No place like home for World Cup

Match in Ed­mon­ton gave 2015 women's na­tional team mem­ber Sch­midt chills

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI rty­chkowski@post­media.com Twit­ter: @Rob_Ty­chkowski

Very few peo­ple on this planet ever get to play a World Cup game on home soil, so take it from some­body who’s been there: the ex­pe­ri­ence is ev­ery­thing she dreamed it would be.

So­phie Sch­midt got to live that once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity three years ago when Canada hosted the 2015 Women’s World Cup, so when news broke Wed­nes­day that Canada will co-host the men’s 2026 World Cup with the United States and Mex­ico, all those me­mories came flood­ing back.

“It’s an amaz­ing thing to wake up to,” said Sch­midt, who was in Ed­mon­ton on Wed­nes­day for the an­nounce­ment. “I can’t stop smil­ing. One of the big­gest sport­ing events in the world is com­ing to Canada. Watch­ing a World Cup is what made me fall in love with the game. Now it’s com­ing here to our front door.”

Sch­midt says walk­ing into Com­mon­wealth Sta­dium for the tour­na­ment opener in 2015 and see­ing 53,058 flag-wav­ing fans wait­ing for Team Canada was al­most sur­real. It gave her chills.

“The sta­dium al­ways turns elec­tric when we come there, but for the World Cup, the buzz around the whole tour­na­ment was amaz­ing,” she said. “Just the ex­cite­ment of peo­ple in the street, in the me­dia, it was ev­ery­where. It was pretty spe­cial to be able to live that.

“Our first match in Ed­mon­ton was just in­cred­i­ble. The fans who came out and the noise that they made, to see the sea of red and hear them cheer­ing for you is a spe­cial mo­ment that takes your breath away as a player. You have so much pride for your coun­try.”

There is no guar­an­tee yet that Ed­mon­ton will host any games, but the city has long been known as one of Canada’s most en­thu­si­as­tic soc­cer hosts. It’s a well-earned rep­u­ta­tion that dates back to the Un­der-19 Women’s World Cham­pi­onship in 2002.

“The U19s was the first time I saw women’s soc­cer on TV and the way that fans showed up at the sta­dium was awe­some,” said Sch­midt, who was 14 at the time. “And be­cause of that tour­na­ment, the play­ers from that team made up a huge chunk of the women’s na­tional team for a long time. Peo­ple still talk about those play­ers and that tour­na­ment and that team to this day.”

The an­nounce­ment that Canada would host the 2015 Women’s World Cup came sev­eral years ear­lier and lit a fire un­der the na­tional team. The play­ers knew they would be step­ping on the sport’s grand­est stage, at home, and di­aled up their in­ten­sity ac­cord­ingly.

“I was still a young pup on the na­tional team try­ing to make my way,” she said. “It was so ex­cit­ing. It just made you want to work that much harder. It kind of brought a dif­fer­ent el­e­ment to the pro­gram and be­ing part of the na­tional team and play­ing for your coun­try.

“When you had to make sac­ri­fices or miss out on fam­ily things, you un­der­stood be­cause the World Cup was com­ing to Canada, you had to be the best you could be.

“It also made it ex­cit­ing for fam­ily and friends who live this world with me to see it come alive and get to be a part of it, see ev­ery­thing first-hand. It was very spe­cial to have a home World Cup.”

The im­pact of that tour­na­ment is still be­ing felt. The women’s team, be­ing a global power, was al­ready a ma­jor in­spi­ra­tion to young Cana­dian girls, but host­ing the World Cup took it to an­other level.

“There is a lot of qual­ity in our youth team. Be­fore 2015 there was one age group that came through the na­tional team and made up the core. Now we’re start­ing to see more tal­ented young play­ers come through the pro­gram. I think that’s a direct re­sult of a home World Cup and the suc­cess of the women’s team.”

Sch­midt ex­pects it will hap­pen again, on an even big­ger scale, lead­ing up to and fol­low­ing 2026.

“Es­pe­cially on the men’s side, this will ig­nite dreams and am­bi­tions. Just be­ing able to see it real and in front of you pro­vides a com­pletely dif­fer­ent el­e­ment in peo­ple’s thirst for the game.”

Of course, what made 2015 so com­pelling is the Cana­di­ans were le­git­i­mate con­tenders (los­ing 2-1 to third place Eng­land in the quar­ter-fi­nals). That won’t be the case with the men, who are ranked 80th in the world (the women are fourth).

But Sch­midt doubts that will dampen en­thu­si­asm.

“I don’t think it will play into it. It’s the World Cup. I think Cana­di­ans will just em­brace this team. Even if they ’re not suc­cess­ful we’ll cheer them ’til the very last sec­ond and try to up­lift them.

“I think be­cause of this tour­na­ment you will see the men’s pro­gram grow and take tremen­dous strides. With (for­mer women’s coach) John Herd­man at the helm and some qual­ity play­ers com­ing up, there is no big­ger and bet­ter op­por­tu­nity than now.”

JEFF MCINTOSH/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Canada’s So­phie Sch­midt still fondly re­mem­bers play­ing a World Cup match on home soil at Com­mon­wealth Sta­dium in front of 53,000-plus fans wav­ing the flag and cheer­ing the home team on dur­ing the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.