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Schmidt at peace with decision to retire from national team


As Canadian legend Christine Sinclair prepares to say goodbye to the international game, another long-serving veteran is at peace with her decision after leaving the national team almost three months ago.

Midfielder Sophie Schmidt quietly retired from the national team following this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup. She played her last match for her country in the group-stage finale, a 4-0 loss to Australia that ended Canada’s tournament.

Schmidt, 35, ends her remarkable career with Canada with more than 200 caps, appearances in five World Cups, and three Olympic medals, including gold at the Tokyo Games.

“I gave everything I possibly had to the program,” she told TSN recently. “I was ready to step away. The old body can only go so much.”

Schmidt reached the decision earlier this year. As a player rep for the Canadian Soccer Players Association, which represents the women’s team, Schmidt was in the thick of the dispute with Canada Soccer over pay and gender equity issues.

As things came to a head before the SheBelieves Cup in February, Schmidt’s frustration hit a boiling point. She was ready to quit the national team immediately, a decision she now describes as “a bit hasty.”

But she credits Sinclair, who is set to retire from international duty at the end of the year, for bringing her back into the fold.

“Sincy was the one that talked me off the ledge. She's like, ‘One last fight. We’ve got to see this through. We started it. Come on, let's leave this place a better place,’” she said.

Schmidt, a native of Abbotsford, B.C., admits it was hard to watch the team from afar during Canada’s Olympic qualifiers last month, but she is grateful for the ability to author her own exit.

“I'm glad that I was able to step away on my own terms,” she said. “Sometimes that happens through injury, or you're no longer selected. I'm very thankful that I was able to step away on my own terms and it be my decision. That was an important factor for me.”

Bev Priestman, head coach of Canada’s women’s team, said she called Schmidt after the World Cup to confirm her decision.

“She's going to be a massive, massive loss,” Priestman told TSN last month. “To be honest, I was half hoping when I called her that she was going to say it wasn't time, but she's absolutely at peace with where she's at. She’s really happy with what she's delivered for this country.”

While Schmidt’s career is among the most decorated in Canadian history, it wasn’t without its struggles, especially during Priestman’s tenure.

The English coach took over the reins less than a year before the Tokyo Games, which were postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19. Her initial roster of 18 players did not include the veteran Schmidt, who was instead listed as one of the four alternates.

Shortly before the tournament began, the International Olympic Committee changed its rules to expand rosters to 22 players due to the pandemic, which allowed Schmidt to earn an official spot.

“I think me and Sophie have been on a journey,” Priestman said. “That's a big ask for someone who's been a critical player and always a starter for this team… and she held herself with absolute class throughout that whole period.”

That setback seemingly lit a fire under Schmidt, who found a resurgence in her game. In 2022 with the Houston Dash, her club in the NWSL, she recorded three goals in 15 games and was named the team’s MVP, helping the Dash reach the playoffs for the first time.

This past season, Schmidt started in 20 of Houston’s 22 games, and she ranked near the top of the league in duels won (fourth overall) and possessions won (sixth).

Despite reduced playing time with Canada that saw her make seven starts in 25 matches under Priestman since the beginning of 2021, Schmidt embraced the role of “super sub.” In this summer’s World Cup, she came off the bench to start the second half against Ireland and helped turn the tide of that game, recording an assist on Adriana Leon’s game-winner.

“Everybody off the back of a setback reinvent themselves, and I've absolutely seen that from Sophie,” Priestman said. “You look at the Olympic Games onwards, she really turned things around and I think she went away and worked harder…. It’s determination and character.”

Schmidt said there were other times in her career where she faced possibly being let go from the national team, including under former head coach John Herdman, but ultimately she was able to represent her country 224 times (with 179 starts), second-most all-time, behind only Sinclair.

She credits her late-career success to a simple fact: a love for the game.

“I've just enjoyed the process,” she said. “You never know in this line of work as an athlete what can happen. The pressure to perform at your best and be your best is high… I am extremely grateful and thankful. It's been an absolute honour to represent Canada and wear the badge.”

Schmidt’s resume may not have a career-defining moment, like Diana Matheson’s goal in 2012 that secured the Olympic bronze, but she has been an integral part of Canada since she made her debut with the senior team as a 16-year-old in 2005.

Among her 20 international goals, one of her favourites came in a friendly against England right before the 2015 World Cup, when she scored on a beautiful one-time strike from outside the 18-yard box.

Schmidt also recorded the winner in Canada’s 1-0 victory over France in the quarter-finals of the Rio Games.

“I've had a couple nice goals in my career. Not a lot of goals, not Sinclair-amount of goals,” she laughed.

But like a true midfielder, Schmidt sees herself as a provider and someone who can bring the best out of her teammates – on and off the pitch.

“I'm not a very vocal person, but I care a lot and I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I hope Canadians have been proud of everything I've shown over my career,” she said. “I hope I'm remembered as hardworking, gritty… and just a great teammate.”

Her self-described legacy is echoed by her Canadian teammates.

“I look up to her so much,” forward Nichelle Prince, who also plays with Schmidt in Houston, told TSN. “I've been so lucky to get to play with her for country and club because she holds my standard higher… She's definitely a special person for Canada.”

“She’s one of those players that’s the heart and soul of the team,” Sinclair told The Equalizer after Canada’s last match at the World Cup. “No matter what her role has been, she just accepts it and plays so well.”

Schmidt and Sinclair are part of the generation of players that have long vowed to leave the game in a better place than where they found it. For Schmidt, it’s a case of two steps forward, one step back.

“At times, I think we've left the game in a better place. At times, we have our questions,” she said. “Change has definitely happened. We fought for a lot. And I think we're very proud of the battles that we have fought with CSA [the Canadian Soccer Association] and others in general. I definitely think that there's more work to be done.”

Schmidt points to the importance of Project 8, the initiative being spearheaded by Matheson to bring a women’s professional domestic league to Canada.

“The rest of the world is catching up, if not, has surpassed us,” she said. “The game has grown tremendously, but I think we're just crawling to keep up.”

Canada Soccer confirmed that Schmidt will be honoured during Canada’s upcoming friendly against Australia in Vancouver on Dec. 5, which is also the final game of Sinclair’s international career.

“I know Sincy will take centre stage, as she should. I'm little sidekick Sophie,” she laughed. “I would love nothing more than it to be with Sinc.”

Like Sinclair, Schmidt is continuing her professional career after retiring from the international game. She is under contract with the Dash until the end of 2024, with an option for an additional year.

While her playing days aren’t over, she has started to give some thought to life once she leaves the pitch for a final time. She is in the process of obtaining her B coaching license, and has also been in talks with Matheson about a potential role in the new Canadian domestic league.

“I definitely want to give back to the game,” she said. “It's given me so much, especially as a person. I wouldn't be the person I am today if it weren't for football.”