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2023 World Cup: Sophia Smith gets confidence boost in final NWSL game

(Troy Wayrynen/USA TODAY Sports)

Sophia Smith made a major statement in her final NWSL game ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, scoring a hat trick in the Portland Thorns’ 4-2 win over the Washington Spirit on Friday night.

“I have to go into this tournament as my best self, feeling like my most confident self and I knew this game was important in doing that,” Smith said. “If I were to leave this field and feel like I didn’t do what I needed to do, that would be a stressful time.”

The 22-year-old Smith scored her 29th, 30th and 31st career goals in front of 20,000 fans at Providence Park to become the youngest player in NWSL history to score 30 goals (a record previously held by Sam Kerr).

All three of Smith’s goals were beauties, as the star forward gave a clinic on how to manage multiple defenders and still find the back of the net. (A video highlight is embedded below.)

“When I’m dribbling towards the goal, if I see a sliver of an open net, I’m taking a shot. Recently I’ve had some good luck with shots from distance, so I’m going to keep doing that,” she said.

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Washington’s goals were notched by Ashley Hatch and Ashley Sanchez, while Morgan Weaver added the Thorns’ only non-Smith-scored goal of the night.

Smith said she wanted to leave the Thorns in a good position heading into the next few weeks as the team will be without at least six players during the World Cup: Smith and Crystal Dunn (USWNT), Adriana Leon and Christine Sinclair (Canada), Rocky Rodriguez (Costa Rica) and Higa Sugita (Japan). The Thorns currently sit atop the NWSL standings with 25 points, while the Spirit are in second with 23.

“Our mindset going into this (game) was that we needed a clear and good win, playing as ourselves, playing as the Thorns that we know,” Smith said.

Spirit head coach Mark Parsons also had high praise for Smith’s performance.

“I thought we turned up and were fantastic in being brave, and making this more like a game that we wanted to control,” he said.

“But we played against Sophia Smith. And she was world class tonight.”

Smith did her postgame press conference alongside Sinclair, the two players trading banter ahead of a potential North American showdown at the World Cup. Canada ousted the U.S. in the semifinal round of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, though Smith was not a member of the U.S. squad at that tournament. The 22-year-old will be playing in her first major tournament for the USWNT this summer after leading the team in scoring in 2022.

Sinclair said she’d love to see the U.S. and Canada play at the World Cup, especially because the two teams would end up on opposite sides of the bracket so long as they make it out of their respective groups.

“Based on that path, that would mean we’d be playing in the World Cup final, so why not? Let’s go for it,” Sinclair said.

She then added, with a laugh: “Maybe not if (Sophia) was in the form she was in tonight. Maybe she can just chill out a little bit.”