Sophia Smith’s full circle moment

Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports
Smith had a chance for redemption on Wednesday.

SAN DIEGO — Sophia Smith stepped up to the spot during a penalty shootout against Sweden in the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which could have won the USWNT the match. But instead, she missed it wide, and the USWNT lost minutes later. 

It was a moment that has stuck with Smith since. But on Wednesday, she had the chance to redeem herself. 

A back-and-forth battle against Canada in the CONCACAF W Gold Cup semifinals featured two goals from both sides, including a go-ahead one by Smith in extra time. In the following penalty shootout, she would not be denied this time.

Smith was the USWNT’s first penalty taker. She took a deep breath and buried her penalty kick past Canada goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan’s outstretched arms, setting the tone for victory.

It was a full-circle moment, one Smith felt she needed.

It’s been a hard journey since the World Cup,” Smith said. That took a big emotional toll on me, so this felt like a big relief. I feel like I needed that.”

After the World Cup, Smith leaned on her teammates, such as forward Megan Rapinoe and midfielder Lindsey Horan. They, too, were emotional but were there for Smith. 

Pino, Lindsey, everyone, we all stuck together,” Smith said. “It was a tough World Cup. No one wants to end like that. And we all had each other’s backs. We were all feeling a lot of emotions.

Horan told Smith to be patient. She believed in her talent and knew moments like the one on Wednesday would come.

Patience. It’s coming,” said Horan was her advice to Smith. “She’s young, and she’s one of the faces of your soccer, and she’s going to be one of the faces of U.S. Soccer for a long time. You go through little bumps and stuff throughout your career, but she’s not going through that; she’s still so special and so needed on this team. She showed that tonight.”

Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

Smith broke into tears after the match, showing just how much both moments (the goal and the penalty) meant to her. 

“Soph[ia Smith] was in tears because it’s a sign of how much this means to wear this crest, that responsibility, and to make good on those responsibilities,” said head coach Twila Kilgore. “We are pleased with her and this game. It’s always better when you’re winning, but it can be hard at times, and that’s just part of being a professional. Most people don’t get the opportunity to be in those shoes. She’s so worthy.”

Smith went to 20-year-old midfielder Korbin Albert moments after leading the USWNT to victory. Albert missed a penalty kick after Smith, a feeling Smith knows too well.

“I went and grabbed Korbin [Albert] right away,” Smith said. “I know the feeling on a very big stage, and it sucks. It really does. It’s something that you won’t forget, and it’ll make you feel sick. I just grabbed her and let her know it happens to the best of us, and we got her back, and we want it for her. Now she needs to be a goldfish, forget about it, move on, and stay confident.”

Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made three saves to help take pressure off Albert en route to a penalty shootout win, earning the USWNT spot in the W Gold Cup finals against Brazil. But should Albert want it, she has Smith in her corner.