Just before the Tokyo Olympics, Sophia Smith got the disappointing phone call from U.S. women’s national team coach Vlatko Andonovski.
No, she would not be accompanying the team to Japan.
So instead, Smith got to work.
She went on to be named the U.S. Soccer Player of the Year after leading the national team with 11 goals in 2022. She also was named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player that year after scoring 14 goals and helping the Portland Thorns to the league title.
“I remember obviously being sad and frustrated, but I think it took me a very quick day to get over it and I realized that the only thing I could do was prove to him why he should have taken me,” Smith said.
Smith now is among 14 players on the U.S. national team who are playing in their first Women’s World Cup. And on Saturday, she made a splash with a pair of goals and an assist in the Americans’ 3-0 victory over Vietnam to open the tournament.
In a touching moment after the victory, Smith’s father presented her with the Player of the Match award.
Just 22, she became the youngest U.S. player to score multiple goals in a World Cup game since 21-year-old Cat Whitehill had a pair against North Korea in 2003 at age 21.
Teammate Alex Morgan posted a photo of Smith on Twitter afterward that read: “She’s THAT Girl. Great team win.”
While Smith has had a seemingly quick rise on the international stage, Andonovski said it was always clear she was a talented forward.
“She had to face some adversity, she had to face some tough times. I know. I had some tough conversations with her,” Andonovski said. “But from every conversation and every moment, she just rose above and was better. Every time it seemed like she had a setback or she had a tough moment, she took it as an opportunity to grow and get better and that’s why she’s at where she’s at now.”
Smith, who turns 23 during the World Cup, grew up in Colorado before heading to Stanford. She scored a hat trick against UCLA in the semifinals of the 2019 College Cup before the Cardinal beat North Carolina for the title.
She left Stanford early and declared for the 2020 NWSL draft. The Thorns selected her with the No. 1 overall pick.
At the same time, she was starting to gain a foothold on the national team. In September 2020, she made her first appearance in a game against the Netherlands. But she missed out on the roster the next year for the pandemic-delayed Olympics.
“Being an athlete, that happens. You’re not going to make every roster, you’re going to be disappointed. Things aren’t going to go your way,” she said in an interview the day she was selected for the World Cup squad. “But it’s how you respond to those times that define you. So I pride myself on holding my head high and knowing what I can do.”
Now with the first game of the tournament out of the way, Smith and the rest of the U.S. players head to Wellington to play the Netherlands on Thursday. It’s a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final, which the United States won for its second straight title.
The Americans have won four World Cups overall, the most of any nation.
“I think it’s a good place to start,” Smith said of the victory over Vietnam. “And personally, it was good to just get a World Cup game under my belt, kind of see how it felt, know what to expect. But yeah, I think it honestly just makes me more excited for the next game.”