Women's International Friendlies
USWNT-Nigeria takeaways: Sophia Smith shines in friendly tune-up
Women's International Friendlies

USWNT-Nigeria takeaways: Sophia Smith shines in friendly tune-up

Updated Sep. 4, 2022 4:30 p.m. ET

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

In their first match since qualifying for both the 2023 FIFA World Cup and 2024 Olympics in July, the top-ranked United States women’s national team beat Nigeria 4-0 Saturday in a friendly at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Forward Sophia Smith scored her eighth and ninth goals of the year, kicking off the rout in the 14th minute: 

Smith added her second of the game after Lindsey Horan doubled the Americans’ advantage, and Alex Morgan completed the scoring from the penalty spot early in the second half.


The USWNT will face the 46th-ranked Super Falcons again on Tuesday in Washington in the second of their two exhibitions this month.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s lopsided victory:

Sophia Smith looks the part

When Catarina Macario went down with an ACL tear in June while playing for French club Lyon, it meant that U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski would be without his best forward in Mexico for July’s CONCACAF’s W Championship, which also serves as the region’s World Cup qualifying tournament.

The U.S. punched its ticket for Australia/New Zealand 2023 (and, by beating Canada in the final, the next Summer Games in Paris) anyway, scoring mostly by committee. But if the Americans want to successfully defend their 2019 title and become the first team in history, men’s or women’s, to win three consecutive World Cups, they’ll need as many proven finishers as possible.

Smith is certainly that. The 22-year-old leads all USWNT players in goals in 2022, and Saturday was her third multi-goal game this year. The Stanford University product was replaced by Midge Purce in a planned 64th-minute substitution, but with nine goals in nine games in 2022, she’s doing all she can to make it impossible for Andonovski to take her off the field when it matters — even after Macario returns.

Attacking chemistry on full display

During an interview with the FOX broadcast team shortly before the whistle blew on Saturday, Andonovski laid out what he was looking for both in this game and over the 320 days that remain before the 2023 World Cup begins.

"We want to see how Lindsay and Rose [Lavelle] are going to connect with our forwards, how the forwards are going to interchange and make runs off of each other," the coach said. "There are certain groups of players that want to see how they’re going to interact on the field."

It must have been an enjoyable watch.

In addition to a growing chemistry, the U.S. displayed the equally important grit that, in addition to its perpetual embarrassment of talent, has been a hallmark of the USWNT program since its inception. Outside back Sofia Huerta won a header that began the play that lead to Smith’s opener. More sheer tenacity led to the second goal, which Horan calmly slotted home with her left foot after faking Nigerian defender Christy Ucheibe out of her Nikes:

The Americans' third strike, though, was as beautiful a team goal as you’ll ever see. First, veteran striker Morgan dropped deep into the midfield to collect the ball while left back Emily Fox went streaking up the outside. Morgan released her with a clever pass, and Fox quickly played a perfect cross behind the visitors’ back line to Smith, who held off her defender long enough to steer the ball past helpless Nigerian keeper Chiamaka Nnadozie.

For a U.S. team still transitioning from one generation of stars to the next, one still without the services of veteran fullback Crystal Dunn (maternity leave) and heart-and-soul midfielder Julie Ertz (same), that sort of cohesion is a hugely encouraging sign heading into a pivotal next two years.

Decent preparation, but a far bigger test looms

With their place now secured in the next two major tournaments, it’s important that this evolving squad plays as many non-CONCACAF teams as possible to prepare them for the different styles that they’ll face on the global stage. 

These two games against Nigeria do serve that purpose. Andonovski will learn things about his players this month. But with all due respect to a Super Falcons program that has qualified for all nine Women’s World Cups, they aren’t anywhere close to being peers with the sport’s standard-bearer. 

The USWNT won’t have to wait long for a sterner test. After Tuesday’s tilt at Audi Field in the nation’s capital, all the attention will turn to next month’s marquee meeting between the World Cup and European champs in London.

England — which beat Austria earlier Saturday to qualify for the 2023 World Cup — was the toughest out of any opponent the U.S. faced at the last one. If not for keeper Alyssa Naeher’s penalty save on the Lionesses' Steph Houghton in the semis at France in 2019, they might not have repeated at all.

A little more than three years on, the U.S. will send a younger and much less experienced side to a sold-out Wembley Stadium for an Oct. 7 friendly against the Euro 2022 winner. That one will tell us all much more about where this new-look USWNT stands with the next World Cup less than a year away.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports, and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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