World Cup in Sophie Schmidt's sights

Abbotsford midfielder Sophie Schmidt, pictured above battling in the air with Sydney Leroux of the U.S.A. during a friendly last month in Winnipeg, takes the pitch at BC Place tonight with her Team Canada mates vs. Germany. - Shawn Coates / Canada Soccer
Abbotsford midfielder Sophie Schmidt, pictured above battling in the air with Sydney Leroux of the U.S.A. during a friendly last month in Winnipeg, takes the pitch at BC Place tonight with her Team Canada mates vs. Germany.
— image credit: Shawn Coates / Canada Soccer

The FIFA World Cup, currently underway in Brazil, has captured the imagination of soccer aficionados the world over, and Sophie Schmidt is no exception.

But while the 25-year-old midfielder from Abbotsford has her rooting interests in the men’s tournament – she’s partial to Germany and the Netherlands – the event that’s occupying her thoughts to an increasing degree these days is the FIFA Women’s World Cup, to be hosted by Canada in 2015.

On June 6, one-year countdown clocks were unveiled in the six host cities – Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton.

And this Wednesday, Schmidt and her FIFA No. 7-ranked Team Canada mates give local fans a taste of what’s to come as they take on No. 2 Germany in a friendly at BC Place in Vancouver (7 p.m. start, televised live on Sportsnet One).

“It’s kind of a relief that it’s coming up so quickly – we’ve been talking about it for so long,” Schmidt told The News on Tuesday, looking ahead to the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

“I think it starts with a good performance against Germany. . . . One (priority) is just getting a result in front of our home crowd, and also performing in a way that they get excited and we can feed off their energy. We want to go out there playing with that passion and not playing with fear with the pressures of playing in front of a home crowd.”

As Schmidt and her teammates begin the run-up to the Women’s World Cup, they’re mindful of the chance they have to build on their terrific showing at the 2012 London Olympics, which captured the nation’s attention.

Fans rode an emotional roller-coaster with Team Canada, including a controversial 4-3 semifinal loss to the Americans and a 1-0 win over France in the bronze medal game which clinched Canada’s first Olympic medal in women’s soccer.

Schmidt played a key role in the goal that put Canada on the podium – in injury time vs. France, she got the ball at the top of the box and unleashed a shot that hit a French defender and deflected to Diana Matheson, who rolled it home for the only goal of the game.

“I think what we did at the Olympics was phenomenal – how Canada got behind us was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Schmidt noted.

“But we have a unique opportunity to play in Canada next year, where they can see us live and support us in a completely new light. The young girls can see that the dream is real and that it’s in their backyard and their hometowns, so that fuel and passion for the game can grow.”

Schmidt, who made her senior national team debut in 2005 at the age of 16 and boasts 110 caps for Canada, is in her second season playing for Sky Blue FC, a Piscataway, N.J.-based team in the fledgling National Women’s Soccer League.

The nine-team NWSL launched in 2013 and is subsidized by the U.S., Canadian and Mexican soccer federations, which pay the salaries of selected national team players in order to boost the women’s game in North America while giving their athletes an opportunity to develop.

“The idea behind it is phenomenal, just getting Canadian players into a domestic league,” said Schmidt. “We’re all on the same calendar, so it allows us to do things with the national team while we’re part of the league.”

Heading into the Germany exhibition tilt, Schmidt said the foundation for a successful Canadian performance will be its reliably stout defensive play. The key, though, will be how much they’re able to generate offensively.

“We do tend to win the ball quite a bit defensively and shut down other teams’ attack, but what we do going forward will be the biggest part . . . being dangerous in front of the net and scoring more than we have been,” she said.

“I’m happy with where I’m at, but I think there are still large improvements I can add to my game – being more of an attacking threat and having that composure on the ball when we need it.”

As they look ahead to 2015, the men's World Cup in whetting Team Canada's appetite. Schmidt and her teammates are paying particular attention to how the Brazilian squad handles the pressure of playing at home.

"It's incredible – it's getting us all excited for our own World Cup in a year," she said. "It's just exciting to see the passion, and to see football fans come alive, even here in the city."

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