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USWNT enters a new era: This is Sophia Smith’s World Cup

Sophia Smith had a hand in all three of the USWNT's goals in their opening win over Vietnam at the 2023 World Cup. (Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images )

Sophia Smith sets the record straight by scoring goals.

She did it in last season’s NWSL Championship game, when critics said she shouldn’t have won the league MVP award. And she did it again on Friday, in response to a recent narrative surrounding her age.

The 22-year-old has been called the “future of United States women’s soccer,” a moniker that should be flattering, but it’s not to Smith. Because she’s not thinking about the future. Right now, she’s thinking about the 2023 World Cup.
There’s no time like the present. And the present belongs to Sophia Smith. She said as much on the field Saturday in New Zealand.

In her 2023 World Cup debut, the forward scored two goals and notched an assist, propelling the USWNT to a 3-0 win over Vietnam to start group play. In doing so, Smith became the youngest player to score multiple goals in her first World Cup appearance.

“I came into it with the mindset that I was going to do whatever it takes to help this team win,” Smith told FOX Sports in a postgame interview. “Tonight, (scoring) is what that was.”

Scoring goals is nothing new to Smith, who leads the NWSL with 10 so far this season for the Portland Thorns. But the World Cup is new, and despite how ready she is, Smith still felt butterflies.

“I feel relieved,” she said. “I was kind of anxious going into the tournament, so it’s good to get a game under our belt and get a feel for it and know what to expect.”

Spectators and opponents alike can expect more of the same from Smith, who with her two goals, cements herself as the early favorite for the World Cup Golden Boot race.

Her first goal came at the 14-minute mark, when Lindsey Horan controlled the ball at midfield and passed it to Alex Morgan, who flicked it onward to Smith. The forward used her speed to sneak past Vietnam’s backline. Then, after one touch, Smith fired with her left foot and watched as the ball went through goalkeeper Thi Kim Thanh Tran’s legs and hit the back of the net.

It was her introduction to the World Cup. The usually stoic Smith celebrated by leaping into Horan’s arms. The rest of the team joined in, and the group hug signified the beginning of an era: Sophia Smith World Domination.

Because when she starts rolling, there’s no stopping Smith.

Her boyfriend, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Wilson, said it best when he described Smith’s play on the field leading into her World Cup selection.

“She’s like lightning in a bottle,” he said in May.

It didn’t take long for lightning to strike twice against Vietnam, and before halftime, Smith had another goal to her name.

This one came on a rebound, after Thanh made a save, punching the ball out to the edge of the box. Smith was waiting. She struck the ball with her left foot, and Thanh — who saved an Alex Morgan penalty kick attempt minutes earlier — dove and made contact, but couldn’t stop the shot’s momentum.

Smith wasn’t done. She finished off the opening match with an assist, chasing down a ball deep into the box before passing backward to fellow Colorado native Horan, who sent it into the back of the net at the 77-minute mark and gave the USWNT a 3-0 lead.

Smith’s opening-game heroics were crucial. The forward, with a hand in all three goals, was able to capitalize on opportunities when the rest of the team couldn’t. Of the USWNT’s 26 shots, only seven were on target. Headers flew over the crossbar, and kicks sailed just wide of the net. Morgan missed a penalty kick and then couldn’t bury the rebound after a diving save from Thanh.

“We had some chances that we didn’t finish,” Julie Ertz told FOX Sports. “Those are the opportunities we need to have going forward in the tournament.”

Next up in Group E, the U.S. takes on the Netherlands, a more challenging opponent on paper, at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday. The Dutch squad is ninth in the FIFA rankings, compared to No. 32-ranked Vietnam.

“This is a good place to start in the tournament,” Smith said. “But I know we have so much more to give.”

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