Soccer is often described as a universal language, and in that sense, Sophie Schmidt’s goal is to express herself fluently both on and off the pitch as the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in Germany this week.
The precocious 22-year-old from Abbotsford will play a key role patrolling the central midfield for Team Canada, which boasts an all-time high No. 6 FIFA ranking heading into the World Cup.
In the lead-up to the event, Schmidt has also had a unique opportunity to dust off her German language skills.
“It’s my first language,” Schmidt said in a phone interview, explaining she grew up in a German-speaking Mennonite colony in Paraguay before moving to Canada when she was seven years old.
“For some of the interviews, they’ve asked me to speak in German. It’s been challenging, some of the questions – I understand what they’re asking, but I don’t know how to explain it in German. It’s kind of cool to be able to use it in the country the World Cup is in.”
Schmidt is one of the youngest players on Team Canada, but she’s also one of the most experienced on the squad. Only six athletes on the roster have more international caps than the 63 amassed by Schmidt, who made her senior national team debut in 2005, at age 16.
The term “veteran” feels a bit odd to the W.J. Mouat Secondary grad, but she’s well aware she’ll be looked upon as an on-field leader at the World Cup, regardless of her age.
“I think it kind of goes without saying that I have to step up into that (leadership role) a bit,” said Schmidt, who turns 23 on Tuesday. “Playing in the central midfield, I need to anchor the team, both attacking and defending.
“I think one of my strengths as a soccer player is reading the game and understanding what the other team is doing. That’s what I bring to the table – a calming presence.”
Canada is in Group A at the World Cup, along with host Germany, France and Nigeria. The Canadians, who open on Sunday in Berlin against the two-time defending champion Germans (9 a.m. Pacific time, CBC TV), are regarded as a dark-horse contender for the World Cup title after winning the the CONCACAF championship last November.
The senior women’s national program encountered some turbulence in early February, when head coach Carolina Morace said she’d resign following the World Cup due to philosophical differences with the Canadian Soccer Association. In a gesture of solidarity, the players threatened to boycott international matches if Morace’s situation wasn’t resolved.
The popular bench boss and the CSA reached an understanding, and Morace is now under contract through the 2012 London Olympics. That’s great news, according to Schmidt.
“It’s unfortunate that things had to occur the way it did,” she said. “As a team, we’re thankful Carolina’s still here, and that she’s going to be around for a little bit longer.”
Morace has earned extensive acclaim for transforming the Canadian squad in terms of fitness and ball-control tactics, and Schmidt echoed that praise.
“She’s probably one of the most intelligent soccer coaches I’ve ever come across,” she said of Morace. “She has us so completely organized, and she’s broken down Germany to the tiniest details.
“In that sense, I think we feel prepared. From how we’ve been playing and from past results, I think we truly believe in ourselves – that we can do well. If we play well, I think anything is possible.”
Schmidt graduated from the University of Portland in December, with majors in life science and German. She’s signed with a Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) side, magicJack of Boca Raton, Fla., and will join them following the World Cup.
TEAM CANADA TV SCHEDULE
Team Canada’s World Cup games are being broadcast live on CBC TV. Times listed below are Pacific Standard.
Sunday, June 26 – Canada vs. Germany, 9 a.m.
Thursday, June 30 – Canada vs. France, 9 a.m.
Tuesday, July 5 – Canada vs. Nigeria, 11:45 a.m.