Sophia Smith isn’t from Ohio. A native of Colorado, the forward on the United States women’s national team attended college at Stanford and plays professionally for the Portland Thorns.
Something about the Buckeye State, though, agrees with the 21-year-old. Smith entered Lower.com Field on Saturday with just one goal to her name in 13 appearances for the national team, and it came last September in a friendly against Paraguay played at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium.
Saturday night, in a friendly against Uzbekistan, Smith didn’t stop with just one. By the time she was subbed out in the 62nd minute, the forward had notched a hat trick as the Americans pounded Uzbekistan, 9-1, to the delight of the fans who had plenty of occasions to stay warm by jumping out of their seats to celebrate goals.
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It was Smith’s first three-goal effort since leading the Cardinal past UCLA to reach the 2019 College Cup.
“I’m always looking to score,” she said. “The mindset doesn’t change. If it’s on, it’s on. If my teammate has a better opportunity, I’m going to pass it to them. It’s not about getting a hat trick, it’s about finishing chances and playing together as a team.”
It wasn’t just Smith that will take fond memories from the home of the Crew. Teammates Jaelin Howell and Ashley Sanchez scored their first career national-team goals with the trio accounting for five of the nine goals. Their average age: 22 years old.
“It’s a special moment,” said Howell, a Racing Louisville midfielder. “(Sophia) and I have known each other since we were in kindergarten, and for us to share the field together and score together is something we dreamed about. I played with Sanchez most of my life. We’ve all dreamed of it, and to do it together is really amazing.”
The Americans have now gone 13 straight matches without a loss. Although, to be fair, the result was to be expected for the world’s top-rated team playing a country that entered the afternoon ranked No. 45.
Smith had two first-half goals in the span of three minutes and finished off the hat trick in the 56th minute on a pass from Mallory Pugh to make it 6-0. Howell made it 7-0 with her first career goal with a nifty flick in the 64th minute, setting off a barrage of cheers as she celebrated inside the Uzbekistan area.
The celebrations were fitting for a festive atmosphere. With snow flurries falling and 40 minutes until the opening kickoff, a half-dozen young girls held homemade signs in the first row near the midfield line as they cheered the Americans while they warmed up – or tried to, at least. Red, white and blue scarves dotted the crowd as more than just a decoration, wrapped around dozens of fans as they stood in a line stretching well into the concourse to buy official team gear.
On the Fan HQ plaza on the southeast corner of the stadium, a DJ played Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” as a line of families with young children stood in line to take photos with a four-foot USA soccer crest and stacked, block letters reading US SOCCER.
In the final minute, Sanchez scored her first career goal to provide the final exclamation point on the night. It followed a goal from Ashley Hatch in the 86th minute.
“I had two pretty bad turnovers right before that, so I was like, ‘I really need to get a goal right now,’ ” Sanchez, who joked she had no idea who she hugged after scoring because she blacked out, said. “Obviously when it went in, it was just a dream come true.”
“I’m sure this is just the beginning, the first of many goals we’re going to see from these players,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said of the trio’s scoring output.
The Americans opened with a sustained offensive onslaught and finally broke through on a header from an unmarked Andi Sullivan in the 26th minute. It marked her team’s ninth shot of the friendly against an Uzbekistan team still in search of its first.
Seconds later, the Americans doubled the lead. It came in the 27th minute, and they hadn’t even announced Sullivan’s goal over the loudspeakers when Mallory Pugh finished a breakaway with numbers with a clinical finish past Tilovova. Pugh made it a 3-0 lead when she lofted a cross from outside the penalty area along the left flank that went just past a charging Lavelle but found forward Smith in stride in the 33rd minute.
Smith kept it going two minutes later when she calmly slotted a left-footed finish past Tilovova from just inside the area after the goalkeeper’s clearance was immediately redirected back toward America’s attacking end to make it 4-0 in the 35th minute. It was the United States’ fourth goal on seven shots in the span of nine minutes.
After directing much of the first-half attack, forward Catarina Macario opened the second with her first goal of the game that took all of 39 seconds. She found the back of the net before halftime substitutions Kristie Mewis and Howell could be announced and gave the United States a 5-0 lead.
Uzbekistan would score, however. Forward Aziza Norboeva got her knee on a redirected corner in the 70th minute to beat Alyssa Naeher, snapping a streak of 17 straight home shutouts for the Americans. The last team to score against the Americans on US soil was Japan in a 3-1 United States victory in Frisco, Texas, on March 11, 2020.
“As much as I hate it, I love it,” Andonovski said. “If we have to get scored on, I’m glad it happened now and hopefully this will give us an opportunity to fix it before we go into qualifying.”
The women were without veterans Alex Morgan, Christen Press and Tobin Heath due to coaches’ decisions, Megan Rapinoe (calf injury), Becky Sauerbrunn (knee injury) and Julie Ertz (pregnant).
The United States women’s team has not lost in Columbus since a 3-1 defeat to Canada on March 11, 2000.
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The loudest cheers during the starting lineup came for one of Ohio’s own: Cincinnati native Rose Lavelle, a midfielder making her 70th appearance with the national team. She finished with two assists, and afterward she tried to spread around the praise for her home state’s two MLS stadiums.
“The stadium was great,” she said. “I loved playing here. I love playing anywhere in Ohio. It was a fun game to be apart of.”
Andonovski, a former professional player with 14 years of head coaching experience before joining the United States national team, described it as a “world-class” stadium.
“One of the best that we’ve ever been at or played a game at,” he said. “Very thankful for the fans coming out. Blessed to part of an event like this in a stadium like this with great fans. We did everything we could to put on a good show for them.”
Howell and Smith used similar language, praising the playing surface and overall aesthetic appeal. For Lavelle, though, the question was posed: who has the better stadium, Columbus or her hometown’s TQL Stadium, which also opened in 2021?
“Uh, man, I can’t answer because I think you guys know the answer but I’m not in the right place to answer,” she said with a laugh.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Racing Louisville’s Howell scores first international goal for USWNT