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Sophia Smith shines in return from World Cup: ‘I miss scoring goals’

Sophia Smith scored for the Portland Thorns less than one minute into her return from the World Cup. (Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)

Just one minute after entering the Portland Thorns’ match Sunday in her return from the World Cup, Sophia Smith found the back of the net.

The 23-year-old forward scored two goals in the U.S. women’s national team’s World Cup opener, but she was held scoreless through the rest of the tournament. After kicking off the tournament with a 3-0 win against Vietnam, the USWNT managed just one goal in its next three games, contributing to its historically early exit.

So in her first game back with the Thorns, the NWSL scoring leader and reigning MVP wanted to get back into form.

“Honestly, I miss scoring goals,” Smith said after the game. “So I was just really hungry for a goal.”

Smith’s goal in the 69th minute ended up being the game-winner for Portland in a 2-1 victory over the North Carolina Courage. She had come off the bench in the 68th minute, and her quick strike echoed that of USWNT teammate Ashley Sanchez, who scored less than one minute into her NWSL return.

With Sunday’s win, the Thorns leapfrogged the Courage, jumping into first place in the NWSL standings with 28 points. The Courage sit in second place with 26 points and six matches remaining in the regular season.

Portland played one player down for most of the match after defender Kelli Hubly received a red card in the 17th minute. North Carolina took the lead on a Tyler Lussi goal off the ensuing free kick, but Portland’s Hannah Betfort tied the score later in the first half off an assist from Olivia Moultrie.

“I knew how important it was to get this win, and the team had put in so much work before I came in,” Smith said. “Hannah (Betfort) scoring a sick f–king goal, excuse my language, but we don’t want that to not be a difference-maker in a game. We want that goal to be remembered and stand out at all times. And that’s what happens when you win. So that was important to me.

“I watched my teammates work their butts off the whole game, and I knew that I wanted to come in and help put the game away to reward everyone for the work that they did.”