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The USWNT rookies who stood out to Vlatko Andonovski in opener

(Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

In the USWNT’s opening game of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, six of the 11 starters were World Cup rookies: Naomi Girma, Emily Fox, Savannah DeMelo, Andi Sullivan, Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith.

Per U.S. Soccer, they contributed to what was the USWNT’s youngest World Cup starting lineup (an average age of 27.8 years) since 2007.

Sophia Smith scored two goals in her World Cup debut and assisted another by Lindsey Horan, leading the U.S. to a 3-0 win over Vietnam. Smith seemed so ready for the World Cup stage it was almost easy to forget that this is her first major global tournament; the 2022 NWSL MVP was one of the final cuts from the U.S. Olympic roster in 2021.

“I don’t usually get nervous, but I was nervous,” the 22-year-old Smith said. “I mean, it’s a World Cup.”

After the game, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski noted that while there may have been some nerves, the rookies performed as he expected.

“I thought Fox and Trinity were really good on the right side,” he said. “I thought Andi was a key figure in the middle of the field and regaining possession in some important attacks. And Naomi in the back, I thought she looked like she had three World Cups behind her. (She looked) so comfortable and flawless.”

As for DeMelo, who not only recorded her first-ever USWNT start but also just her second international cap, Andonovski said: “We felt like this was a game that (would) suit Savannah very much. I think that she did an incredible job in creating room and creating space for her teammates.”

Andonovski thinks the win should give the rookies a confidence boost heading into the rest of the World Cup tournament, including this week’s game against a much tougher opponent in the Netherlands.

“Going into game two, they will go (in) a little more encouraged, less nerves, no stress,” Andonovski said.

Smith expressed a similar sentiment. “It honestly just makes me more excited for the next game,” she said.