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All eyes on USWNT heroine Sophia Smith

The Real Colorado alum figures to play prominent roles in England and Spain showdowns

John Babiak

Northwest London’s massive Wembley Stadium will beehive of energy when the United States Women’s Soccer Team (USWNT) take on England in this fall’s most anticipated an international friendly.

An estimated 90,000 fans will be on-hand to watch UEFA’s 2022 Euro’s champions and FIFA’s fourth-ranked Lionesses play host CONCACAF’s W champions, 2021 Summer Olympic bronze winner- The Lady Yanks.

The made-for-viewing match sold out in just over 24 hours.

The spotlight will be on many players on both teams, but none more that USWNT attacker, Sophia Smith.

As a result of Team USA’s Alex Morgan’s absence and Catarina Macario still recovering from extensive knee surgery, the Colorado native is expected to play a salient role in the team’s front half.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski may assign her to play her most familiar role as a winger, or possibly more centrally as the team’s number 9, during the Yank’s match with England and follow-on game with Spain on October 11th.

The versatile Smith has a nose for the goal, and can play in either role with confidence. And Smith’s compatibility with her attacking mates is unrivaled.

This year, Smith’s exceptional play for National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Portland Thorns as their striker carried the team to a second play finish and into the upcoming playoffs.

In 18 games, the Real Soccer Club alumni has scored 14 times and delivered three assists.

For her national team, the pint-sized 22-year old has had 23 appearance and found the back-of-the-net 10 times.

This season alone, the swift-as-a-speed-skater Smith has started 12 of the United States’ 13 games.

“Soph is an incredible young player,” head coach Andonovski said last month following the USWNT’s 5-0 thumping of Jamacia in Estadio BBVA in the heart of Mexico. “To be a starter at 20 years old – 20, 21, whatever she is – to be a starter on the best team in the world is not easy. It comes with lots of weight. She wants to be the best every time she steps on the field. She’s a perfectionist. She wants to score goals. Which is great, but sometimes it can be counterproductive.”

As fans in Wembley Stadium and beyond will have eyes on her, so will Andonovski and his staff who are continually evaluating players to invite to next year’s Women’s World Cup Tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

Smith is not a shoo-in to the roster; however, pretty darn close. She does have performances where a post-game evaluations yield constructive criticism that she can build on.

After her play in the July 4th contest with Haiti in the CONCACAF W Championship Tournament, Andonovski said, “I don’t think the last game was her best game, and I had a meeting with her and talked about that to reassure her. Regardless of what the game is going to be, regardless of what this game is going to look like or the next game is going to look like, she will be a starter for this team just because we know how good she is now and we can see her potential, how good she can be in the future.”

The former Stanford University undergrad takes feedback to heart and then applies it on the pitch, both in training sessions and competitive matches.

Smith played lights out soccer at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas last month against a talented Nigeria side. She scored two jaw dropping goals.

After the Nigeria game, Andonovski double-downed on his praise for Smith. “I thought she played incredible and it’s not just a goal that she’s scored but also her movement individually.

He continued, “She is a special player and she’s certainly developing aspects of her game that she maybe wasn’t special in- the ability to pop in pockets or to recognize those pockets and then expose the defense. For us as coaches, we’re happy to see that because it gives us another layer or gives us an opportunity to create strategy in a way that we believe we can expose teams.”

Like her fellow Coloradoans, Mallory Pugh, Jaelin Howell and Lindsey Horan, Smith has evolved into a burgeoning heroine. Barring a major setback or early retirement, she could soon become the face of the U.S. Women’s National Team, and so, for a long time to follow.

Andonovski recently shared these qualities that he sees in Smith- “She’s becoming not just individually a very good player but she’s also bringing other players in the game and helps them look better on the field.”

Those are tall attributes to carry on anyone’s shoulders, especially Smith who is surrounded my many talented veterans on the national team who have earned such flattery for years. However, like Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Megan Rapinoe, the rising star from Windsor, Colorado appears to be more than capable of shouldering the weight and responsibilities of being a long term mover and shaker on Team USA.

Keep a close eye on her all the way through the World Cup games and the 2024 Summer Olympics. Sophia Smith is here to stay.