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USWNT vs. Vietnam: Sophia Smith notches historic brace in World Cup debut

(Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images)

The U.S. women’s national team kicked off its World Cup title defense with a 3-0 win against Vietnam, led by Sophia Smith’s historic brace in her World Cup debut.

The reigning NWSL MVP scored the fastest goal of the tournament to this point, putting the ball in the net in the 13th minute of the match at at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. She added another in stoppage time at the end of the first half, which made her the youngest USWNT player with a multi-goal game in her World Cup debut. And then she had an assist on the third and final goal of the game.

Every minute of that game was fun,” Smith told Fox Sports after the win. “I think it was a good place to start in this tournament… I’m happy with where we are, but I think we have a little more in us.”

Catch up on the top moments from the match below, and check out our USWNT goals tracker.

FINAL: USWNT 3, Vietnam 0

Just Women’s Sports writer Claire Watkins appreciated USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski’s willingness to slot Julie Ertz at center back. She also liked what she saw from Savannah DeMelo in her first USWNT start.

Still, she noted the team’s trouble with finishing its chances in the final third, as well as its lack of urgency with a two-goal lead. While the USWNT pulled off the victory, the performance sets the team up “for a lot of pressure” in Wednesday’s match against the Netherlands, according to Watkins.

77′: Lindsey Horan extends USWNT lead to 3-0

The USWNT captain had come close several times already, and she finally hammered one home off an assist from Sophia Smith.

Smith added to her already impressive outing with a third goal contribution, making her just the second USWNT player to record at least three goal contributions in her World Cup debut. Sam Mewis had four (2 goals, 2 assists) in the USWNT’s 13-0 win against Thailand in 2019.

61′: Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle enter as substitutes

Rapinoe and Lavelle replaced Alex Morgan and Savannah DeMelo, respectively, midway through the second half.

Both substitutes are operating under minutes limits as they return from injuries, coach Vlatko Andonovski said ahead of the match. Lavelle had not played in a match since April due to a knee injury, while Rapinoe last played on June 10 due to a calf injury.

Alyssa Thompson entered as a substitute in the 75th minute, taking the place of Trinity Rodman. She becomes the second-youngest player (18 years, 257 days) to appear for the USWNT at a World Cup, behind only Tiffany Roberts (18 years, 32 days) in 1995. Just four teenagers have played for the USWNT at World Cup tournaments.

HALF: USWNT 2, Vietnam 0

Just Women’s Sports writer Claire Watkins provided her analysis of the USWNT’s first 45 minutes of the tournament.

Savannah DeMelo impressed in the midfield in her first USWNT start (and just her second appearance). So did Trinity Rodman and Emily Fox, and of course Sophia Smith with her brace. The officiating… not so much.

45+7′: Sophia Smith scores again with VAR assist

The 22-year-old forward scored her second goal of the match in stoppage time to put the USWNT up 2-0. Despite an initial offside call, Smith was awarded the goal after a VAR check.

43′: Alex Morgan misses penalty kick after VAR review

Trinity Rodman went down inside the box, and the USWNT was awarded a penalty kick after a check with the video assistant referee (VAR). The call came after social media criticism of the officiating earlier in the first half, as several seemingly rough plays from Vietnam went without a whistle.

Alex Morgan took the penalty kick, but Vietnam goalkeeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh blocked the low shot from the star striker.

13′: USWNT takes 1-0 lead on Sophia Smith strike

The reigning NWSL MVP scored to complete a slick passing sequence from Lindsey Horan to Alex Morgan to the 22-year-old forward. The goal stood as the fastest of the tournament to that point, and Morgan recorded her 50th career assist to move into a tie for ninth on the USWNT’s all-time list.

1′: Trinity Rodman goes down but stays in match

The 21-year-old forward fell to the turf as the result of a challenge from Tran Thi Thu. A stretcher came onto the pitch, but Rodman walked off under her own power, though she winced and looked to stretch her back as she did so. She quickly reentered the match.

Starting lineups: Savannah DeMelo gets nod for USWNT

  • United States
    • Goalkeeper: Alyssa Naeher
    • Defenders: Emily Fox, Naomi Girma, Julie Ertz, Crystal Dunn
    • Midfielders: Savannah DeMelo, Andi Sullivan, Lindsey Horan
    • Forwards: Trinity Rodman, Alex Morgan, Sophia Smith
  • Vietnam
    • Goalkeeper: Tran Thi Kim Thanh
    • Defenders: Tran Thi Thu Thao, Luong Thi Thu Thuong, Tran Thi Hai Linh, Tran Thi Thu, Le Thi Diem My, Hoang Thi Loan
    • Midfielders: Nguyen Thi Tuyet Dung, Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy, Thai Thi Thao
    • Forward: Huynh Nhu

What to know about Vietnam

Vietnam will be playing its first World Cup match in team history against the USWNT — which could mean a rude welcome, if the two-time defending champions perform to expectations. But Vietnam put up a good fight in a narrow 2-1 loss to Germany in June. If the debutantes can show the same attacking prowess, the USWNT could have a tough time — especially with a young backline finding its World Cup footing.

What to know about the USWNT

When and how to watch

  • Friday, July 21 — 9 p.m. ET (Fox, Peacock, Telemundo)
    • United States vs. Vietnam (Eden Park, Auckland)

The USWNT will play three group-stage matches at the World Cup, one against each of its opponents in Group E.

Group E includes the team the United States beat in the 2019 World Cup final, the Netherlands. Still, USWNT legend Julie Foudy said the USWNT landed a “very winnable group.” Head coach Vlatko Andonovski isn’t convinced of that, though, as he’s touted it as “one of the hardest” groups in the tournament.

The opening match against Vietnam is available to watch on Fox and Telemundo. It also can be streamed via Peacock.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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