Sophia Smith has a message for the rest of the world as she heads off to her first World Cup with the U.S. women’s national team:
Smith’s hat trick carried the Portland Thorns to a 4-2 win over the Washington Spirit on Friday at Providence Park, the final match before six Thorns players including Smith join their national teams ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The Thorns (7-2-4, 25 points) return to first place in the NWSL standings with the win. The Spirit (6-2-5, 23 points) drop to second.
PTFC conducted a pregame ceremony honoring the Thorns’ World Cup participants: Smith and Crystal Dunn will represent the U.S., Christine Sinclair and Adriana Leon will represent Canada, Rocky Rodríguez will lead Costa Rica, and Hina Sugita will play with Japan.
Smith was aggressive from the first whistle, hustling into the gaps in Washington’s defense and occasionally creating them herself. She scored her first goal in the 11th minute, going essentially 1-on-4 to carry the ball to the edge of the box and fire one through contact with her left foot.
Portland fell apart defensively in the ensuing minutes, though, allowing Washington to pull the match even on a goal from Ashley Hatch at the end of strong combining play by the Spirit. The Thorns’ defensive issues this season — particularly in transition — are well-documented, and they continued throughout Friday’s match.
Smith would not relent, however, and scored her second goal in the 23rd minute. She outran the entire Spirit back line to a loose ball in the midfield, and once she had control it was all over. A right-footed strike with power made it 2-1 Thorns.
Portland maintained its one-goal advantage heading into the half and Smith had several more chances. But it wasn’t all Smith, as players like Dunn and Sugita remained disruptive and technically sound in the midfield.
Sugita made a play for the highlight reel in the 38th minute as she went to ground, got several touches on the ball while she fell, got back up, maintained possession, and fed the ball back to Dunn.
The Thorns had another defensive lapse in the opening moments of the second half. Unable to clear the ball, Ashley Sanchez scored a curling chance from just inside the box in the 46th minute to make it 2-2.
Two minutes later, Smith had an emphatic response to secure her hat trick. Sprinting up the left side, Smith utilized her speed to gain space once again and fired a shot at the far post with enough pace to give the keeper very little time to make a decision. Her NWSL-leading 10th goal of the season made it 3-2 Thorns.
Portland held firm at the back despite some threatening moments from Washington, and the Thorns extended their lead to 4-2 in the 64th minute. Sam Coffey played a blooping ball over the top to Morgan Weaver, who finished with ease.
Olivia Moultrie replaced Sinclair in the 67th minute, as the Thorns’ captain headed off to what will be her sixth World Cup with Canada.
Washington threatened again in the 76th minute, but a save by goalkeeper Shelby Hogan in close quarters prevented a third goal for the Spirit and what would have been a second for Hatch.
Michele Vasconcelos replaced an injured Weaver in the 79th minute. In stoppage time, Portland brought on Taylor Porter for Sugita, who will join an upstart Japan team at the World Cup.
The air chilled at Providence Park on an early summer night, and the Thorns returned to the top of the NWSL table as several major contributors head Down Under seeking global glory.
Next up: Portland hosts rival OL Reign in the group stage of the NWSL Challenge Cup. The match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Providence Park with a live stream available on Paramount+.