Sophia Smith had just recorded the best Women’s World Cup debut by someone so young in U.S. women’s national team history — two goals and an assist — when she uttered the words that strike more fear into opponents than Nike’s recently released chilling ad:
“I feel relieved,” she told Fox. “I was a little worried going into the tournament.”
The U.S. only beat Vietnam 3–0 on Saturday (Friday ET) in its first World Cup game, squandering a half-dozen more serious chances and raising some questions as the opposition only gets stronger from here, but the game also provided an answer: Smith, who will also only get stronger from here.
“From day one, I’m a winner,” Smith said shortly before leaving for the World Cup. “I have to win.”
At 22, she already looks like the ultimate summer star. Her first goal came 14 minutes into the game, the fastest goal of the tournament so far, when she pushed her defender into a higher position and then pulled away. Her second goal, in first-half stoppage time, was initially disallowed for offside but was reinstated after a VAR review. It gave her the first double-double by an American player in the first half of her World Cup debut in history. She celebrated by pursing her lips, apparently to silence the haters – although it’s hard to imagine who it might be.
The USA won’t have to produce too much trouble this summer as they aim for an unprecedented third straight World Cup title. The roster boasts 14 World Cup starters and 11 players with fewer than 30 caps, including midfielder Savannah DeMelo, who had just one cap before Saturday. When forward Alyssa Thompson was subbed at 18 years, 257 days, she became the second-youngest USWNT player to appear in a World Cup and the first teenager since 1995. It was the first time these 11 players have shared a starting lineup, and at times their discomfort showed. They had 28 shots, but only eight were on target.
Four years ago, the USA beat Thailand 13–0 in the opening game, sparking controversy over the celebration as they scored the goal. There was no such discussion on Saturday; indeed, if goal difference comes into play, the Americans may regret not taking better advantage of a team playing its first World Cup game. The Americans outshot the Vietnamese 28–0, but Vietnam goalkeeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh limited their chances of a comeback, including kicking an Alex Morgan penalty just before halftime.
“We created a lot of opportunities and wanted to score more goals, but it is what it is,” said American coach Vlatko Andonovski afterwards. “Hopefully we can improve on that and bring some of the good things we did today when we play Holland. We take everything game by game and that [match against the Dutch] now that’s our focus.”
Fortunately for the US and unfortunately for everyone else, Smith will be there. And she will no longer be anxious.