Sophia Smith, the 16-year-old who's been on scoring tear for the U.S. U-18 and U-20 national teams, hails from the same youth club, Real Colorado, as Mallory Pugh. So comparisons are tempting.
"Mal is relentless, Sophia is ruthless," says Real Colorado coach and director Lorne Donaldson. "And they're different types of players. Sophia is a pure forward. She can play central or wide, and she's never seen a situation she didn't consider a scoring a chance."
Pugh, at 18 already an Olympian and now at UCLA, did serve as an inspiration to Smith and they at times trained together at Real Colorado. And Smith, who played on Coach B.J. Snow’s team at the 2016 U-17 World Cup, is moving up the national team program ladder in similar fashion.
In February on an England tour with the U.S. U-18s, she scored a hat
trick in a 5-0 victory over Norway and struck twice in a 3-1 win over England. In March, she joined the U-20s for a trip to La Manga, Spain. In the opening 8-2 rout of Norway, Smith struck twice. She
scored the only goal in a 2-1 loss to England. In a 2-1 win over France, she opened the scoring and assisted on the gamewinner by Santa Clara University’s Kelsey Turnbow.
Smith, who is headed to Stanford after she graduates from Fossil Ridge High School in 2018, played for Arsenal Colorado from before joining Real Colorado at age 12.
The key to her scoring knack? Donaldson says: "Quickness, speed, skill in tight spaces. Her ability to play with her back to the goal or facing the goal. She has a tremendous shot that is usually on target."
Smith lives Fort Collins, which can mean a 4-hour roundtrip to Real Colorado when there's traffic.
"She doesn't miss practice and she comes on off days for extra training," says Donaldson, one of the few people who has succeeded in stopping her from scoring lately.
In a recent ECNL game, Smith scored seven goals in the first half, putting Donaldson in an uncomfortable position.
"I told her she couldn't play in the second half," Donaldson said, "out of respect for the other team and the other coach. She looked me straight in the eye and said, 'No. It's not my fault. I need to keep playing.'"
But Donaldson insisted.
"I had to spend a long time trying to explain the situation. She's a driven kid. I understand why she was upset."
Fortunately for Smith, it wasn't long before she got to travel to England and Spain to get her fix of goals.
• The Spain trip marked the start of the new cycle for the U-20s who are aiming for the 2018 U-20 World Cup.
March 7 in La Manga, Spain
USA 2 France 0.
Goals: Smith 21, Turnbow (Smith) 69.
USA — Brooke Heinsohn; Emily Fox, Samantha Hiatt, Sydney Dawson, Isabel Rodriguez (Tara McKeown, 79), Natalie Winters (Jaelin Howell, 46), Taylor Kornieck (Viviana Villacorta, 79), Zoe Morse (Arlie Jones, 46), Sophia Smith, Cecilia Gee (Civana Kuhlmann, 62), Jordan Harr (Kelsey Turnbow, 46).
FRANCE — Mylene Chavez; Tess Laplacette, Julie Piga, Sarah Galera, Agathe Maetz, Julie Thibaud, Cindy Caputo, Helene Fercocq (Amira Ould Braham, 61), Emelyne Laurent (Aimy Diop, 81), Christy Gavory (Ninon Blanchard, 68), Chloe Pierel (Catherine Karadjov, 61).
March 5 in La Manga, Spain
USA 1 Germany 2.
Goals: Smith 87; Minge (Freigang) 6, Feldkamp 27.
USA — Laurel Ivory; Samantha Coffey (Taylor Kornick, 46), Samantha Hiatt, Abigail Kim (Jordan Harr, 46), Civana Kuhlmann (Cecilia Gee, 62), Emily Fox, Tara McKeown, Jaelin Howell (Arlie Jones, 68), Karlie Paschall, Frankie Tagliaferri (Viviana Villacorta, 46), Kelsey Turnbow (Sophia Smith, 46).
GERMANY — Vanessa Fischer; Dina Orschmann (Franziska Gieska, 56), Sophia Kleinherne, Lisa Schoppl, Janina Minge, Giulia Gwinn (Meret Wittje, 74), Jana Feldkamp (Giovanna Hoffmann, 62), Laura Freigang, Anna Gerhardt (Luca Maria Graf, 74), Caroline Siems, Klara Buhl (Katja Orschmann, 56).
March 3 in La Manga, Spain
USA 8 Norway 2
Goals: Kim (Jones) 24, Kim 33, Harr (Kim) 45, Hiatt (Coffey) 60, Smith (Kuhlmann) 68, Smith (Villacorta) 77, Kuhlmann (Villacorta) 86, Turnbow 93; Suphellen (Leonardsen Maanum) 17, Heimvik Haugland 36.
USA — Brooke Heinsohn, Zoe Morse (Samantha Coffey, 58), Isabel Rodriguez, Samantha Hiatt, Belle Briede (Civana Kuhlmann, 46), Abigail Kim (Sophia Smith, 46), Karina Rodriguez, Emily Fox (Tara McKeown, 70), Viviana Villacorta, Jordan Harr (Kelsey Turnbow, 58), Arlie Jones (Jaelin Howell, 46).
NORWAY — Benedicte Haland (Hildegunn Saevik, 77), Sarah Lilleberg Suphellen, Anja Rasmussen (Svanhild Sand, 73), Elise Isolde Stenevik, Karoline Heimvik Haugland (Andrea Wilmann, 73), Ingrid Syrstad Engen, Ingrid Byroygard Kvernvolden, Siw Dovle, Joanna Aalstad Baekkelund, Frida Leonardsen Maanum, Andrea Norheim (Sophie Roman Haug, 63).
U.S. U-20 women’s national team
GOALKEEPERS (2): Brooke Heinsohn (Duke; Norfolk, Mass.), Laurel Ivory (West Florida Flames; Surfside, Fla.).
DEFENDERS (7): Sydney Dawson (Internationals SC; Akron, Ohio), Emily Fox (North Carolina; Ashburn, Va.), Samantha Hiatt (Boston College; Newcastle, Wash.), Tara McKeown (San Diego Surf; Newbury Park, Calif.), Karlie Paschall (Tennessee SC; Brentwood, Tenn.), Isabel Rodriguez (Michigan Hawks; Canton, Mich.), Karina Rodriguez (SoCal Blues; Torrance, Calif.).
MIDFIELDERS (8): Samantha Coffey (Match Fit Academy; Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.), Jaelin Howell (Real Colorado; Windsor, Calif.), Arlie Jones (San Diego Surf; Las Vegas, Nev.), Taylor Kornieck (Colorado; Henderson, Nev.), Zoe Morse (Virginia; East Lansing, Mich.), Frankie Tagliaferri (PDA; Colts Neck, N.J.), Viviana Villacorta (Beach FC; Lawndale, Calif.), Natalie Winters (Iowa; Plymouth, Mich.).
FORWARDS (7): Belle Briede (Tophat SC; Alpharetta, Ga.), Ceci Gee (Stanford; Orinda, Calif.), Jordan Harr (Texas Tech; Sachse, Texas), Abigail Kim (California; Vashon, Wash.), Civana Kulhmann (Colorado Rush; Littleton, Colo.), Kelsey Turnbow (Santa Clara; Scottsdale, Ariz.), Sophia Smith (Real Colorado; Windsor, Colo.).
If she's all that she should blow off Stanford and play in France or Germany. College ball will do little for her development. Will she get better playing against some Pac 12 nobodies or with Cristiane/Formiga or Marozsan/Abily?
Mike, you are giving BJ way too much credit. Sophia did NOT start for the U17s in Jordan, and only pulled a couple of starts at the CONCACAF qualifiers. She was a mid-to-late second half sub! The real question is why did she NOT start for the U17s? Probably could have helped against Ghana or Japan. Oh wait, isn’t BJ now in charge of talent identification for uS Soccer? I feel much better...
She should not blow off Stanford, she should use the opportunity to grow up in a supportive climate, grow intellectually, and prepare for the rest of her life, which will last a lot longer than her soccer career. Good to see that these young women are a lot smarter that the men, and the readers of these columns. Soccer is a game, a beautiful game, but not a life.
Allen, you rec mentality is part of our handicap as a soccer-playing country. This kid does not appear to be Becky Kickball and should learn to be a proper professional. However, I suppose she should play 1 year at Stanford THEN turn pro, so she can return to finish her degree at a later date. If she never enters Stanford they may not let her in at a later date.
It's arguable whether it makes sense for Sophia to go to college before turning pro. But on the men's side, no serious player will waste key developmental years playing a few games each fall at a super low level. R2Dad is right - at least on the men's side, the college game is a serious hindrance to the development of our elite young players. It's great for someone who isn't going to be a professional to play soccer and get an education. But for elite players, college ball is a complete waste. Imagine Pulisic playing this past fall in NCAA ball. What a waste.
I would love to see this girl play. She sounds like fun to watch.
She reminds me of a young Misty Copeland a ballerina.