Colorado’s girl’s youth soccer programs continue to punch out talent-laded prospects, many of whom occupy prized positions within the ranks of our U.S. women’s soccer teams.
Soccer fans here in Colorado, North America, and around the world are already familiar with Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh. They are about to get more than acquainted with the 5’5’’ football phenom, Sophia Olivia Smith.
Smith’s meteoric rise
Smith hails from Windsor, Colorado and she graduated from Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins in 2018. Her sister and father excelled as college basketball players; however, Smith prefers the freedom of running around the soccer field verse a compact basketball court.
Seven years ago, she earned her very first call-up to the U-14 U.S. Youth National Team and today, the 20-year old is training with the likes of Lindsey Horan, Kelley O’Hara, and Becky Sauerbrunn at the U.S. Women’s National Team fall camp at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. This is Smith’s third call-up to the senior level in her short career as a national player.
Like Pugh, Smith developed her talents with the Real Colorado Soccer Club in Highland’s Ranch. Smith wore Real’s badge from 2014 through 2018, with her most prolific year being 2017 when the forward was heralded as the U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year.
She played in 19 matches around the globe, the most of any player in any age-group, and found the back of the net playing with three different U.S. youth teams: the U-18, U-20, and U-23 WNT.
Smith was on the roster for the 2016 Concacaf Women’s U-17 Championship in Grenada, where her outstanding play helped the U.S.A win the regional title and a berth to the 2016 U-17 World Cup Tournament. She went on to score one goal and lead her team with four assists at Concacaf qualifiers, including setting up the game-winner in the championship match against archrival Mexico.
Her soccer resume only gets better, as Stanford University Women’s program came calling in 2018. She was pressed into action as a freshman and scored her first goal within 17 minutes of entering her first match. Smith went on to start in 11 games, putting in seven goals and adding two assists. Regrettably, a few months into the season, she broke her ankle and sustained ligament tears during a match against the University of Utah Utes. A reckless slide tackle did her in and the break ended her season.
The All-Pac-12 freshmen set a goal to be back on the Stanford Cardinal bench as soon as possible and committed to an aggressive rehabilitation plan, which paid huge dividends in her sophomore year. Smith started in 19 games, delivered nine assists, and scored 17 goals.
Smith scored her second career hat-trick in the NCAA National Semifinals against Southern California rival UCLA, then stepped up again during a penalty shootout in the NCAA D1 Champion title-bout versus the North Carolina Tar Heels. She scored a penalty kick, and Stanford went on to win the shootout and was crowned champions.
Less than a month later, Smith declared her eligibility for the NWSL’s 2020 draft. She ended her 33-game career at Stanford with 24 goals and 11 assists.
Onward to Portland
In a blockbuster NWSL transaction with the Orlando Pride, the Portland Thorns delivered star defensemen and USWNT centerback Emily Sonnett, plus the rights to high-scoring Australian forward Caitlin Foord, and the 7th and 14th overall picks in the draft to the Pride in exchange for their number one pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft.
The Thorns selected Smith and have paired her up with fellow Coloradoan and Colorado Rush midfielder, Lindsey Horan. Smith picked up where she left off at Stanford, scoring her first NWSL goal off the bench against the Utah Reign. Horan has said they are now “best friends” and the veteran has been mentoring Smith both here in camp and in Portland.
During a recent interview, USWNT Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski told Burgundy Wave, “I’m not going to say anything new if I say that Sophia Smith is an incredible player and has a great future in front of her.”
Smith is aiming to be a candidate for Andonovski 2021 Summer Olympic Team, a roster that will have 18 players plus four alternates. Should Smith not make the Olympic team roster this time around, many figure she will be first in line for the next USWNT World Cup team as several of the senior starters will be at the end of their playing careers.
During a virtual press conference last week, Smith said, “This training camp [in Denver] is a super important time for me to get back to where I was before my injury and get that confidence back... one thing that I’ve always embedded in myself is to be confident regardless of who I’m playing with. Just never let anything or anyone take away my confidence.”
Trusting the Process
When asked what her go-to philosophy has been as a rising soccer player, Smith said that she trusts the process. “If I’m giving everything I have, if I’m doing what I need to do when no one’s looking, everything will fall into place,” she said.
Smith added that it’s “not going to be a perfect path to the top. There’s a lot of ups and downs and obstacles that are provided that you have to work through, but working through those teaches you so many lessons.”
An injury during the NWSL season prevented Smith from playing in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup and also prohibited Andonovski and his staff from scouting her during Cup play. ”Going forward for her the most important thing is she needs to get back to full strength, where she can play her best,” Andonovski said. “After that, we are going to enjoy watching her level of play and abilities.”