all scores

NWSL MVP Sophia Smith shrugs off doubters with golden game

Sophia Smith celebrates with the NWSL Championship MVP trophy after scoring in Portland's 2-0 win. (Ira L. Black/Getty Images)

Sophia Smith is a goal scorer.

She was as she was growing up in Windsor, Colo., when she helped Stanford to a national championship in 2019, and when the Portland Thorns drafted her in 2020.

She’s been a goal scorer in her 25 appearances for the U.S. women’s national team, and during her MVP campaign for the Thorns this season.

And Sophia Smith was a goal scorer on Saturday, when her club claimed a historic third NWSL championship in a 2-0 victory over Kansas City.

With less than four minutes gone by in the first half, Yazmeen Ryan fielded the ball in the center circle. She took one touch and sent a smooth pass through the Kansas City defenders. Elizabeth Ball slid in a last-ditch effort to make contact with the ball but instead left Smith in a one-on-one situation with keeper AD Franch.

As Smith advanced, Franch dove. Smith moved the ball from her right foot to her left, and with an open goal ahead of her, she watched as her shot sailed into the back of the net.

It gave Portland an early 1-0 lead, which ended up being the game-winning goal as the Thorns held the Current scoreless. It also allowed Smith to shrug off the haters.

As Smith’s teammates mobbed her, the forward raised her shoulders and put up her hands, in a celebration reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s iconic shrug. But Smith wasn’t making a nod to Jordan — she was letting everyone know that she had the goods. The MVP goods.

“There’s been a lot of people who don’t think I deserved to win MVP,” Smith said after the match, with a new MVP trophy, one for the best player in the championship game, sitting in front of her. “So that (celebration) was a little bit of, ‘That’s that.’”

Smith has been in the NWSL for three years, and during that time, the 22-year-old has gained a reputation for her speed and skill in the open field. She was second in the league in scoring this year with 14 goals, just one behind San Diego’s Alex Morgan, who finished as the Golden Boot winner with 15.

When she knocked in Portland’s first score of the contest, Smith put those qualities on display for the Washington, D.C. crowd.

“Her pace is lethal,” KC midfielder Desiree Scott said. “You can’t grow that. That is just natural talent.”

And Scott isn’t the only one who has noticed Smith’s natural skills. Her potential at a young age helped her become the first player born in the 2000s to appear for the senior national team. It’s also the reason the Thorns drafted her first overall earlier that year. And it’s something coach Rhian Wilkinson noticed as soon as she came aboard to coach the club this season.

What Smith is doing right now is remarkable, Wilkinson said, but the conversation around the young star could hold even more weight in a few years’ time.

“She can stop pushing now, and she will still be a very good player, one of the best players this country has ever produced,” Wilkinson said about the MVP. “And my job is to keep pushing her, and to make sure she is the best player this country has ever produced because she has that in her right now.”

Wilkinson went on to praise Smith’s abilities to take on multiple defenders and to “create something out of nothing.”

“It is a gift to have her on your team.” Wilkinson said.

Smith shrugs in celebration after scoring the Thorns' opening goal of the championship game. (Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports)

Smith feels similarly about her coach.

She announced in the post-match press conference that she thought it was “bulls–t” that Wilkinson wasn’t nominated for NWSL Coach of the Year. Despite coming into an already talented squad, Smith said the way Wilkinson handled the controversy surrounding the Thorns after the release of the Yates report and managed to implement her own style of play is being undervalued.

Smith went on to say that Wilkinson pushes her to reach her full potential, something the MVP both wants and needs.

“I feel like I can be (the best), but I need to be pushed and I need to be held to high standards every single day,” Smith said. “And she does a really good job of that. So I really can’t ask for much more than that.”

Sophia Smith might be on her way to becoming the best player this country has ever seen. And for those who don’t believe, well, she’s shrugging off the haters one goal at a time.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.