An inspired effort fell painfully short for Sophie Schmidt and the Canadian women’s soccer team, as they suffered a dramatic 4-3 extra-time loss to the United States in the Olympic semifinals on Monday.
Playing at Old Trafford, the home field of Manchester United known as the “Theatre of Dreams,” Canada pushed the heavily-favoured Americans to the limit.
Superstar striker Christine Sinclair of Burnaby turned in a Hurculean performance, scoring a hat trick, and each of her goals staked Canada to a one-goal lead.
Schmidt, a 24-year-old midfielder from Abbotsford making her 95th appearance for Canada, set up Sinclair’s third in the 73rd minute, launching a corner kick that Sinclair soared to head past U.S. keeper Hope Solo.
But each time Sinclair (pictured right) scored, the U.S. battled back to equalize – twice on goals by Megan Rapinoe, and once on a penalty kick by Abby Wambach.
Wambach’s goal, in the 80th minute, was the product of two controversial calls by Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen. First, she whistled Canadian keeper Erin McLeod for a rarely-called delay of game infraction, awarding the Americans a free kick at the top of the box. On Rapinoe’s ensuing kick, the ball went off the elbow of Canadian defender Marie-Eve Nault, and Pedersen pointed to the penalty spot. Wambach stepped up and converted.
Schmidt had a chance to give Canada the lead in the 89th minute after generating a turnover deep in American territory, but Solo got a hand on her sharp-angle blast.
Canada, ranked seventh in the FIFA world rankings, had not beaten the top-ranked Americans since 2001, but they were mere seconds away from taking them to penalty kicks. But with less than a minute left in added time, Alex Morgan leaped to get on the end of a cross and head it over McLeod’s outstretched arm.
It was a heartbreaking end for Team Canada, whose gritty performance helped to author a game that will go down as a classic. Their consolation prize is a berth in the bronze medal match against France on Thursday (5 a.m. Pacific time, CTV).
“They’ve come to see the flag rise,” Canadian coach John Herdman said. “That’s the job. They came here for that and the job is not finished. They’ll be disappointed tonight because it won’t be gold or silver, but we’ll take a medal from this tournament.”
Schmidt turned in a tough-minded performance that Don Cherry would have been proud of. During extra time, Wambach’s cleat came down on her left ankle, and Schmidt limped to the sideline in obvious pain. But she returned to play the rest of the game.