Sophie Schmidt recalls her introduction to the Canadian national team, feeling a mixture of fear, gratitude and awe at being there.
"But (there were) just incredible humans and players around me, demanding the most out of me even though I was only 16 years old," she told a media conference call Wednesday.
"I remember just looking around and having Andrea Neil, Amy Walsh, Charmaine Hooper, these huge names of soccer — not to mention Christine Sinclair who's still playing — (thinking) 'I'm playing with these amazing players and they see me as one of them and they're holding me to the same standards.'
"It was just incredible the example they set. They paved the path for me and so many other players."
The experience, she added, "gave me a hunger for more."
Sixteen years later, Neil, Hooper and Walsh are in the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame. Schmidt and Sinclair, still going strong, are among the senior players being watched by the youngsters at a camp ahead of the SheBelieves Cup, which starts next week in Orlando.
Schmidt, a 32-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., is expected to win cap No. 200 when the eighth-ranked Canadians open Feb. 18 against the top-ranked Americans. Only the 37-year-old Sinclair (296) and 36-year-old Diana Matheson (206) have more.
Schmidt, who helped the Houston Dash capture the NWSL Challenge Cup last year, has long been a constant on the Canadian team sheet. A midfielder who can shield the defence or help spark the attack, Schmidt can also play centre back if needed.
For Schmidt, the 200 caps represent "durability and adaptability for me as a player."
The milestone also represents all the teammates, coaches, family and friends who helped her get there.
"It's definitely not a solo endeavour … I love the game. I love the people I get to play with," she said, "And I'm very thankful for this opportunity."
The Canadian camp is the first under Bev Priestman, who took over as coach in November after Kenneth Heiner-Moller accepted a coaching job in his native Denmark. The 34-year-old Priestman was with Canada Soccer from 2013 to 2018, working as a youth coach and assistant with the senior side.
She left in August 2018 to take up similar duties with the England women.
"I think it's fair enough to expect that you're going to see a little different Canada under Bev, as it should be," said Schmidt. "There's definitely a familiarity there with Bev. A lot of the girls have seen her before, especially the younger players coming through know her quite well."
Schmidt says the coaching staff did a good job preparing the players for camp, with Zoom calls on tactics and philosophy.
"That was a huge win for us," she said. "So that we could be better prepared when we come into here and just start flying on the field with that stuff. So it's been nice. And I'm very excited for this tournament with Bev."
The Canadian women, in their first outing since a 2-2 draw with Brazil at a tournament in France last March, start with a bang against the rival Americans. Canada's record against the U.S. is 3-50-7.
"Every game against the U.S. is a battle, a fight tooth and nail 'til the end," said Schmidt. "We don't like them, they don't like us."
Schmidt said her team may be feeling some rust given its recent inactivity while the Americans are coming off a pair of lopsided wins against Colombia.
"But the expectations and standards are the same for our players," she said. "We come out, we expect ourselves to compete and to win. That's what we want to do and especially against the U.S. I mean, what an opportunity. They're No. 1 in the world. We'll see where we're at right away into this Olympic year.
"It's going to be a challenge for sure but I think we're ready and we're eager."
Canada then takes on No. 31 Argentina on Feb. 21 and Brazil, tied with Canada at No. 8, on Feb. 24. Argentina was a late replacement for No. 10 Japan, which opted out of the tournament due to the pandemic.
As for the novice turned team leader, Schmidt says she doesn't think of herself as the grizzled veteran these days.
"I feel like this inner child always coming into camp. I don't see myself as having that same stature as a Charmaine Hooper or an Andrea Neil … But there's definitely an expectation and a leadership thing that you have to bring to the pitch and in everything you do, and expect the most out of the younger players, that next generation, and kind of lead them the way."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press