Playing a World Cup at home is undoubtedly a unique experience. It is also a multi-faceted one, where added support can also bring additional pressure. Canada midfielder Sophie Schmidt has recently experienced the rare emotion of playing for the host nation at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, one in which the local side enjoyed - and endured - a typically colourful roller-coaster ride of highs and lows.
Canada played in front of record crowds and achieved unprecedented media coverage for women’s football in their home country during the 2015 edition of the Women’s World Cup. On the field, they topped their group, albeit scoring just two goals in the process, and reached the last eight only to stumble against a resilient England just as a semi-final berth seemed within their grasp.
Canada are a team where the collective outshines the individual, but Schmidt nonetheless proved to be a stand-out performer. A shock of blonde hair means she cuts a distinctive figure in the heart of midfield, but it was the tireless lung-busting runs back and forth that really made the No13 really stand out.
Some six weeks since Canada’s elimination following a memorable Vancouver quarter-final encounter, Schmidt has now had the opportunity to put the maelstrom of tournament life behind her, and reflect on her experiences.
“There is always pressure being the home team, and the expectations people put on us,” Schmidt told FIFA.com. “But the biggest pressure was the pressure we put on yourselves. As a team we wanted to do so well for Canada, and make everybody proud. There was that added bit of pressure if we made little mistakes or if things didn’t go our way. But we tried to use that as a blessing almost, and a motivating factor, and something that could give us energy.
“I think during the event you don’t really realise [the impact of the tournament] because you are in it, and so focussed on the next task. When the tournament was done I was exhausted mentally rather that physically. We had given the tournament our complete attention for so many months. Then there was a void. I could have laid in bed for a week and recharged the batteries,” Schmidt added with a laugh.
When the tournament was done I was exhausted mentally rather that physically.
The impact created by Schmidt and her team-mates was certainly significant, regardless of results. Over 50,000 saw Canada’s opening game against China PR in Edmonton, which was the largest crowd to ever witness a Canadian sporting team play on home soil - a record subsequently superseded by matches in Vancouver.
Schmidt says she hopes that the massive and unprecedented level of interest created by the team will have a lasting effect. “To have a World Cup at home is a rarity for any athlete, especially in soccer,” says Schmidt who grew up in Abbotsford on the US border, just outside Vancouver. “It was so special, and beyond anything we could have imagined growing up.
“I hope we have inspired young girls to live their dreams. Also I hope there will be more people watching soccer, and have more daughters and dads want to kick a ball more often, and hopefully they come through and be better than we are.
“I think one of the biggest things was the support from the fans. It was really neat to see Canadians embrace us like that. On the negative side was not scoring more goals and there was disappointment in that.
“The first game was definitely special, with the late PK [Christine Sinclair’s winning penalty scored in injury time against China PR]. And also hearing the national anthem and the Canadian fans singing along. Also for me, the Vancouver game, being at home in front of my family and friends, and having their support was tremendous.
“I think we did alright. You are always going to be a little disappointed if you don’t win. But the tournament as a whole, the turnout from the fans… hopefully we will see the impact of having that World Cup down the line.”
*Sophie’s choice *
Schmidt, who is fluent in German thanks to her forebears, had previously expressed her desire to play for a German club. Now, after a stand-out showing at the Women’s World Cup her wish has been granted, having recently inked a contract with 1.FFC Frankfurt.
“It is huge for me,” says Schmidt of the move to the reigning with European champions. “To be at Frankfurt is unreal. They are a great club, and in the Champions League. They have high expectations and that is exciting for me. They eat, breath and live soccer in Germany, so it is very cool to be a part of.”
Club football will now be the focus for Schmidt, with the Frauen Bundesliga season about to commence. However, her attention will return to national team affairs next February when CONCACAF qualifiers for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 take place. And the 27-year-old Schmidt - now seemingly at the peak of powers - is eagerly looking forward to the Olympic experience following Canada’s strong showing in claiming a bronze medal three years ago in London.
“Hopefully we have some momentum from the tournament [Women’s World Cup] moving forward, and thankfully we have the Olympics coming up,” said Schmidt. “Obviously we have to qualify first, but the Olympics are something special and different to a World Cup. The expectations are definitely there after last time.”