Sophie Schmidt celebrates her first-half goal in the Dash's quarterfinal loss to the Current. (Erik Williams/USA TODAY Sports)

It was a “Holy Schmidt” kind of moment. Literally.

Connecting on a one-timed, left-footed volley off a corner kick at the back post, Sophie Schmidt blasted the ball into the back of Kansas City’s net to score the equalizer for the Houston Dash in their NWSL quarterfinal match at PNC Stadium on Sunday.

1-1.

It was Houston’s first playoff goal, in their first playoff game and in front of the largest crowd in Dash franchise history. In fact, the 21,284 fans in attendance marked the second-biggest crowd for women’s professional soccer in the state of Texas.

The goal came less than 20 minutes after Kansas City’s Lo’eau Labonta buried the game opener from the penalty spot in the fifth minute.

Schmidt admitted after the match, which Houston ended up losing 2-1 in the final minute of stoppage time, that she was supposed to be a part of the group of players in the six-yard box crashing toward goal to receive the corner, but she had a gut feeling the ball would get knocked further. So, she held her run.

Kansas City goalkeeper AD Franch got a hand on the ball, but it fell to Schmidt. What transpired from there felt like slow motion.

“It was bizarre,” the three-time Olympic medalist said. “I was like, ‘Heeere I comeee,’ and I was like, ‘Left-footed volley, don’t hit it over.’ So that was the process in my brain. I was like, ‘Ohhh,’ but as soon as it left my foot, I was like, ‘I hit that well,’ and then it just took a little ricochet and then and I was like, ‘Oh, this is amazing.’”

The goal was the highlight of an impressive performance by Schmidt, a double-sided six who started dangerous attacks while also making key interceptions in Houston’s defensive third. The game exemplified the form the Canadian has shown all year as one of the Dash’s most reliable players.

On Just Women’s Sports’ shortlist of 2022 NWSL MVP nominees, Schmidt, who originally joined the NWSL in 2013 with Sky Blue FC, came into the quarterfinal with a career-high four goals and an assist from the regular season.

“I think Sophie, obviously I’ve said already in a few interviews, should be a candidate for the MVP of the league,” said Dash interim head coach Juan Carlos Amorós.

Midfielder Marisa Viggiano describes her teammate as world-class.

“I think she’s totally proved that this season and definitely should be up there in MVPs,” she said. “That’s Sophie. She’s going to put her head down and go to work everyday no matter what, for the good of the team. I can’t speak more highly of her.”

Just last year, Schmidt was excluded from Canadian national team coach Bev Priestman’s original 18-player roster for the Tokyo Olympics. Listed as an alternate instead, she ended up on the team only when Olympic roster sizes expanded to 22 players. Even then, Schmidt was limited to playing one game in Tokyo.

“I think taking the news that I was going to be an alternate to the Olympics was probably the hardest hitting thing I’ve ever heard,” she reflected on Sunday.

The news shocked the rest of Canada, too. With over 200 caps at the time, Schmidt had been a big part of Canada’s two bronze medals in 2012 and 2016.

At 33 years old, Schmidt took a step back and asked herself if she wanted to continue playing. If so, she had to throw herself into it wholeheartedly. She figured she had only a few years left, and no room for regrets.

But at the beginning of the 2022 season, Schmidt’s impact in the midfield was in doubt. James Clarkson, who was suspended as head coach in April at the recommendation of the NWSL and NWSLPA’s joint investigation into discrimination and abusive behavior, was considering playing her at center back instead.

“I think, because my role and opportunities were questioned, it made me very focused in, and I think also I became more free on the field somehow,” Schmidt said. “I feel like I’m playing my best soccer in this moment. I feel alive on the field.”

Schmidt ended up starting all 18 of the games she appeared in for the Dash this season. Amorós praises the midfielder’s ability to organize play, drive into the final third and defend opposing attacks.

“She’s instrumental in the way we do things,” Amorós said. “She’s worked so well and for me, it’s a pleasure to have someone like Sophie on my team.”

Schmidt helped lead the Dash to their winningest season in the team’s nine-year history. They earned a franchise-record 10 victories, including a league-high seven road wins. And despite playing two fewer games than in five of their previous seven regular seasons, the Dash still managed to set a club record with 36 total points.

As Dash players answered questions from the media after Sunday’s heartbreaking quarterfinal loss, they took time to reflect on their special season and the possibilities ahead, with Schmidt’s lesson in resilience guiding the way.

“Playing with Sophie this year has been probably one of the greatest moments of my career,” Viggiano said. “I look up to her in so many ways, not only as a player but as a person. I think she has really allowed me to play a little bit more free.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.