People were screaming, flags were waving, and there in the crowd was a proud father wearing a sweater with the words “KEEP CALM AND LET SCHMIDT HANDLE IT” set across the front.
And handle it she did.
Sophie Schmidt, Abbotsford’s favourite soccer star, returned to the valley on Tuesday for a Canadian women’s national team exhibition against internationally third-ranked Japan. It was her first official visit since the Team Canada squad suffered a 2-1 loss to Germany back in June, and the last time she’ll be playing at BC Place this year. As always, she had a loyal cohort of hometown friends and family out to cheer on the 26-year-old international sensation.
“The support over the years has been tremendous,” said Schmidt in reference to her Abby fans. “It’s just so humbling and reassuring to know they have my back…they’re great and I love them. They’ve been there along the way and [when I score] it’s partly them scoring with me.”
If that’s so then the support must have been something special on Tuesday as Schmidt provided all the offensive production for her team in a 3-2 loss to the Japanese side. Down one-to-nil courtesy of a phenomenal goal Canada coach Jon Herdman called “an absolute worldie,” Schmidt put a shot on target in the 56th minute that resulted in the first Canadian tally in more than 150 minutes of play against Team Japan.
Unfortunately, the ball connected with defender Mizuho Sakaguchi’s head before the back of the net, meaning the Japanese player stole Schmidt’s thunder with her first ‘own goal’ of the series.
Schmidt got revenge in the 90th minute, when, once again down by a goal, she pounced on a rebound from teammate Jesse Belanger and banged it home. Again the ball deflected off of a Japanese defender, but this time the soccer gods had mercy and Schmidt was credited with the last-minute equalizer.
The location seems to suit Abby’s golden girl, who has scored all three of the goals the women’s national team have managed at BC Place during their two exhibition games this year. On Tuesday, Schmidt was by far the most dynamic Canadian player on the pitch, and her accelerating offensive production hints at good things to come as Canada gets ready to host the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015.
Japan defeated Canada 3-0 on Saturday in Edmonton, and is the reigning World Cup champion courtesy of a victory on penalty kicks over the U.S.A. in the 2011 final.
“We starting to see a different Canada now,” said Herdman post-game. “At times we were able to take it to Japan like we did in the first game. You think back to the Olympics we had three shots in the whole game, scored one goal. Tonight we had 12 shots…we actually outcrossed and outshot the world champions.”
Herdman also praised the evolution of Team Canada from a defensive team that attempts to score on the counter-attack to one capable of holding possession and matching world class opposition blow for blow.
He might have been taking solely about Sophie Schmidt, whose playmaking and scoring abilities are becoming ever more essential to the women’s national team.