Sophie Schmidt and the Houston Dash are ready to make history. As dawn begins to break on a highly anticipated new NWSL season in Houston, so too does a momentous individual occasion for the midfielder.
Since 2016 the She Believes Cup has served as a Spring sparring session for the USWNT, a pre-season warm up for NWSL players and a heat check for some of the other top nations in international women’s football.
The 2021 edition of the tournament - set to be played in Orlando, FL between the 18th and 24th of February - will feature the USA, Argentina, Brazil and Canada. Schmidt is one of 29 Canadian players that will head to a training camp in Orlando this week, alongside teammates Allysha Chapman and Nichelle Prince.
Should the Canada head coach, Bev Priestman, select Schmidt to feature at the tournament, the Dash midfielder will make her long awaited 200th appearance for her country.
Speaking at the first press conference of the Dash’s 2021 season, Schmidt said: “I thought I was going to be able to get my 200th cap playing at home in front of my family last year, but that wasn’t the case. It’s been a little bit out of mind because it’s been so long.
“I’ve been so honored to have the career that I have and the opportunities I’ve been given. I love my country so much. To be honest, at this point it is about getting back with the girls – I miss them so much, playing internationally and putting on that Canadian jersey. I think that moment will be bigger than the 200th.”
It has been nearly a year since the Canadians have even played a match. Schmidt made her 199th appearance in their previous match in March 2020, a 2-2 draw with Brazil, just days before the USA went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Houston enclave of Canadian nationals has at least given Schmidt some sense of togetherness, whilst the national team matches have been paused. The extra time Chapman, Prince and Schmidt get to spend together in Houston has been a bonus. “It helps with the training programming – we can do the fitness together, push ourselves and hold each other accountable,” Schmidt explained.
Schmidt may be the most experienced of the three when it comes to international experience, but she was the last of the Canadian trio to arrive in Houston. Chapman and Prince will be entering their sixth and fifth seasons with the Dash respectively. However, Schmidt’s stint with the Dash lines up perfectly with head coach James Clarkson, who signed Schmidt ahead of his first season at the helm in March 2019.
The revamp of the Dash, from top to bottom, is something that Schmidt acknowledged that she has witnessed first hand since 2019. “Even just from arriving through the front doors to the readiness of the club and the staff, what they have ready for us and their support is tremendous. That’s a huge thing that has changed.
“I think the culture and philosophy that’s now part of the Dash – people want to be a part of this team and they know what we’re about. I think the foundation is there - James has worked really hard in the last few years to bring in players on board that are bought in, and we’re only building off of that.”
Whether you want to irreverently call this moment in Houston Dash history the ‘Schmidt Era’ or the ‘Clarkson Cycle’, what has become clear is that the culture of the ensemble is what is most crucial. This is where Schmidt’s distinctive leadership style comes into its own.
With co-captains Jane Campbell and Rachel Daly yet to link up with the team at Houston’s training camp, there will be an increased responsibility for Schmidt to offer guidance in this first week of pre-season.
When elucidating her position as a role model for younger Dash players, Schmidt said: “I’m an introvert, but I think that the person-to-person stuff is huge. I’m never going to yell or be that ra-ra person on the field… I can be an example of how I’m playing and the standards I hold both on and off the field showing this is what it takes to be at the top for a very long time.
“Making them feel welcome – I feel that’s a huge part as a veteran player. If you are mean and harsh, it’s not going to help them learn, fit in or raise their level to be part of the team. I think for me, it’s being personable and making sure they feel welcome and comfortable so they can also push me in return.”
Speaking on National Girls and Women In Sports Day, the humble and spirited Schmidt addressed her final thoughts to young female athletes: “Push yourself, but enjoy the people that you’re playing with, your friends, and keep it fun. Keep getting out there and moving. Dream big because you never know what can happen.”
Right now, whether it is in electric orange or with a maple leaf on her chest, Schmidt is doing just that. Pushing herself and making it fun.