea Raso is Ryerson University’s next great hope, but she doesn’t mind.

“I’m fine with it. I like being the hero,” says Raso, who is usually shy and soft spoken.

Recruited this year by the Ryerson Rams women’s soccer team, Raso, a business management student, has been an early standout player and already leads the team with three goals.

That Raso is even playing soccer is a surprise.

“She shouldn’t be playing sports,” says Mary Raso, Andrea’s mother. “She almost died on me.”

Diagnosed when she was six years old with Henoch-Schonlein purpura, a form of blood vessel inflammation that targets the kidneys and joints, Raso was one of the rare cases where recovery takes many years. The cause and cure of the disease is still unknown.

“I’m proud of her because of what I’ve been through with her,” says Mary as she sits in the stands hollering support out at her daughter during Saturday’s game against Trent University.

“It was hard to keep up with activities and be myself,” Raso says of her eight years with the disease.

In addition to playing soccer, she also plays baseball and is trying out for Ryerson’s unofficial women’s hockey team, the Stingers. Athletes who play more than one sport are rare at Ryerson, making her all the more valuable.

Still, the excitement around her isn’t obvious until she’s seen barrelling down the pitch toward the opposing goal.

In a practice scrimmage, Raso accepts a pass in front of the net and deftly chips the ball between assistant coach Bijan Azizi’s legs into the net, eliciting loud approval from her teammates.

Rams head coach Peyvand Mossavat says Raso’s instincts and technical ability are the best in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) league. “She’s a small girl with the heart of a lion. We’re fortunate to have her here.”

Mossavat’s not the only one sold on her.

Fellow striker Caroline Forsyth, a second-year arts and contemporary studies student, points to Raso’s personality as a key contribution to the team. “She knows when to be serious and when to have fun and make us laugh. She’s a great addition to the team.”

However bold she is on the field, Raso remains modest about her talent. “It feels good to score. I feel good that I’m a part of the team,” she said.

But the team is still a work in progress. “We play really well defensively but we play too defensively,” she said. “It’s getting better each game.”

Getting better is an understatement. Under Mossavat, the Rams squad has developed from being a skeleton team to a playoff contender in only three seasons. A solid lineup of returning veterans and gifted rookies has people wondering how far this season’s team will go.

And at the centre of it all, at least for the moment, is 17-year-old Raso.

Early in the first half against Trent, Raso is hit hard from behind and goes down rolling. She quickly gets back up, briefly holds her neck in pain and runs back after the ball as though nothing happened.

Prior aggressive training was part of the appeal in recruiting Raso. In 2004, Raso went to Roseto, Abruzzo in southern Italy as part of the Centro Scuola program, a six-month high school program that included soccer training with an emphasis on fitness and tactics.

Despite offers from other schools in Canada and the U.S. Raso accepted a $3,500 athletic scholarship and $2,000 academic scholarship to come to Ryerson. She credits Mossavat as being an influence in her decision. Mossavat brought Raso out to winter practices, showed her the campus and introduced her to business management students.

It wasn’t just soccer that brought her to Ryerson.

“I liked the fact that the business program was expanding a lot. I like the business world. I like to be active in learning about our economy.”

The game against Trent ends in a 1-1 draw. Raso walks over to the stands, where someone calls out to her, “Hey Raso, you’ve got your own fan club here.” In response, the rest of the packed stands start cheering her loudly. She laughs, then turns away sheepishly.

It’s probably not easy being the next great hope, but at least she has her own fan club.

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