Thorns FC

Cultivated in Portland to bloom on the global stage: Sophia Smith’s quest at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

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Portland's reigning NWSL MVP will make her World Cup debut with the USWNT in Australia and New Zealand.

At just 22 years old, Sophia Smith is already a force to be reckoned with on the soccer field – an NWSL MVP, and NWSL Championship MVP and U.S. Soccer Player of the Year all in the last 12 months.  The next challenge: her much anticipated first steps on the pitch at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

After becoming the first overall selection in the 2020 NWSL Draft, Smith started her professional career quietly. As the anticipation of a pro debut began to grow, it was upended as the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything globally to a halt.

“It was hard. I mean, I had just been drafted and gotten to Portland. [Then] COVID started and everything shut down,” says Smith. “I was in a new city by myself, I didn't really know anyone. I knew a few of the players on the team, but we weren't even training together at that time. So it was really hard.

“I was just so eager for everything to start, so every day felt so long.”

In less-than-ideal circumstances, 2020 would be Sophia Smith’s starting point. With a career projected to be of mountain-peak proportions, she found herself at base camp unable to begin the climb she had been eagerly preparing for all her life. What should’ve been a potential opening day debut in March of that year was delayed, and injuries kept her out of the inaugural NWSL Challenge Cup held that summer. Smith didn’t take to the field until that autumn’s Fall Series – a near seven-month wait. But once she arrived, she let the entire league know.

On Sept. 20, 2020, a 20-year-old Smith made her debut. She scored her first professional goal after only three minutes since coming in as a substitute, making it look natural. Fast-forward nearly three years, and with one glance at the stats sheet, it’s easy to see the excitement building around her competing on the game’s biggest stage.

Since making her pro debut, Smith has progressed at an astounding rate. In 2021, she recorded seven goals and tallied one assist, and the next year increased her output to 14 goals – a club single season record – and three assists. In less than three seasons of professional soccer, Smith is already a proven victor. With the team, she earned NWSL Shield, NWSL Challenge Cup, and International Women’s Champions Cup winners medals in 2021. In 2022, she added NWSL Champion, NWSL Best XI, and both regular-season and championship game MVP honors. She also became the youngest player in league history to score 30 career NWSL goals.

It is not lost on Smith that to get to where she is, being in Portland has played a big role.

“I love everything about [Portland],” she says. “You talk about the fans, they're just so passionate about soccer and it's a soccer city, it really is.  

“The team is so amazing and it's full of so many great players and great people. I think just being in this environment every day and learning from other players has taught me how to approach life specifically as a pro. The people [in Portland] that I'm surrounded with have helped shape me and build me into the person I am today on and off the field.”

This season is no different for the Windsor, Colo., native. Halfway through the 2023 NWSL season she has scored a league-leading 10 goals and is second in the league with five assists. She leads the league in total shots (59) and shots-on-goal (38). Week after week, she has terrorized defenses at Providence Park and on the road, becoming a pillar of Portland’s league-leading, juggernaut offense which has tallied 34 team goals – good for best in the league.

“I think here in Portland we pride ourselves in winning. We'll do what it takes to win, and I think in a World Cup, [the USWNT] need players like that,” she says. “Maybe it won't be the prettiest, but we’ll find a way to get the ball in the back of the net  

“We will put our body on the line for the team, and I think we learn that and we preach that every day here [in Portland]. Going to the World Cup it will be no different.”

Up for the challenge in Australia and New Zealand, Smith savors the thought of walking onto a World Cup pitch and donning the U.S. national team crest.

“It's like a dream come true. I've dreamed of playing in a World Cup since I touched a soccer ball,” she says. “I'm just excited for the opportunity to be in that environment, to play on the world's biggest stage.

As she wrapped up her time in Portland before heading to international duty, there was a sense of eagerness and optimism for the striker. Smith knows Thorns supporters across the globe will be rallying behind her every time she takes the field, every time she touches the ball, and surely every time she scores.

“I hope that I can just do everything to make Portland proud and to make people proud to say that I am a Portland Thorn,” she says. “To be representing Portland, to represent this club going into the World Cup is an honor.”