(Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Each month in the leadup to the World Cup, Just Women’s Sports will make the case for one player as most essential to the success of the USWNT in 2023.

Sophia Smith can’t stop scoring.

Since she scored her first goal for the U.S. women’s national team at the tail end of 2021, Smith has gone on a tear. She kicked off the year with a hat trick against Uzbekistan, then followed that up with braces against Colombia, Jamaica and Nigeria.

She also notched the team’s lone goal against England in October. In all, she’s scored 10 goals in 2022 to lead the team this year.

Smith has become a critical piece of the team’s forward group, establishing herself as both the present and the future. And she knows it.

“I feel like I can be (the best), but I need to be pushed and I need to be held to high standards every single day,” Smith said. “And [Thorns’ coach Rhian Wilkinson] does a really good job of that. So I really can’t ask for much more than that.”

On the domestic side, Smith has shown what she’s capable of accomplishing in the NWSL. She finished second in the league in goals scored this season with 14. That total also broke the Portland Thorns’ single-season record.

Not only did she become the youngest MVP in NWSL history, she also became the youngest player to win NWSL Championship MVP after becoming the youngest player to score in a title game.

And all that comes at just 22 years old.

“Her pace is lethal,” Kansas City Current midfielder Desiree Scott said following the NWSL final. “You can’t grow that. That is just natural talent.”

Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson has said that Smith has the potential to be the best player in the history of the USWNT.

“She can stop pushing now, and she will still be a very good player, one of the best players this country has ever produced,” Wilkinson said of the MVP. “And my job is to keep pushing her, and to make sure she is the best player this country has ever produced because she has that in her right now.”

Smith’s pace – and her ability to get crafty with defenders – makes her difficult to defend. She’s also got deadly accuracy and has been able to link up with midfielder Rose Lavelle on multiple occasions while with the USWNT.

Everything about Smith screams upside as she continues to get her feet under her with the USWNT. Despite having just 25 caps, she plays like a veteran.

But if you ask USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski, Smith hasn’t hit her stride yet.

“To come into an environment like this and to be a difference-maker, to score a goal, and I thought she had another incredible assist for another goal that was called back, just shows the potential that she has,” Andonovski said following the team’s loss to England. “I think we haven’t seen the best of her.”

Who is the most essential USWNT player?