You can forgive Sophie Schmidt if she doesn’t know the exact number of times she’s played for the Canadian women’s team.
There are a lot of games to count for the veteran midfielder who made her debut for the Reds as a 16-year-old in a friendly against the Netherlands in 2005.
Now 30, Schmidt collected her 175th cap in Canada’s 12-0 romp over Cuba earlier this week at the Concacaf Women’s Championship being held in Texas. Currently sitting fourth all-time in national team appearances, Schmidt will likely add to her total and close the gap on former teammate Rhian Wilkinson (who ranks third with 181 caps) when Canada plays Costa Rica on Thursday in its final game of the tournament’s group stage.
For Schmidt, one of Canada’s best and most important players, the excitement over playing for her country hasn’t dimmed over time. The experience is just as fresh for her today as it was 13 years ago when she took to the field against the Dutch in her first game for the senior team.
“Every game is a different picture, a different story. You get to play with different players and in different situations, so it never gets stale or boring. I can’t believe it’s been that many games. It makes me feel very old,” Schmidt told Sportsnet, laughing. “I still get nervous before every game, which is a sign of how much I care, and that the passion is still there.”
Some players change over the span of their careers. It’s natural – time catches up with even the biggest stars, forcing them to alter their playing style.
Schmidt doesn’t feel she’s changed that much, but she concedes her game has evolved somewhat.
“I think my strengths are even stronger than when I first came in – more solidified. My defensive game has improved. I’m more solid, more consistent in my performances. I know what my strengths are: getting on the ball, passing on the ball and making plays happen. That’s me,” Schmidt explained.
“I’m not a dribbler, so I don’t try to be. I’m at my best when I can get the ball and make my teammates look good. I’ve simplified my game in that regard.”
It’s a young Canadian side that’s competing in Texas at the moment, with an average age of 24.65, according to Canada Soccer. The roster includes five teenagers in Jordyn Huitema (17), Julia Grosso (18), Emma Regan (18), Gabrielle Carle (19) and Deanne Rose (19). Regan earned her first cap in the win over Cuba, while Grosso has just seven national team appearances to her credit.
As one of the veterans on the team, Schmidt serves an example of what coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller would like to see from a young midfielder such as Grosso.
“For me, I can say it, but I can’t show it. Sophie does. She’s what I want [from Grosso]: intensity in one-on-one defending and being able to cover a lot of ground. So, having someone like Sophie is invaluable,” Heiner-Moller said.
Leading by example suits Schmidt just fine. She doesn’t want to smother the young players on the team, preferring to give them space so they “find out who they are on the pitch.”
“I absolutely love our young players. They are so driven,” Schmidt enthused.
“This is the first international tournament for some of them, but I don’t think we should have any lesser expectations of them to make a difference, both in the short- and long-term.”
A native of Abbotsford, B.C., Schmidt is on the wrong side of 30, but she has no immediate plans to slow down. There are still plenty of games to be won, and big tournaments to compete in, such as the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. If Canada can finish no worse than third at this Concacaf tournament, it will qualify for next summer’s World Cup in France.
Schmidt also has an eye towards adding to her collection of two bronze medals at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“I have a two-year plan: Qualify for the World Cup, qualify for the Olympics, and then re-evaluate after that. I’m getting married soon and who knows, maybe a family will be on the table. You can’t really predict life. But I think as long as my body is able and I’m still enjoying the game, I would love to keep playing for Canada and being involved,” Schmidt offered.
That being said, Schmidt has started to think about life after her playing career is over.
“I’d definitely love to give something back in some capacity. I’m not sure what that would look like right now, but that’s part of the process,” she said.
Before that, though, she has to find a new professional cub. Schmidt parted ways with her old team, German outfit FCC Frankfurt, after her contract ran out. She’s hoping to sign with a team in the U.S.-based National Women’s Soccer League, but admitted she might have to resort to Plan B, which would mean catching on with a team in Europe.
She’s also getting married in December to her fiancé Nic Kyle, an actor who specializes in musical theatre that she met while playing in Germany. The couple plans on having the wedding in New Zealand, Kyle’s home country.
“I’m super chilled and laid back about it. I’m glad it’s been a long engagement, and now I can’t wait to get married. But I have business to take care of first on the pitch,” Schmidt said.