Sophia Smith is the present and the future of the U.S. women’s national team, and her missed penalty in Sunday’s shootout loss to Sweden doesn’t take away from that.
The 22-year-old forward’s shot sailed wide of the net, denying the USWNT of a chance to win the shootout in the fifth round. Sweden went on to win in the seventh. Yet while Smith likely will relive that moment in the coming months, she also can use it as fuel, making her even more dangerous for international and club opponents alike.
Nobody is concerned about the rising star bouncing back, including Jamaica head coach Lorne Donaldson, who coached Smith during her youth career in Colorado.
“What happened to Sophia, it’s just, she has to grow from it. I’ve coached her for a long time, and you never want to see that happen to one of your kids,” he said. “It did happen, and I’ve heard back from her. I was at the game. And I’m sure that Sophia, knowing her, she will rebound from it and she’ll be just fine. Because she’s a great human being.”
Still, the sting of the miss remains. Her U.S. teammates know that, and they comforted her after the match.
“I know she’s going to be hurting about this. But in time, she’ll realize that it’s just a game,” USWNT defender and Smith’s Portland Thorns teammate Crystal Dunn said. “I think she was ready for that moment. I’m proud of her for stepping up in that place. And I think, for her, she’s so young, she has so much more to give this game, and I think she’ll look back on this moment and just be like, you know, it was another moment in my career.”
After all, Smith stood out as one of the bright spots for the USWNT in a disappointing World Cup run. She had a brace in the team’s opener against Vietnam, and she consistently created chances when she could.
Her impact will be felt as she helps to grow the game for the next generation. At just 22 years old, she already has 14 goals through 34 international appearances. While the penalty kick is a big miss, the fate of the USWNT does not – and should not – rest on her shoulders alone.
Lindsey Horan offered words of wisdom to Smith, noting that even “some of the best players in the world miss PKs.” Horan herself recently missed one in a Champions League match against Chelsea.
“Everyone misses. It sucks. Absolutely sucks,” she said. “But you’ve got to remember this is part of football. You get back up and it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt for forever. … Soph will get through it. She’s strong. She’s strong willed and she’s one of the best players in the world right now at her age. She’s going to be perfectly fine.”
And even after the miss, Smith’s teammates would choose her to take another penalty.
“We’ve all seen Soph play,” Naomi Girma said. “There’s so much ahead of her. I think we saw a glimpse of it in this World Cup. You see it week in and week out in the NWSL. … This is just the beginning for her and she’s going to have a lot more big moments. And every single time, I’m going back to her to be the one to take the shot.”