Portland Thorns rides Sophia Smith’s climb to win NWSL title

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10/29/2022; Washington, D.C., USA; Portland Thorns FC forward Sophia Smith (9) celebrates her goal against Kansas City Current in the NWSL Championship game at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

Sophia Smith has spent about half of the NWSL’s entire existence as prophesied future. She earned the weighty title as a talented teenager and carried it through high school to college. She arrived in the pros just two short seasons ago with unprecedented expectations; She would, many assumed, become a Golden Boot winner and star of the US women’s national team.

she was the future, future, futureuntil it became present in 2022 and specifically on Saturday night.

She became the league’s youngest MVP this week at 22 years and two months. And then she became a champion. It took her just four minutes to win Saturday’s title game in Washington, DC and capture the Portland Thorns’ third NWSL title.

Smith pounced on a Kansas City error, went around AD Franch and blasted the first goal of a 2-0 triumph into an empty net.

And she partied in front of 17,624 awestruck fans like she’s been doing it her whole life — because she’s been doing it.

became Smith the future long before she turned 18. She ripped up youth tournaments and earned her first USWNT call-up at 16. She went to Stanford and scored 17 goals as a sophomore. She scored a hat-trick in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament en route to a national championship.

In college, she glided past helpless defenders and conjured magic even against the world’s best youth national teams. She wriggled in and out of tight spaces. She hit quick-release shots and displayed vision and spatial awareness well beyond her years. She left Stanford after two seasons and became the no-brainer No. 1 draft pick.

She joined a Portland team with five world champions and the all-time leading international scorer. Some of these veterans remained the cornerstones of a 2022 team that endured unfathomable heartbreak but possessed incredible depth. The Thorns regularly brought international stars off the bench. One, Crystal Dunn, won her semi-final with a 93rd minute smash.

Smith, meanwhile, started the year as a still very promising 21-year-old. She was already an international, but five Thorns players had made the first or second team of the NWSL 2021 Best XI and Smith had not been one of them. Last year she scored seven league goals. She was part of a super team, but only a part – until she became something far more at the start of the 2022 season.

She met early and often, especially often in June. She has scored in the league and in the NWSL Challenge Cup. She scored for Germany in World Cup qualifiers and against England at Wembley. In total, she scored 28 goals.

she stays the future, and brighter than ever. But she definitely arrived that now this year. Their presence also ensured Portland’s second goal on Saturday at Audi Field. Her speed and confidence almost created more.

At 10:06 p.m., as her teammates poured onto the field, she became the NWSL champion. And shortly after that, a championship game MVP. They were anything but a one-woman team – Sam Coffey and Becky Sauerbrunn were great too. But she was and is what the American football world always thought she was: a superstar.



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