College football and soccer analyst
You are nervous?
Sophia Smith thought of the question because not only is she about to participate in her first World Cup at age 22, but because she is expected to play a key role for the US women’s national team.
“I don’t really get nervous,” said the star striker. Smith admitted to being a bit anxious, but only because she wants the games to start. It’s all part of this super confidence that has become his trademark.
“Since day 1, I’m a winner,” Smith said. “I have to win. It makes me sick to lose anything. Card games, anything. When it comes to football, I just find a way.”
When the USWNT opens the game against Vietnam on July 21 (9th most watched of all time for women’s soccer. She finished that position early: last year, long before the World Cup roster was announced , USA coach Vlatko Andonovski said it would be “extremely difficult” for another player to take her starting place.That statement has stood by.
[USWNT’s secret to sustained success? A mentorship circle that keeps paying it forward]
While there are plenty of veteran (Megan Rapinoe, Morgan) and rising (Trinity Rodman, Alyssa Thompson) stars on this American roster, it’s arguable that Smith seems poised to seize her moment this summer more than any other player. She has no fear on the ball, she loves to take on defenders one on one and she will tell anyone who asks her that her goal is to one day be the best player in the world.
“I’m a fun, creative player and sometimes I like to put on a show,” Smith told FOX Sports.
But even with all the pressure and expectations, her self-assurance and belief give her teammates confidence.
Rapinoe calls her a “bona fide superstar.” After winning a national championship at Stanford as a sophomore, Smith made history as the first teen drafted into the National Women’s Soccer League when the Portland Thorns took her No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft. She earned her first cap with the USWNT later that year and is now 29. In 2022, she led the national team with 11 goals and was named NWSL MVP, winning the league title with the Thorns and being named championship game MVP. So far this calendar year, she leads the NWSL with 10 goals and 59 shots (38 on target) in 13 games.
Sophia Smith of the United States: No. 17 | Aly Wagner’s Top 25 Players at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023
In an interview with FOX Sports last year, his former Real Colorado club manager Lorne Donaldson, who is the head coach of the Jamaican team, recalled a story that he thinks really sums it up. Smith had scored seven goals in the first half of an Under-18 tournament game. The team had another game the next day, so he took Smith out at halftime to give other players rest and minutes.
Smith was not happy.
“It took me the whole halftime to convince her I wasn’t going to play her,” Donaldson recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t want to embarrass the other team.’ She looked me square in the eye and said, ‘Well then why are you playing? That’s not my problem. I’m here to play.’ She sat there and moaned the entire second half.
“Now every time I see her, she reminds me of that story and asks why I took her out of the game. She still doesn’t understand why.”
Off the field, Smith’s mother, Mollie, describes her daughter as sweet and kind. And Smith describes herself as laid back and a “girly girl.” She has a disarming friendly smile, wears a signature bubble braid for games, and loves to read books.
But on the field, there’s a cruelty to her game that Smith believes comes from being the youngest of three girls.
“I always had to fend for myself,” she said.
Smith was born in August 2000 and was the first player born in the 2000s to play for the USWNT. While most players in recent years were inspired by the 1999 World Cup, Smith was yet to be born. The earliest and most impactful memory of her from the team was watching Carli Lloyd score a hat trick in the 2015 final.
Is Carli Lloyd the best USWNT forward of all time?
This World Cup will be all about generation mix for the USWNT. Rapinoe, 38, is the oldest player on the team, while Thompson, 18, is the youngest. In between, there are a lot of Gen Z and millennials. Older players give younger players a hard time for things they don’t understand and vice versa. Smith has never used a CD player and rolls his eyes when Crystal Dunn, his close friend and Thorns’ teammate, tests his musical knowledge.
“A song comes on and Crystal goes, ‘Soph, do you know who sings this?'” Smith said. “And I’m like, ‘No.’ And it’s going to be Tupac or something or someone I’m supposed to meet.”
Smith never read or watched “Harry Potter,” but that’s more because she preferred princess movies. When an older gamer asks him to watch an old movie that he likes, his first question is, “But is it grainy?” If it is, she won’t look at it.
But there are some Gen Z stereotypes that people get wrong.
“Not all of us do Tik Toks like Trinity,” Smith said, smiling. “I’m not doing Tik Toks. But I think our generation has a very confident image, and I think that’s great. It’s not like having an ego. It’s more that we believe in ourselves and we’re not afraid to show that.”
[Alex’s Morgan father, the ultimate soccer dad: ‘He’s literally at everything’]
That has always been true of Smith, who believed in herself at a young age.
When she was little, Smith liked to jump from the steep stairs in her house. She always knew that one of her parents or her sisters would get her, and they did.
When I was 5 years old, I was playing on a three-on-three travel team. One day, in the car on the way to a game, he declared that he was going to score 10 goals. He scored 10 goals.
When Smith told her parents she wanted to go to Stanford, Mollie was supportive but didn’t know how her daughter would make it. He was already missing 60 days of school a year due to trips to national team camps. Smith would have to be organized and find a way to complete all of her work on time. Smith found out and got into Stanford.
She’s always been feisty, whether traveling an hour and a half each way to play for the best club in the Denver area, Real Colorado, for four years of high school, or dragging defenders with her as she runs toward the finish line. Watch any highlight of Smith running down the field, and you can bet there are anywhere from one to three players trying to catch her.
Smith feels the hands grab her, but she has too much killer instinct to let anything distract her from the task at hand. What will she be thinking about in those decisive moments?
“Score,” Smith said. “Score. I’m thinking about, ‘How can I get to the goal in the most efficient way possible to score a goal or assist?'”
One of the most recent examples of that came in the USWNT’s farewell game against Wales on Sunday. With the game goalless in the 76th minute, Smith got past two defenders in the box before selflessly sending a perfect ball to Rodman, who scored the goal.
Andonovski has been a strong supporter of Smith for years, even though he didn’t roster her for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. He’s not surprised by her trajectory or the shape she’s in now. Smith and Andonovski know that the World Cup is a different level than playing in the NWSL, but even so, the expectations for her are high. And the team needs her.
[How USWNT’s Trinity Rodman models her game after her NBA father’s]
Helping the US make history with a fifth (and third consecutive) World Cup title, as well as winning the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer, are not unreasonable goals for Smith. But she’s not getting ahead of herself.
Confident as ever, she said she’s focused on one thing: “I just want to win.”
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball, and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
Get more from America Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more