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'Pivotal in the group success': Canadian coach Priestman puts trust in Olympic alternates

Last Updated Jun 25, 2021 at 8:07 am MDT

Canada's Nichelle Prince, left, celebrates after scores the second goal against England during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Rui Vieira/AP)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — It was the most difficult call of her career.

That admission from Canadian women’s national team head coach Bev Priestman this week after she released her 18-player roster for the upcoming Olympics, which didn’t include veteran midfielder Sophie Schmidt.

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“Really difficult and massive respect for Sophie in how she’s handled this,” Priestman expressed. “Sophie’s absolutely devastated, as you can imagine. A really difficult conversation but I had to do what I felt was right for the team.

“Unfortunately for Sophie, there’s a group of players who play in Sophie’s position if you talk about blend in midfield and the type of midfielder, and that ultimately is what it boiled down to.”

Schmidt has been a part of the Canadian program since 2004, playing in over 200 matches and helping the team win back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

And it’s that experience that will see Schmidt accompany the team to Tokyo as one of four alternates.

“Any alternate that’s named has to be trusted to go on the pitch, and I absolutely trust Sophie to do that,” Priestman said.

The alternates played a big role in Canada making it to the podium in 2012 — the first Canadian team sport to win a medal at the Summer Olympics since 1936.

Injuries to Emily Zurrer, Robyn Gayle, and Candace Chapman saw reserves Marie-Eve Nault and Mel Booth called from the stands to hit the pitch under then-coach John Herdman. They were reliable, played important minutes and fit in seamlessly.

While seeing that injury bug repeat itself in Tokyo is not what any Canadian wants, it’s a weight off Priestman’s shoulders knowing she has experienced and capable players who can step up.

“They’ll be pivotal in the group success,” the head coach stated of Schmidt, goalkeeper Erin McLeod, forward Jordyn Huitema, and defender Gabrielle Carle. “I have to be able to trust whoever is in that group to go on the pitch and perform and help us change the colour of the medal.

“Experience, being able to trust them on the pitch, raising the standards in training — all of those players will do that.

“The most critical piece for me was character. It’s really difficult just being an alternate. The good news is, they’re all with us, the whole time training, staying with the group, an integral part.

“Ultimately, you have to accept that role knowing you might never step on the pitch. They have to be able to deal with that. Right now, it’s very raw for them. It was an offer to accept that position, and all four have accepted that. They were critical pieces in that, and I have no doubt the four players listed will be exceptional at that particular role.”

Canada’s first match is versus the hosts, Japan, in Sapporo on July 21.