Last season, Sophia Smith scored 13 goals and dished three assists in the regular season, then the winning goal for Portland four minutes into the NWSL Championship game. Prior to the penultimate match of the season, Smith was named 2022 NWSL MVP, and there was chatter that others were more deserving. She heard it, and after her championship goal, hit a Jordan shrug celebration.
Asked about her celebration afterward, she said “There’s been a lot of people who think I don’t deserve MVP, so that was a little bit of – that’s that.”
An offseason wasn’t enough to slow her reign of terror. Through two games, Smith has scored four goals, including a hat-trick against the same team she beat in the championship game. This time, the game was played in Kansas City, in front of a club-record crowd that was shushed by Smith after she extended her team’s lead to 2-0 in the 18th minute.
After winning and scoring a penalty for her first, Smith went on to score two highlight reel-worthy goals from open play. The second was an incredible display of dribbling and balance to bounce off and avoid four defenders before rolling the ball across the line from a narrow angle. Her third came from turning and beating a defender while in her own half, dribbling toward the top of the box and hitting an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner.
After her hat-trick in Kansas City, Smith released a little more villain energy, telling Lianne Sanderson “I love coming to play in a crowd that hates us.”
Smith’s three goals exemplify why she’s an unstoppable force on the pitch. Whether she’s dancing through defenders in the box or causing panic from 50 yards away, Smith’s combination of skills plus her willingness to use them anywhere on the pitch makes her a force of inevitability. “I’ll do whatever the game needs, whatever my team needs,” she said postgame. “If it’s not me getting in behind, it’s me coming and getting it and seeing how I can connect the play.”
Smith already holds impressive NWSL records. She’s the fastest and youngest player to score 25 goals in the league, and she’s also the first player to have scored in three consecutive opening day matches. And perhaps the most alarming stat for the rest of the league: she’s only 22.
When reflecting on her recent performances and gestures she stopped short of claiming to be in her “villain era”, but made no mistake about her mindset on the pitch. “I don’t know if I would refer to it as a ‘villain era,’ I’m a very sweet, happy person,” she said. “On the field I don’t play games, I don’t step on the field to do anything but win. … I think there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of banter between teams and a little bit of talk here and there, it’s never disrespectful but it can add a bit of fun and entertainment to the game and I love to put on a show.”
The recent NCAA Women’s College Basketball national championship game pulled in 9.9-million viewers, peaking at 12.6-million, making it one of the most viewed college games of all time. LSU star Angel Reese and Iowa star Caitlin Clark put on a show, with Reese coming out on top and reveling in the moment.
In the aftermath of the tournament, some people made it known that they still have a hard time viewing women as confidently competitive to the point of trash-talking and bravado. Conversations afterward revealed two things: some people have unchecked biases about women in sports, and fans plus the players themselves are united in not caring. Reese and Clark already have fans, old and new, excited for the next season of women’s college basketball.
In her own way, Sophia Smith is doing similar things. By playing with a chip on her shoulder, excelling, and not being afraid to taunt, flaunt and/or send a message while in the spotlight, Smith is exactly what the NWSL needs.