Canadian WNT stalwart Schmidt exhibits staying power ahead of CONCACAF W Championship semis
Heavily-favoured Canada set for semifinal match vs. Jamaica at 10 p.m. ET Thursday
It was a moment that was over three years in the making for Sophie Schmidt.
The Canadian women's team was sitting on a slender 1-0 lead against Costa Rica on Monday in its final match of the first round at the CONCACAF W Championship in Mexico. Needing to inject a bit of life into a limp attack early in the second half, coach Bev Priestman turned to Schmidt and subbed her on just past the hour-mark.
Seven minutes later, Janine Beckie played a pass across the 18-yard box for Schmidt. The veteran midfielder's path to the net was blocked as she took a touch, but she expertly created space for herself by riding a pair of challenges from Costa Rican defenders before curling a beautiful shot inside the far post.
Schmidt's strike against Costa Rica was her first goal for her country since April 8, 2019, and she also became only the third Canadian women's team player to score in three different decades (2000s, 2010s, 2020s), joining Christine Sinclair and Diana Matheson.
More importantly, Schmidt's 20th goal in 212 games sealed a 2-0 victory, and allowed Canada to win Group B ahead of Costa Rica, thus avoiding the top-ranked United States in the next round. Instead, Canada faces a much weaker opponent in Jamaica in Thursday's semifinal (10 p.m. ET) at Estadio Universitario in Monterrey.
WATCH | Schmidt's curling effort vs. Costa Rica helps Canada secure top of group:
The winner of this CONCACAF competition automatically qualifies for the 2024 Olympics, while the second- and third-place nations will meet in a playoff in September 2023 to decide which other team from this region will travel to Paris.
"When you talk about what people will do for their country, I was over the moon for Sophie," Priestman said after the Costa Rica game.
Schmidt, who plays for the Houston Dash in the NWSL, was a key member of the Canadian team that won back-to-back Olympic bronze medals. But she was dealt a crushing blow when she didn't even make the original 18-player roster selected by Priestman for last year's Tokyo Olympics.
"It was one of the hardest discussions I've ever had as a coach," Priestman said at the time.
Schmidt ended up going to Japan after the squad sizes for the tournament were later expanded to 22. She made one appearance, in a 1-1 draw against Great Britain in the group stage, before being glued to the bench for the rest of the competition. Since Tokyo, Schmidt has made just one start for Canada, and has had to content herself with cameos off the bench.
Schmidt's 'still got class in her'
And yet the midfielder, a mainstay with the national team since her 2005 debut, continues to be a hugely influential figure for Canada behind the scenes.
"She's still got class in her, and I would say she's contributing in many ways, on the training pitch with her standards and performances. Around the group [she's] as happy as anyone for young players coming through," Priestman said in the buildup to Thursday's semifinal against Jamaica.
"I think her level of experience, you put that experience on a pitch in a game you need to see out and she goes and delivers that. For me, I have the utmost respect for Sophie. [She's] a great example to any player who's not starting when you go look at someone with over 200 caps."
Priestman said Schmidt's goal against the Costa Ricans was proof that "if you're a good person then great things happen to you."
Fellow midfielder Quinn agrees.
"Soph is just an incredible teammate, and she's an incredible leader, and she has been for quite some time now since I joined the team. She plays a very important role for us and you saw [vs. Costa Rica] the quality that she brings on the pitch. She's one of [our] most technical players," Quinn offered.
Canada has won all eight of its previous games vs. Jamaica, posting seven clean sheets and outscoring their opponents 57-1, dating back to their first meeting against each other in 1991. Last time out, the Canadians earned a 9-0 win during the group stage of the 2020 Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament when Jordyn Huitema had a career night with five goals.
Beckie (a hat trick) and Deanne Rose (a goal and three assists) also had big games, as Sinclair watched the entire match from the bench as an unused substitute. In total, 10 players who were in the starting 11 that day are on Canada's roster for this CONCACAF tournament. The lone exception is goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé, who retired earlier this year.
Still, Priestman is not looking past the Jamaicans, who upset Mexico in their opening game of this competition and are coming off a 4-0 win over Haiti.
"The Jamaica we played in 2020 is definitely not the Jamaica we see now. Everyone can see that from this tournament … I expect them to make it difficult, and be compact. We've seen that from them across [the group stage]," Priestman warned.