06/01/2013 03:09 EDT | Updated 08/01/2013 05:12 EDT

Canadian soccer veterans Matheson, Gayle loving life at retirement community

TORONTO - Canadian soccer players Diana Matheson and Robyn Gayle live rent-free in a spacious apartment while they're playing for the Washington Spirit.

Two bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths in 1,800 square feet, plus free meals and a cleaning service.

Not only is Matheson's bathroom so enormous it dwarfs the one in her parents' home in Oakville, Ont., but it comes complete with an emergency pull-chord.

Matheson and Gayle — who will suit up for Canada in Sunday's sold-out friendly versus the United States at BMO Field — live in a retirement community in Rockville, Md.

"It's fantastic. The apartments are beautiful," Matheson said. "We're getting spoiled there. (The residents) have just embraced us. It's a great connector between the generations. They've connected with our team, and we get to hear some great stories from them."

Matheson and Gayle are two of 16 Canadians who play in the eight-team NWSL, which is a collaboration between the Canadian, American and Mexican soccer federations, and kicked off its inaugural season last month.

The league is keen to keep costs down so many of the players live with host families in their respective cities.

Matheson, 29, and Gayle, a 27-year-old from Toronto, said they thought someone was playing a practical joke when they learned of their new living quarters at Ingleside at King Farm.

But they have quickly come to love their new neighbours — and the feeling is clearly mutual.

Ingleside's residents have become regulars at their games. They bake them biscotti and cookies. They high-five the Canadians when they pass in the hallway. Matheson and Gayle are popular dinner guests at the dining hall.

"Nobody since I came into (Canadian team) camp has baked me any cookies or biscotti so I kind of miss my neighbours," said Matheson, who scored the goal to lift Canada to bronze at last summer's London Olympics.

"The league needs housing, this solution lets us to have our own apartment in this fantastic place that connects the generations."

The unique housing situation is partly due to the quick launch of the league. It announced its formation in November and played its first game five months later. The Canadian Soccer Association picks up the tab for its 16 players, with the U.S. federation doing the same for its women.

The Washington Spirit is sixth in the league with one win, four losses and three draws. The Portland Thorns — led by Canada's captain Christine Sinclair — and Sky Blue FC are tied atop the standings in the league that also includes 23 Americans and 16 Mexicans.

Canadian and U.S. national team players took a break from league play to travel to Toronto this week for Sunday's grudge match at BMO Field — the first time the two teams have met since the Americans beat Canada 4-3 in a controversial Olympic semifinal.

The NWSL has been a mixed blessing for the Canadians, said coach John Herdman.

"There's ups and downs, there's pros and cons," Herdman said. "I'm not used to the players coming in all of them from pro leagues where they've just played so many games, they're carrying injuries, some of them have been starting every game, and some haven't been getting game time. So you've got this mixed bag of energy, emotion. That's new."

Herdman noticed some of the players arrived at this week's national camp emotionally drained.

"It's just challenging, no matter what pro league, men, women, Premier League, NWSL, the rigours of two games a week and east to west travel. . . wow," Herdman said. "I think the girls are starting to realize this is tough."

Herdman has hired sports psychologist Kimberly Amirault to help with the transition to the professional lifestyle.

Amirault is the performance consultant for the Edmonton Oilers, and has worked with the New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Knicks. She's also the lead sports psychologist for Canada's Olympic team at the 2014 Sochi Games.

"The mindset is the most important thing when you're preparing winners," Herdman said. "They have to go out and win every week. They didn't have that in the buildup to the Olympics, it was a nice cozy training environment."

Herdman said the professional league will instill a tougher, more ruthless mindset in his players.

"In these pro environments, they've got to go fight for their shirt."