Despite the lack of goals, the USWNT have reason to be optimistic about the potential waiting in the wings for this team. Mainly, Sophia Smith. The Portland Thorns forward came in as a second half substitute for the hosts against Korea Republic on Thursday night and showed exactly why she’s so highly related for club and country.
The match, which is part of the Victory Tour for the Olympic roster and a farewell tour for Carli Lloyd, saw the USWNT flatter to deceive throughout the first half as a starting frontline of Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath threatened the Korea Republic goal but could not find the back of the net. Those behind them also tried to pierce that backline and on occasion, did so, but the first half ended with a 0-0 scoreline, and a frustrated USWNT heading into the locker room.
Just before the second half, Vlatko Andonovski decided to bring in Mallory Pugh for Megan Rapinoe and Sophia Smith for Tobin Heath, The impact of those substitutions was felt instantly. Both substitutes caused problems for the Korea Republic backline but it was Smith who drew loud cheers from the crowd with almost every touch she had. They were well-earned cheers as Smith used the guile, speed and positional awareness that has her so highly touted to pick apart her opponents and create moments for the USWNT.
sophia smith's first touch>>>>gravity pic.twitter.com/lLOSQbQnEb— justin block (@JBlock49) October 22, 2021
With Korea Republic dropping deeper, Smith took note of this and pulled away from the backline to receive the ball away from her marker. Noticing her drop back, Tierna Davidson then popped the ball towards Smith, and as seen above, Smith made the most of that ball. A touch over and away from her marker set Smith off, and with Rose Lavelle streaking to her right, Smith had the awareness to lay the ball off and see if the USWNT couldn’t create something greater from her movement.
we've got a special one up front, folks pic.twitter.com/GnREZLbUpV— justin block (@JBlock49) October 22, 2021
The different camera angle shows just how fast and controlled that touch from Smith was, and how it opened up the space for not only herself but Lavelle as well. The ability to have that much control and deftness of touch at that speed isn’t something that’s taught. It’s innate. All it takes is someone to refine that within themselves to become a household and Smith looks to be right on track for that.
There was a lot to like about Sophia Smith’s performance on Thursday night and the above is just one instance of how her touch and feints produced stand-on-your-feet moments for the crowd. Anyone who watched that second half could see exactly why there’s so much hype around Smith and that even though there’s some technical issues that she has to work on, at 21 the sky’s the limit for her. Vlatko Andonovski certainly thinks so as well as when he was asked about her performance, the USWNT head coach stated that he feels with more game time Smith will correct all of that and when she does, she’s going to be “unstoppable”.
As anyone who follows the USWNT knows, this cycle of players is coming to a close and with new faces expected to come in next year, gearing towards the 2023 World Cup, performances like that will only make Sophia Smith’s case even stronger. She has plenty of time to develop her game and if she continues to show up as she did on Thursday night, and as she has done for most of the season in the NWSL, don’t be surprised if she becomes the first name on the list when 2023 rolls around.