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Sophia Smith Leads U.S. to Victory in Sensational World Cup Debut

4 minute read

Less than a minute into the U.S. Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) World Cup opening against Vietnam on Friday night, American forward Trinity Rodman fell to the turf. A Vietnamese defender swiped her leg going for a ball. For a moment, the young star’s World Cup debut looked like it would be maddeningly brief. Megan Rapinoe started to stretch, getting ready to replace Rodman.

After receiving some treatment on the sideline, however, Rodman came back into the game. But the Golden Star Women Warriors were sending an unsubtle message: Vietnam was not going to roll over. The Warriors would play rough, would play sharp defense, and refuse to give up double-digit goals.

This would assuredly be no repeat of 2019, when the U.S. beat Thailand 13-0.

The U.S. still won the game fairly easily, 3-0. Sophia Smith—another World Cup rookie member of the generation of forwards carrying the USWNT into the future but making their mark in the present—turned in a spectacular debut, scoring two first-half goals and assisting on the third. The first breakthrough came in the 14th minute, when Alex Morgan flicked a beautiful pass to Smith, who was streaking down the left side of the field and fired a shot through the legs of Vietnam keeper Thi Kim Thanh Tran. Then in the first-half stoppage time, Kim Thanh mishandled a saveable Smith shot; it was a rare error from Kim Thanh, who made several nice saves and blocks in a valiant effort.

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Vietnam was playing to keep the game close. It put all their players back on defense, so the USWNT faced a sea of red jerseys almost every time it had possession. The Golden Star Women Warriors’ offense was, well, non-existent. The USWNT’s defensive back line didn’t face much of an attack: Julie Ertz moved up front for a few scoring chances, but for the most part, she could have spent 90 minutes FaceTiming her son Madden, who’s almost a year old and in New Zealand. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naher did not face a single shot. She could have enjoyed a Speight’s or two.

The Americans could have easily pumped in more goals: missed chances are a legitimate concern coming out of this game, as future opponents are expected to be more of a challenge. Aside from her assist to Smith, Morgan was a bit off her game. She missed a penalty shot in the first half, when the U.S. was up a goal. And at the start of the second half, a Rodman cross landed right on the foot of midfielder Linsey Horan, who shanked the opportunity.

But Horan made up for it later on. In the 77th minute, Ertz lobbed a nifty ball that Smith chased down on the right wing. Tran left her line to challenge Smith, who crossed it to Horan about 12 yards in front of goal. She fired the shot in to make it 3-0.

Megan Rapinoe made her 200th appearance in a U.S. uniform, when she replaced Morgan in the 61st minute. In the 71st minute, midfielder Rose Lavelle, who like Rapinoe has been fighting injuries coming into this World Cup and came in as a second-half sub, set Rapinoe up for a valedictory goal. (Rapinoe is playing in her last World Cup). But Rapinoe sent the shot high. Horan sorta laughed Rapinoe’s error’s off. Rapinoe, still competing at 38, just looked ticked.

In all, the Americans took care of business. The USWNT avoided any kind of disaster on the scoreboard, or with injuries. They got the win and the 3 points. The final tally wasn’t a laugher, but the Americans dominated the game. The USWNT will now face the Netherlands, the 2019 World Cup runners-up, on Wednesday. The quest for history—a third straight World Cup—remains on track.

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Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com