If Sophie Schmidt’s place in the Canadian soccer pantheon wasn’t already secured, it certainly will be the next time she takes to the pitch for Canada’s women’s team. Should the veteran midfielder see action against the United States next Thursday in Canada’s opening match of the 2021 SheBelieves Cup, she’ll earn her 200th cap, further solidifying her status as one of the best of international players (male or female) this country has produced. Canada is currently holding a pre-tournament training camp in Florida. Coach Bev Priestman is expected to name her final roster (which, barring unforeseen circumstances, will include Schmidt) for the SheBelieves Cup a few days before Canada’s opening match of the competition. Canada’s "200-cap club" is ultra-exclusive. Only iconic captain Christine Sinclair (296 appearances) and midfielder Diana Matheson (206) have made 200 appearances for the Canadian women’s team. Midfielder Desiree Scott, who is fifth all-time in caps (156) behind the retired Rhian Wilkinson (181), is next in line to reach 200. "Gosh, 200! It’s weird because it’s been so long since (Canada) played together, I don’t know what I’m more excited for. I think I’m more excited to go back on the field with my teammates, but with the 200 (caps), it’s been such an honour to represent Canada time and time again," Schmidt told reporters on Wednesday. "I was lucky enough to get a chance (to play for Canada) when I was young… It’s not a sole endeavour, and I wouldn’t be here if not for my teammates who I’ve enjoyed this journey with. I love the game, and I love the people I get to play with. I’m very thankful for this opportunity. It’s crazy."

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For Schmidt, a 32-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., the journey towards 200 caps started when she first joined the Canadian youth program in 2003, when she was 14. The following year, she represented Canada at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Thailand, and again at the 2006 U-20 World Cup in Russia. She earned her first cap for Canada’s senior team as a 16-year-old in a friendly against the Netherlands on April 19, 2005, and she scored her first goal that same month. Since then, she’s been a mainstay in Canada’s lineup (of her 199 caps, 174 have come as a starter), scoring 19 goals and tallying 20 assists. "I just remember coming in and being so grateful that I was called up. I was so scared," Schmidt recalled of her senior team debut against the Dutch. "I remember looking around and seeing Andrea Neil, Amy Walsh, Charmaine Hooper, these huge names in (Canadian) soccer, not to mention Christine Sinclair. I was playing with these amazing players and they see me as one of them and they’re holding me to the same standards. It was incredible… It gave me a hunger for more." Schmidt has always been there for Canada, playing in countless friendlies and qualifying tournaments, as well as three Olympics (helping the Reds win bronze in 2012 and 2016) and in four FIFA Women’s World Cups. Incredibly, she played in 76 consecutive matches for Canada from 2011 to 2015, and followed that streak up with another impressive one when she appeared in 24 straight games from 2016 to 2017. Schmidt credits her adaptability, as well her durability and consistency, as a major factor for her lengthy career with the Canadian team. "I’m able to play in midfield, I’m able to play centre-back, attacking midfielder, defensive midfielder. (Different) players come in and they fill different roles, and I’m happy to just support the team and help other people come alive, and I think that’s been a huge asset to my success," Schmidt explained. Looking back over her previous 199 caps and time with the national side, Schmidt cited Canada’s bronze medal win at the 2012 London Olympics as her favourite moment. With new coach John Herdman at the helm, Canada’s third-place showing came after a heartbreaking loss to the U.S. in the semifinals, and just one year after finishing last place at the 2011 FIFA World Cup in Germany under ex-coach Carolina Morace. "That was probably the most incredible things I’ve experienced as a human and as a player," Schmidt stated. Schmidt plays professionally with the Houston Dash in the NWSL, having recently signed a contract extension that ties her to the club through the 2022 season with a club option for 2023. Retirement isn’t on the cards for the midfielder any time soon, but she admitted she’d like to stay involved in the game once she does eventually hang up her cleats, most likely in coaching.

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This will be Canada’s first appearance in the SheBelieves Cup, which will take place at Exploria Stadium in Orlando. This year marks the sixth anniversary of the prestigious invitational tournament, and will see Canada play the United States, as well as Brazil and Argentina. The Canadian side will kick off the competition against the U.S., currently first in the FIFA world rankings, on Feb. 18. Following that game, they’ll take on 31st-ranked Argentina on Feb. 21, followed by eighth-ranked Brazil on Feb. 24. Canada is tied with Brazil in the world rankings. The SheBelieves Cup marks Canada’s return to action for the first time in close to a year, as the team has been idle since competing at the Tournoi de France last March. The SheBelieves Cup also gives a valuable opportunity for Canada to prepare for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. For her part, Schmidt is looking forward to Canada renewing its rivalry with the U.S. at the SheBelieves Cup after such a lengthy layoff. "Every game against the U.S. is a battle, fight tooth-and-nail to the end. We don’t like them, they don’t like us, so I think nothing changes in that regard," Schmidt said. TIG-book-onsale-editorialad-1024x284

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