No nerves for newcomers Sophia Smith, Trinity Rodman and Naomi Girma! USWNT winners and losers as young stars avoid World Cup jitters despite Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe struggles

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Sophia Smith Trinity Rodman USWNT 2023
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While some familiar faces didn't put in vintage performances, Vlatko Andonokski's World Cup debutants stepped up in a lopsided win

It was set up to be Thailand 2.0, but this surely wasn't that. The United States women's national team famously kickstarted the 2019 World Cup with a 13-0 shellacking that, ultimately, was a sign of things to come. Vietnam, unfortunately for them, were set up to be the USWNT's World Cup debut/warm-up this time around. Like Thailand, they wouldn't stand a chance, right?

They didn't, of course, as the USWNT ran away dominant winners. It wasn't, however, as dominant as it could have been, as the U.S. left goals on the table in what ended as merely a 3-0 victory.

That word feels harsh: 'merely'. You can't understate how important wins are, even if you are the USWNT. Vlatko Andonovski's side got off to a good start with a win in which they were never threatened. Let's not let that get buried here.

Still, you have to wonder if the U.S. may regret not doing more. Goal difference could be a factor in this group, one which features Portugal as will as their 2019 final opponent, the Netherlands. Winning the group is paramount, and doing so would have been just a bit easier if they had scored more.

Because of that, how you view this one will depend on whether you're an optimist or a pessimist. The optimist will see an easy win headlined by some breakout performances from the youngest USWNT stars. The pessimist will see a performance that needed just that little bit more to make this group stage feel comfortable.

We'll leave that up to you. Meanwhile, the USWNT will take the win and move on. The Netherlands are next on Wednesday night.

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GOAL breaks down the winners and losers from the USWNT's 3-0 win at Eden Park:

  1. WINNER: Sophia Smith
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    WINNER: Sophia Smith

    A breakout performance from the USWNT attacker. This summer will be the one where Sophia Smith goes from rising star to superstar, and Friday night's effort showed why. The 22-year-old finished the match with two goals and an assist, playing a part in each USWNT goal in this dominant win.

    Her first goal was a fine finish, teed up by strong play from Alex Morgan. Smith made no mistake, blasting the ball past Vietnam goalkeeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh, who had a magnificent game. Her second came just before the half, calming a few nerves after a VAR review determined she was in fact onside.

    Not content to just be a scorer, Smith then turned provider, finding Lindsey Horan for the game's third. It was exactly the performance the reigning NWSL MVP would have wanted as she proved no World Cup nerves would hold her back.

    She'll be tough to handle for any team this tournament. The Netherlands are surely aware of that and will have been trying to plan for it for months. Smith, at this point, may be the USWNT's most dangerous player and, if they do go on a deep run this summer, it'll likely be with the Portland Thorns star leading the charge.

  2. LOSER: Alex Morgan

    LOSER: Alex Morgan

    Let's get one thing clear: Alex Morgan did not have a bad game. Her role in the USWNT opener cannot be understated. It was a key moment from the team's most familiar superstar. But superstars can't miss penalties in 1-0 games. Superstars bury those shots and step up in those moments, no matter the opponent.

    It continued a weird trend of missed penalties at this tournament, with just two of six efforts from the spot having been scored after Morgan's failure. The USWNT star's effort was too tame and Thanh made a simple dive save to keep it out.

    The U.S., fortunately, weren't punished for it and, to be fair, they never were going to be. This game was in hand, with or without Morgan's spot-kick. It would have just been another goal, which would have been nice.

    There will be bigger games and moments to come and, perhaps, another chance from the spot. You'd bet on Morgan to score the next one, even if she was a bit off on this one.

  3. WINNER: The Girma-Ertz partnership

    WINNER: The Girma-Ertz partnership

    This, quite obviously, was the first time Naomi Girma and Julie Ertz had played together in defense. Girma is still a relative newcomer, even if she is a key player for this USWNT. Ertz, meanwhile, has only recently returned after becoming a mother.

    It was a surprise to see Andonovski roll with this center-back pairing, especially considering the fact that Ertz has been a No.6 for years. It paid off, though, as the pair both put in strong shifts in a game where they were relatively unchallenged.

    The U.S. obviously knew what they were up against in this one and how little the center-backs would be truly tested. Ertz and Girma were largely on clean-up duty defensively, with the most important aspect of their game really being their ability to kickstart attacks with the ball at their feet.

    Both put in strong shifts in that regard while showing chemistry as a duo that those outside USWNT camp couldn't have foreseen. Both looked entirely comfortable, as individuals and as partners.

    It was good to see, especially considering the USWNT's lack of depth at center-back. Does Alana Cook come back into the team for the next game? Maybe, maybe not. If Andonovski does roll with Girma and Ertz going forward, though, it seems they'll be up to it as a pairing, although there will be much tougher moments in the games ahead.

  4. LOSER: Megan Rapinoe

    LOSER: Megan Rapinoe

    Almost 17 years to the day after she made her first USNWT appearance, Megan Rapinoe came on in the second half of this one for her 200th. She could have marked it with a goal. Or two. Maybe three.

    The USWNT icon had so many chances to score, but was unable to find the back of the net. She deserved a goal, and Eden Park would have erupted had she gotten one. It wasn't to be, though.

    Her best chance came in the 71st minute as she missed a sitter just moments before Horan made it 3-0. She'll certainly replaying that one back in her mind, wondering how she possibly did anything other than put the ball into the back of the net.

    Still, it was a good runout for Rapinoe, who was on a minutes restriction due to injury issues. This game was a good illustration into why she's here: to create chances in spurts when coming on as a substitute. She did that here, even if none went in.

    A positive day when you look at it big-picture, even if it was a slightly frustrating one as Rapinoe couldn't quite find her finishing boots.

  5. WINNER: The debutants

    WINNER: The debutants

    While several members of the old guard didn't have their best World Cup performances, it's safe to say the newcomers got everything they needed and more from this.

    Smith is the obvious one, and we've talked about her enough. On the other flank, Trinity Rodman had a strong debut as well, drawing the penalty before Morgan's miss while being a menace all night on the right-hand side.

    Savannah DeMelo, in her first USWNT start, didn't look overawed, while the previously-mentioned Girma looked as comfortable as can be. And then there's Alyssa Thompson, who came off the bench late to shake off any World Cup nerves she may have had with a good cameo.

    It was good from Andonovski to get these players minutes to get rid of any jitters they may have. They'll all feel relatively good after this win and should be in a good place to face the Netherlands.

    The U.S. will certainly rely on the past World Cup winners to lead the charge but, if the team wants to make a real run, it'll likely come down to the newcomers. On Friday night, they looked ready for the challenge, even with bigger ones ahead.