The FIFA Women's World Cup kicks off this week. The monthlong tournament will be hosted jointly by Australia and New Zealand. The U.S. Women's National Team will once again enter the tournament with the world's No. 1 ranking and will be looking for a third straight World Cup victory.
In many ways, this World Cup looks to be a passing of the proverbial torch of leadership and stardom within Team USA. After years of leading the American women through international soccer domination, Megan Rapinoe announced recently she will be retiring and this will be her final World Cup. Rapinoe blazed a trail as both a star on the pitch and a social advocate off it, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2022.
So with those large shoes soon needing to be filled, whom from Team USA can we look toward to carry the sport into the future for America? Consider the incredibly talented Sophia Smith.
Sophia Smith: The Next Great USWNT Star
Smith is a budding young star who will turn just 23 years old during the World Cup. She grew up playing club soccer in her home state for Real Colorado before earning a scholarship to play forward at Stanford University. Smith helped Stanford to an NCAA title as a sophomore, leading the team with 17 goals, and was named the College Cup's Most Outstanding Offensive Player.
Smith opted to leave Stanford following the 2019 season and was taken with the first overall pick by the Portland Thorns of the National Women's Soccer League. She was the first teenager drafted in the league's history.
In her first full season, the Thorns had the best regular season record in the NWSL. And in 2022, Portland won the NWSL title, with Smith being named the league's MVP.
While Smith has been part of Team USA since 2019, she was narrowly left off the team's Olympic roster. So the 2023 World Cup will be her first major international competition with USA's senior club, and she is ripe for breaking out on the biggest stage. Smith led Team USA in goals in 2022 and became the first Black woman to be named U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year.
Smith's Parents Knew She'd Play Pro Soccer
Sophia comes from an athletic family. Her dad, Kenny Smith, was a college athlete before having three kids with his wife, Mollie: Sophia, Gabrielle and Savannah. Kenny played basketball at the University of Wyoming, where he was a two-year starter who averaged 13 points per game in the early '90s. He went on to coach women's high school basketball, notably at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins, Colo., to coach Savannah.
Both Kenny and Mollie knew Sophia had a chance to be a special soccer player when she was just 6 years old.
"It was about the age of six. She used to play on a little three v. three soccer team, and I saw in her a determination and a will, and she had some athleticism that a lot of other kids didn't have. Even at that stage in her life, she wanted to be the best player out on the field," he told Colorado Matters.
"The thing that stood out to me was that around that time, she would come home from soccer and she would want to work on things that she felt she didn't get right. And I thought, 'I think this is what it takes to be different from everybody else,'" Mollie told Colorado Matters.
Years later, Sophia is considered one of the best players in the FIFA Women's World Cup, not just for the USWNT.
While anything can happen in a difficult competition such as the World Cup, you might want to keep an extra eye on No. 11. Sophia Smith might just be the next American superstar to inspire countless young girls on soccer fields across the country.
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