Schmidt steps up as Canadian women beat England


Canada's Sophie Schmidt leaps into the arms of Melissa Tancredi after scoring against England during a womens' international friendly in Hamilton, Ont., Friday. (Dave Chidley/CP)

HAMILTON, ONT. – If Canada is going to make a statement at this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup then it needs players other than Christine Sinclair to carry the goal-scoring burden.

Step forward Sophie Schmidt. While Sinclair had a quiet night, Schmidt pulled the creative strings from midfield and scored the winner in a 1-0 decision over England on Friday in an international friendly before 23, 197 fans at Tim Hortons Field.

Schmidt was marvellous playing in a more advanced midfield role, giving Canadian fans hope as they await word on whether Diana Matheson, still recovering from a knee injury, will be fit to play at the World Cup.

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“This could be the tournament where (Schmidt) becomes the best midfielder in the world. We’ve told her that. She’s really got the goods to step up in this World Cup,” Canadian coach John Herdman told reporters after the game.

“Tonight, she looked a class above at times. If I dare say it, she reached Sinclair’s level—that classy (player who) floats around the pitch without giving the ball away and sees passes that others don’t see.

“And what a goal, by the way. I mean, wow! That was a great performance from Schmidt, and long may it last.”

Schmidt deflected when told of Herdman’s bold claim in the post-match press conference.

“There’s no pressure there,” she quipped. “It’s something I’m really striving for this (World Cup). I think it’s within me. This team needs me to be that player so I’m going to step up in every way possible.”

She later added: “I think one of my strengths is living on the ball and being that playmaker.”

More Canadian positives on the night were provided by left fullback Allysha Chapman, centre back Kadeisha Buchanan, midfielder Ashley Lawrence and forward Adrianna Leon, who all put in noteworthy performances—this on a night when Canada expertly moved the ball around for long stretches, and when England did a very good job of neutralizing Sinclair, Canada’s all-time leading scorer.

“It was one of the best passing performances Canada has seen from this team,” Herdman offered.

This was the Reds’ final tune-up match before the World Cup, which kicks off next Saturday and runs to July 5 in six cities across Canada.

England is No. 6 in the current FIFA world rankings, two spots ahead of Canada, and won four matches in a row over the hosts before Friday. This victory will give Canada a bit of a confidence boost ahead of the World Cup, but let’s not read too much into it. England coach Mark Sampson fielded a less than full-strength squad—by this correspondent’s count, six regulars were not in the starting lineup, including star forward Eniola Aluko. By contrast, Canada’s starting 11 featured nine starters from the Cyprus Cup final it played against England back in March.

“It’s early days. This was a training match. … But it was important to put on a performance like that,” Herdman said.

Asked if his team is ready for the World Cup just eight days away, Herdman took a very long pause before answering, “Yeah.”

“There was a lot of pressure tonight because I know if we got beat tonight you guys (the media) would have been going ‘Canada’s not ready’ and the girls knew that. … They rose to the pressure, the pressure of performing and knowing they had to get a result for their country to get the momentum moving,” Herdman stated.

Sinclair said contests like this one are just “part of the process” of preparing for the World Cup.

“It’s been a while since we beat England. We always seem to lose to them, so it’s nice to get a victory against a world-class team and get the nerves out playing before a large crowd. It’s a perfect way to head into the World Cup,” Sinclair said.

Forward Melissa Tancredi, a Hamilton native, wore the captain’s armband (instead of Sinclair) in honour of earning her 100th cap for Canada. With veterans Rhian Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault both injured, forward Josee Belanger started at right fullback and acquitted herself well against the English.

Herdman said Matheson, Wilkinson and Nault are all day-to-day ahead of the World Cup.

An opening 20 minutes dominated by a gritty midfield battle saw England’s Steph Houghton come closest to scoring when her free kick went just over the crossbar.

Then, out of nothing, Canada broke the deadlock in the 24th minute. Belanger whipped a great ball into the box for Schmidt, who swung her foot and hit it first time with an English defender draped over her. Schmidt’s shot sailed majestically into the back of the net past a helpless Karen Bardsley in England’s net.

The goal was Schmidt’s 16th in 132 appearances for Canada.

“I just needed to make sure I hit the ball right,” Schmidt modestly said of her sweet strike.

Sinclair described it as “an incredible finish” by Schmidt.

The bustling midfielder came close to scoring again on both sides of half time—her free kick just before the break whispered past the far post, and in the 52nd minute she forced a smart save from Bardsley from in close.

The English goalkeeper again denied Schmidt in the 77th minute, this time after the Canadian latched onto a Buchanan pass played into the box and fought off Houghton to get off her shot.

Fara Williams’ long-distance blast clanged off the crossbar late in the game, England’s only quality scoring chance of the evening.

NOTES: Canada opens group stage play at the World Cup against China on June 6 and New Zealand on June 11 (both games in Edmonton), before wrapping up the first round vs. the Netherlands on June 15 in Montreal… Before Friday, no Canadian national soccer team had played in Hamilton since the men’s Olympic side beat Bermuda in 1987 in a Pan Am Games qualifier at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

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