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‘Heartbroken’ Sophia Smith: USWNT will return ‘hungrier than ever’

Sophia Smith played in her first World Cup with the USWNT this year. (Photo by Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images)

Sophia Smith introduced herself to the World Cup in style: The 23-year-old forward scored twice in the U.S. women’s national team’s first game of the tournament, a 3-0 win over Vietnam.

It proved to be a high point, for both Smith and the USWNT. She went scoreless over the team’s next three games, which ended with a Round of 16 defeat to Sweden in penalty kicks. Smith was one of three U.S. players to miss the net in the penalty shootout, and the experience has left her with mixed emotions.

“Heartbroken,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “This World Cup was filled with just about every emotion possible, what I’ve learned is more valuable than any experience I’ve ever had.”

Smith, also a star for the Portland Thorns — she was named the youngest MVP in NWSL history last season — is considered by many to be the next face of the program. The USWNT’s leading scorer in 2022, she will likely be called on to help lead the team at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Part of that process will be evaluating what went wrong in this World Cup, which started with so much promise before ending in disappointment.

“Thank you to those who believed and supported us throughout the tournament, and most importantly to those who still do and never stopped,” Smith wrote. “It wouldn’t be life without moments like this, and I know without a doubt we will be back and hungrier than ever.”

Former USWNT captain Carli Lloyd understands the feeling. Lloyd, who had been critical of the program during its World Cup run as a Fox Sports analyst, offered Smith some advice in a social media video. Lloyd noted that she had missed a penalty kick as the USWNT lost to Japan in 2011 World Cup final, before going on to win World Cup titles in 2015 and 2019.

“Flash forward to 2015. There were some important PKs that I had to make on that stage, and I did,” Lloyd said. “I want you to know that your future’s bright, that you’re going to keep going, you’re going to keep shining, and you’re going to keep doing amazing. So don’t stop.”