She's THAT girl! The rise of Sophia Smith - the new face of the USWNT

Comments (0)
Sophia Smith USWNT GFX
The 22-year-old striker has already proven herself a star in the NWSL, and she's now putting on a show on the global stage in New Zealand

When it comes to the United States women's national team, Alex Morgan's words carry weight. She's a two-time World Cup winner, after all, one of the most famous and feared strikers this sport has ever seen. When Morgan says something the world takes notice.

And, if you've been following along, Morgan had plenty to say about Sophia Smith. Not so much 'plenty' as in quantity of words, but more as in what those words mean.

"She's THAT girl." Morgan's post-game tweet was, of course, referring to Smith, the player that was the star of the show in the USWNT's World Cup-opening win over Vietnam. Two goals and an assist in her World Cup debut wasn't bad for a player who is just 22 years old and, scarily enough, still getting better.

Smith headed to the World Cup as a young player poised for a breakout, or already in the midst of one depending on how you look at things. She's emerged as one of the NWSL's best players, if not the best, and is now taking her game to the global stage.

Just one game into the World Cup, it isn't crazy to say that the USWNT's World Cup hopes may rest on the shoulders of Smith, a player that, despite her age, has the ability to lead this team from the front. At 22, Smith has the chance to cook up something special at the World Cup and everything she's shown so far indicates that she will.

She is THAT girl, after all...

Please enable Javascript to view this content

  1. Rapid rise
    Getty Images

    Rapid rise

    If you haven't followed Smith's rise, it can be simplified pretty quickly: she's ridiculously good. A top performer in college at Stanford, Smith was drafted first overall in the 2020 NWSL Draft. It was in 2022, though, that her breakout truly began, as Smith almost instantly went from young prospect to superstar.

    NWSL MVP, NWSL champion and U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year were all accolades that Smith picked up in 2022. She scored 18 goals for the Portland Thorns to lead them to that NWSL title, all the while scoring 11 in 17 to emerge as a USWNT regular. By the time the year came to a close, it wasn't about if Smith would be headed to the World Cup, but rather how much damage she would do there.

    Just one game in, she's already done some damage, leading the U.S. past an overmatched Vietnam.

  2. World Cup debut

    World Cup debut

    We'll get the obvious caveat out of the way early: yes, this was Vietnam, a team the U.S. was supposed to beat, supposed to dominate, really. The win was dominant to an extent, but a bit of a letdown at times. However, there was no letup in Smith's performance.

    The USWNT forward, starting on the left-hand side, contributed to all three girls in the 3-0 win. The first saw her latch on to an Alex Morgan assist before rifling a shot to the back post. The second came just before half-time as Smith narrowly beat the offside trap to make it 2-0. And then the third, which saw Smith tee up captain Lindsey Horan to put the game beyond any doubt.

    "I don't usually get nervous, but I was nervous," Smith admitted post-game. "I was nervous before this game." If that was a nervous Smith, the U.S. will be in a pretty good place once she calms herself down.

    "I felt good," Smith she continued. "It was good to just get a game under my belt. I was feeling all the emotions going into it and not really knowing what to expect. So to start off on a good note, it feels good and it makes me just more excited for the next game."

  3. Meaningful celebration

    Meaningful celebration

    Adding to the emotions of it all was a special moment for Smith, who honored a late team-mate after her second goal in the opener. Katie Meyer, who tragically died from suicide last year, played alongside Smith, as well as USWNT team-mate Naomi Girma, at Stanford. Meyer rose to fame in 2019 after making a title-winning save in a penalty shootout.

    In the year since Meyer's tragic passing, Smith and Girma have made sure to honor their friend and team-mate, with both speaking out to promote and increased focus on mental health.

    "That was for Katie," Smith said after the win. "Nai and I talked about it before the game. We were like, 'What can we do for Katie?' It was pretty iconic what she did in the College Cup, and we just want to honor her in every way."

    "With a lot of players, us included, speaking out on mental health, we see this as an opportunity to shed light on a lot of things that are important to us," Girma added. "That's been something that's been at the core of this team for so long and for us to come in now and carry on that legacy is something that's really important to us."

  4. So good it's scary

    Smith's rise from up-and-comer to star really began before the USWNT landed down under. She's already becoming the next face of this national team. She was the subject of one of a series of Nike commercials promoting the World Cup, with Smith's, in particular, going viral on social media.

    In the commercial, Smith is depicted as some sort of horror villain who, behind her smile, is out to terrorize defenders. It's what she does best, after all. Anyone who has seen her play over the last year or so know what she does to anyone in her way.

    As things stand, Smith is likely the USWNT's best pure goalscorer. Morgan's role has evolved in recent years, with the veteran striker dropping a bit deeper to facilitate. Trinity Rodman, meanwhile, is a dangerous weapon out wide, whose pace should open up even more space for the other two in the attack to operate.

    So far, Smith is one of four players to score multiple goals at this World Cup, joining Brazil's Ary Borges, Germany's Alexandra Popp and Japan's Hinata Miyazawa. She's already being asked about a potential Golden Boot, too, just one game into the tournament.

    “I tell everyone: I want to win a World Cup," she replied, "and whatever comes with that comes with that."

  5. A fluid front three

    A fluid front three

    What makes the USWNT's front three so scary is just how versatile it can be. In Smith, Rodman and Morgan, the U.S. has players who do so many different things well in different areas of the field.

    Case in point is the second half of the opening game, when Morgan was taken off in favor of teenager Alyssa Thompson. The Angel City star took up her spot on the wing, with Rodman and Smith both taking turns centrally after starting the game out wide.

    "I think Sophia did a really good job of recognizing," Rodman said. "We switched, and I ended up going out wide, and she was in the middle, it opened a lot of space. She was stretching them, I was opening up. Again there was that space for her to run in behind, me to run in behind, and then we had that connection from there."

    Smith, in particular, is key to all of that. She's dominant as a pure goalscorer, as evidenced by her ridiculous goal tally, but is also dynamic enough to play on the wing when Morgan's in the game. Cutting in from out wide, she remains just as dangerous as she is down the middle, which makes her a real asset to anything head coach Vlatko Andonovski wants to do in the attack.

    "It just makes it a little more unpredictable and because of how they play, they play a lot by instinct as well," he said. "They understand the game and use their instinct to find themselves in the game. They have the freedom to roll from one to another position to another."

  6. The USWNT on her back
    Getty Images

    The USWNT on her back

    Now through their first game and with their eyes set on their second, the USWNT remain among the contenders to win it all Down Under. They may or may not be the favorites, depending on who you ask, but, even if they are, the road to a third consecutive World Cup crown will be the hardest one yet.

    For the U.S. to reach that mountaintop again, they'll need their young stars to step up. Players like Morgan, Horan and Julie Ertz will play their part, but this team's potential will very much be defined by the likes of Smith, Rodman and Girma. If they take their game to a new level, the U.S. has a real chance. If not, it'll be a tough road back to the final.

    Smith, naturally, now finds herself in the limelight after her World Cup debut. The only thing harder than a dazzling debut is following it up with something better, especially when the next team in Smith's way is the Netherlands, the USWNT's 2019 final opponents.

    “I feel it, I definitely feel it,” Smith said last week when asked about the pressure of it all. “It means people believe in me. I say that all the time. But I try not to overthink it, and it means that I just need to keep being myself, doing what I’ve been doing, and not put too much pressure on myself.”

    Her team-mates, though, already have trust in her. She may be just 22, but even the USWNT's veterans are able to admit that Smith is ready to be the star of the show.

    "We're going to expect her to do a lot," said Megan Rapinoe. "We need her to do a lot. You know, she's one of the best players in the world and the best players in our squad, obviously. She seems ready for it. I feel like she wants that herself. Whatever pressure we put on her, she's already put on herself. She loves these moments. I feel like she loves being that player that has it on her shoulders and looks to perform in the biggest moments."

    Bigger moments are ahead, starting with Wednesday's clash with the Dutch. After that, the U.S. will move on to Portugal. With a win against the Netherlands, maybe the USWNT can start to think about the knockout stages and the path toward another World Cup final.

    That is the goal, after all. To get there, they'll definitely need Smith, who looks like she could be THAT girl all summer long.