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Portland Thorns star Sophia Smith becomes youngest NWSL MVP

Sophia Smith won NWSL MVP and a championship with the Portland Thorns in 2022. (Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

Portland Thorns star Sophia Smith is the 2022 NWSL MVP.

The 22-year-old forward becomes the youngest MVP in league history. She takes home the top individual award just days ahead of the championship match, where she will look to lead the Thorns to their first title since 2017.

In her second NWSL season, Smith scored 14 goals in 18 appearances, second only to San Diego Wave striker Alex Morgan’s 15 goals — and a new single-season record for Portland. Her four braces tied her for the most in a single season in the NWSL.

Her speed and dribbling ability help her get behind opposing defenses, and her shot totals underline her offensive prowess. She leads the league with 80 shots heading into the final, 27 more than the next closest player, Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh. She also paced the league with 52 shots on goal, 19 more than Pugh in second place.

She powered a prolific Portland offense, which scored 49 goals in the regular season, third-most in league history.

“Sophia has taken up so much bandwidth from opposition backlines that it has allowed our team to have a scoring profile that has broken records this season,” Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson said ahead of last Sunday’s semifinal. “And it’s not by chance. Her movement — they probably have training sessions that opposition have to do to just get all over her. It takes three people to stop Soph.”

Smith bested Morgan, who finished second in MVP voting, as well as Pugh, North Carolina Courage forward Debinha and Wave defender Naomi Girma.

Before Smith’s award win, expansion club San Diego had swept all the other individual awards: Morgan claimed the Golden Boot, Girma won the Rookie and Defender of the Year awards, Kailen Sheridan won Goalkeeper of the Year and Casey Stoney won Coach of the Year.

The No. 2 seed Thorns got the better of the No. 3 seed Wave in the semifinals last Sunday, with Crystal Dunn’s game-winning goal securing the 2-1 victory and sending Portland to the championship game. Now, Smith and the Thorns will face the Kansas City Current with the title on the line at 8 p.m. ET Saturday at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.

Smith is no stranger to the national stage. She received her first call-up to the  U.S. women’s national senior team as a 16-year-old in 2017, and she has established herself as a regular starter for the team this year.

In her college career at Stanford, Smith helped the Cardinal to the 2019 NCAA title before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft. She was thrilled to be selected by Portland, the team she’ll now look to lead to a championship.

“I didn’t want to go anywhere else,” Smith said.