At age five, Olivia Smith told her dad she was going to play in the World Cup.
At 18, the Whitby, Ont. soccer star’s “life dream” is about to come true as she pulls on a Canada jersey at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Smith, a promising young talent set to soon join a club in Europe, was caught by surprise when coach Bev Priestman selected her for the team — a moment caught on camera by Canada Soccer.
“Initially I was going into that meeting, you know, just to say my goodbyes,” Smith told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Wednesday.
“We were about to head off to the zoo or whatever, and as soon as those words came out of her mouth, I was just in disbelief.”
When the midfielder told her family the life-changing news, her dad reminded her about her early prediction. “He even sent me the clip and it made me cry a little bit.”
Smith is one of 10 Greater Toronto Area women on the Canadian team, which enters the tournament ranked sixth overall in the world and as the reigning Olympic champions. The team plays its first game against Nigeria in the Group B stage Thursday night.
In 2019, at the age of 15, Smith became the youngest Canadian soccer player to debut with a national team. She says this will be a different experience than that.
“Women’s soccer is evolving so much and it has [grown] so quickly within the past few years. This is the biggest World Cup.”
Markham, Ont.’s Jayde Riviere agrees.
She is playing in her second World Cup, a tournament with 32 teams participating for the first time.
“I think what it reflects is just the growth in football for the women’s side and just how people are able to excel with the resources that we had.”
‘If Jayde did that, I could do that’
Tommy Bianchi coached both Smith and Riviere at the Markham Soccer Club. He says the pair are an inspiration and a benchmark for other girls to shoot for.
“Jayde gives everyone that inspiration, that hope,” said Bianchi, Markham Soccer Club head coach and technical director. “They see what [she] did here at the club going through our programming. Other girls behind her think, ‘If Jayde did that, I could do that.'”
Riviere regularly returns to Markham to help with soccer camps and help train the next generation of stars, said Bianchi.
“It’s always the fun part of it when Jayde’s around,” he said. “She shows everyone the gold medal [from the Tokyo Olympics].
“She’s very connected to the club and very connected to the kids when she comes home.”
For Smith, this tournament is about representing herself to the world, but also representing her family.
“My parents are actually coming with my little sister, so I’m excited to see them,” she said. “I’m so excited to even just see them in the stands.
“I didn’t think it’d be possible, so I think it’s going to be a really heartwarming moment.”
How to watch
For fans looking to tune in to Canada’s games, here’s what you should know:
- Canada’s first game is Thursday night at 10:30 p.m. ET.
- Bell Media has the exclusive Canadian rights to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Games can be found on TSN’s family of channels.
- In Ontario, bars can begin serving alcohol as early as 7:00 a.m., according to the Alcohol Gaming and Commission of Ontario (AGCO).