JOSE ARGUETA/ISI PHOTOS

Sophia Smith made history when she was selected No. 1 in the 2020 NWSL Draft by Portland Thorns FC. She is the first teenager to be ever be selected in the NWSL Draft. Smith left Stanford University with two years of eligibility remaining after leading the Cardinal to the 2019 NCAA Championship, where she was named the College Cup’s Most Outstanding Player.

FIRST OFF, CONGRATULATIONS. WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD WHEN YOUR NAME WAS CALLED ON DRAFT DAY?

There were a lot of emotions going through my head. It was kind of surreal, and I was both excited and nervous. It was an amazing moment, and to have my parents there was awesome. Honestly, what I was thinking about most was that I was just nervous about the speech I had to give. After that, everything kind of hit me.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST CONSIDER LEAVING SCHOOL EARLY FOR THE DRAFT?

It’s something I’ve thought about for a while. It’s been an option since I got to Stanford, and it just became more realistic toward the end of this season.

WHAT MADE THIS MOMENT THE RIGHT TIME FOR YOU TO TRANSITION TO THE PRO GAME? DID WINNING A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HELP SEAL THAT DECISION?

It obviously helped coming off the season that we had. But in terms of timing, I just felt like I was ready. Not just physically, not just in terms of my skills with the game, but also emotionally and socially. I had a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities, which made me believe that I could fit into a professional environment now. It’s a decision I thought a lot about, and I had a lot of conversations with my parents and the people close to me. It’s going to be a very different lifestyle than here at school, and I’ll miss my friends, but I feel like I’m ready. I know it’ll be hard, but I’m really excited for it. It’s ultimately about getting better and doing anything I can to be the best soccer player that I can be, and I think being around older, more experienced women playing soccer will be very beneficial. Being in a professional environment and being integrated with professional players will help me get a lot better a lot quicker.

(BRAD SMITH/ISI PHOTOS)
HOW MUCH DID PORTLAND HAVING THE NUMBER ONE PICK PLAY INTO YOUR DECISION? DID YOU TALK TO MANY TEAMS BEFORE THE DRAFT?

There were discussions here and there with numerous different people, but it was ultimately me just following my heart. I don’t think it was as much about what team I was going to. Obviously, it’s awesome that it happened to be Portland, and I’m really excited to be a part of that organization. But I think regardless of the team, it was still the best decision for me. How it all comes together, and how it’s determined who gets what pick, is beyond me. I didn’t have a say in any of that, so I’m just really excited and feel lucky that it happened to be Portland. But regardless of the team, it was just something I was ready to do.

LAST YEAR, YOU BROKE YOUR LEG EARLY IN THE SEASON. THIS YEAR, YOU SCORE A HAT TRICK IN THE SEMIFINAL, WIN A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, AND GET DRAFTED NO. 1. CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT THAT JOURNEY HAS BEEN LIKE?

Breaking my leg was obviously not ideal. That was the first major injury that I’ve had, and, emotionally, I wasn’t sure how to handle it. It didn’t help that I was a freshman, and it was my first year at college. But I had a lot of people close to me who helped me get through it. And the resources here at Stanford in terms of rehab, and the doctors, and the people who did my surgery — the recovery really couldn’t have gone any better than it did. The biggest thing was just trying to stay positive through it, rather than letting it defeat me. It wasn’t an easy path back, and there were a lot of days when I was in pain, but I did a good job of staying positive and doing what I needed to do to get back. The biggest motivation was that I missed playing so much, and going to every practice and watching my teammates play just made me want to get back as soon as possible.

But then this season started, and I was a little bit frustrated, because I didn’t feel like I was 100% myself. I had thought that once my ankle and my leg felt good everything else would just fall into place. But that’s not how it goes. And it took a lot of games to get everything back together and feel normal again. Honestly, I don’t think I felt completely like myself until the Final Four. I didn’t expect it would take that long. It was hard, but I learned a lot from it about not taking things for granted.

I IMAGINE IT WAS FRUSTRATING TO NOT FEEL LIKE YOURSELF UNTIL THE END OF THE SEASON. HOW DID YOU REMAIN SO POSITIVE?

The biggest thing was just knowing what I was capable of. I know that a lot of times you can come back from an injury and just not be able to do the same things that you could do before. But I believed in myself. One thing that my dad always says is don’t let anyone take your confidence away. After a game where you don’t play well, it’s easy to lose confidence. Even the people around you might lose confidence in you. But the biggest thing for me was just to remain confident in myself and my abilities. I had to keep that with me, regardless of what happened on any given day.

WHAT’S YOUR MINDSET HEADING TO PORTLAND?

I’m really excited. I’ve had a lot of good conversations with Mark [Parsons, Thorns Coach] about the team and about where he sees me fitting in. I’m really excited for his plans, and I think the team has a lot of potential to be even better than they have been in the past. There’s a lot of really good players on that team who I look up to, and I’m really excited to play and train with them everyday. I think it’s going to be really good.

ANYONE IN PARTICULAR THAT YOU’RE REALLY PUMPED TO PLAY WITH?

Oh yeah. Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair. But I also think there’s a lot of good players on that team who don’t get as much attention because of those big name players, and I’m really looking forward to playing with all of them.

YOU PLAYED AGAINST MORGAN WEAVER WHEN SHE WAS AT WASHINGTON STATE. NOW SHE’S HEADING TO PORTLAND AS WELL AFTER BEING DRAFTED NO. 2. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT PLAYING WITH HER?

I know her a little bit from a few camps, but I’m really excited to play with her. She’s a really good player. She works really hard and has a good understanding of the game. I like her a lot. She also seems like a really nice, fun person and friend, so I’m excited that we’re both going to be in Portland together.