OAKLAND, July 22 (BNA): Newcomer Sophia Smith teamed with captain Lindsey Horan to give the United States a balanced performance as the Americans claimed another opening win at the Women’s World Cup.
Smith scored twice as the two-time champions defeated Vietnam 3-0 on Saturday to secure the Americans’ 13th consecutive World Cup victory. Smith, who turns 23 next month and plays in her first tournament, is the second-youngest American player to score multiple goals in a World Cup match.
Horan, co-captain of the team with Alex Morgan, added a goal for the favorite Americans, who have won four World Cups overall and are vying for an unprecedented hat-trick in this year’s championships, the Associated Press (AP) reports.
“I love playing with Lindsey, she’s a great player. She has a good eye for things that not many players see,” said Smith. “She understands my game. She understands my runs before I run them.”
And Vietnam drew comparisons with Thailand, where the Americans were defeated 13-0 in their opening match of the 2019 World Cup. But Vietnam were surprisingly resilient, holding the match closer than expected, and Morgan’s penalty attempt in the first half was blocked by goalkeeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh.
Morgan was pushed onto the court holding her leg after attempting to rebound on a missed penalty, but quickly returned. This was the second penalty kick missed by the United States.
Smith, one of 14 Americans to make World Cup debuts, showed why she was named the US Soccer Player of the Year and WFL Player of the Year honors last year with her first-half goals.
She scored when Morgan directed a pass from Horan to her in the 14th minute. Smith and Horan celebrated with a determined handshake after the goal.
Smith scored again in first half injury time to make it 2-0 going into the break. The US was initially reported as offside before a video review confirmed the goal.
The US team was full of young talent including Smith and Trinity Rodman after settling for a disappointing bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
“They’re confident, they’ve been under pressure. Will Smith, look what you’ve done. She does it every day in training so I wasn’t shocked,” Horan said. “But it’s always nice to play the first game to really calm everyone’s nerves and get the three points.”
Among the veterans, 38-year-old Megan Rapinoe made her 200th international appearance against Vietnam.
Rapinoe, who scored in the World Cup final in France and was named player of the tournament in that tournament, did not start. She announced before the team left for New Zealand that this would be her last World Cup and she would retire from her professional team at the end of the season.
Rapinoe and midfielder Rose Lavelle, who had both been hit with injuries in the lead-up to the tournament, came on as substitutes in the 63rd minute. Rapinoe had bright blue hair.
“It feels old to have come this far,” Rapinoe joked afterwards. “My leg is like ‘I earned it.’ It obviously feels great to be in a match as meaningful as the World Cup.”
The youngest player on the team, 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, was also at halftime.
Horan scored into a wide open net from Smith’s pass, which the goalkeeper sped up and deftly dispatched the ball. Horan, who had recently become engaged, kisses her ring in celebration.
There was early drama when Rodman, daughter of former NBA star Dennis Rodman and one of the young newcomers on the team, emerged injured after falling hard on her back when tackled by defender Tran Thi Thu. Rapinoe warmed up on the sidelines and a stretcher was brought onto the court, but Rodman stood up and returned to the game a few moments later.
Saturday’s match was the first meeting between the United States and Vietnam. The Vietnamese lost two exhibition matches before the tournament, losing to Spain 9-0 in a closed match in Auckland last Friday.
Also from Group E are the Netherlands and Portugal, who meet on Sunday in Dunedin. Portugal also participates in the World Cup finals for the first time.
The group plays all its matches in New Zealand, which co-hosts the tournament with Australia. The United States plays the Netherlands in the final rematch of 2019 on Thursday in Wellington.
If the United States tops the group, the team will travel to Sydney for the round of 16.
Back home in the States, a sign was erected on the North Lawn of the White House that read “Go Team USA! We’re all behind you.”
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