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Sophie Schmidt says Canada seeking 'fighting spirit' under new coach

When Sophie Schmidt steps onto the Jeld-Wen Field pitch on Thursday, it will be a very different Portland atmosphere than she grew accustomed to while playing at the University of Portland.

As a central midfielder for Canada, Schmidt realizes that she is wearing the wrong uniform for most U.S. fans. Still, she hopes that some of them will remember everything that she accomplished as a Pilot.

'Back in Portland, the home crowd cheering against me ... of course there's a little bit more excitement there,' Schmidt says. 'But hopefully, deep down inside, there's a little cheer for me.'

Schmidt deserves at least a little cheer from the Portland fans. She was a star for the Pilots from 2006 to 2009. And, having played in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, she has taken her talent to another level.

'Sophie is a really solid player,' says newly hired Canada coach John Herdman. 'She has the potential to be world-class in that central midfield position. She's one of the most composed players that I've seen. Rarely gets flustered. That's a sign of a top-class player.'

A new coach can mean changes. Schmidt says she is not too worried about position security at midfield, though.

'Maybe for some of the younger players that might be more of a concern,' she says. 'But for me, I just go out there and try to play soccer. And if I'm playing well, he should be able to see those qualities I have as a soccer player.'

Canada is coming off of an awful run in the 2011 World Cup. Entering the tournament ranked as the No. 6 team in the world, Canada was mathematically eliminated after losing its first two matches.

'The World Cup was a little bit demoralizing,' Schmidt admits. 'We don't think that we're the team that showed at the World Cup.'

Schmidt wants to use the months leading up to the Olympic qualifiers to adjust to Herdman's philosophy and get herself physically prepared to play.

'For me, it's just getting my feet back under me with fitness and kind of establishing our style of play, what (Herdman) wants us to do and how he fits in players,' she says.

While the U.S. is largely looking at the friendly against Canada as a celebration of their World Cup success, Schmidt knows the Canadians have a lot of work to do.

'(We want to) get the most out of these games that we can,' Schmidt says. 'The U.S. is one of the best teams in the world, and moving forward, we have to take our strengths, build on our physicality and kind of bring that into our game. This series (against the U.S.) is important for us to get that confidence back, that belief in ourselves that people shouldn't take us lightly.

'The importance for us in this (two-match friendly series against the U.S.) is just getting that Canadian fighting spirit back, because we've been lacking that. And we thought that was our weakest point in the World Cup.'

The match against the U.S. will be especially fun for Schmidt because she will get to compete against former Pilots Megan Rapinoe and Stephanie Cox.

'I love playing against them,' Schmidt says. 'They're great soccer players. And it's a little competitive fun out there. You joke about it after, but on the field it's serious. They're fantastic people and great players.'

When the 2012 London Olympics roll around, Schmidt will have more confidence and belief in herself than ever.

'Leaving UP, heading into the World Cup, I saw myself as a good midfielder,' she says. 'After the World Cup and playing in Florida (with the WPS MagicJack), I have that sense that I could become one of the best midfielders in the world. That's the skill set I have.

'I just need to continue developing that. And that's my ultimate goal, to be seen as a force in the midfield. If I can focus on that, that will only help strengthen our Canadian team, especially in that middle part of the field.'