'Special' Sophia Smith leads USWNT to SheBelieves Cup title

Jeff Kassouf reacts to USWNT's SheBelieves Cup win (2:05)

Jeff Kassouf breaks down the USWNT's penalty shootout win vs. Canada to clinch the SheBelieves Cup and also previews the squad's future with Emma Hayes at the helm going forward. (2:05)

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Scoring exceptional goals is nothing new for Sophia Smith, but she's making a habit of finishing them against Canada.

Smith scored twice Tuesday at Lower.com Field as the United States defeated Canada 5-4 in a penalty shootout to lift the SheBelieves Cup for the seventh time in nine editions of the tournament.

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It was the USWNT's second penalty shootout victory over Canada in 34 days after prevailing in a Gold Cup semifinal, and Smith's individual play was another example of the 23-year-old forward "being a special player in a special moment within our team concept," USWNT interim coach Twila Kilgore said.

Smith scored an equalizer from outside the box five minutes after halftime and the go-ahead goal 18 minutes later, when she got on a through ball from second-half substitute Trinity Rodman.

"The first goal was just class," Kilgore said. "Sometimes individuals just do special things. It was a left-footed finish for Soph in a crowded box, just an exceptional moment, but also there's a big team concept there."

Smith started the game on the right wing, a position she has been asked to play often in her blooming USWNT career but not her preferred No. 9 position, which she plays for the Portland Thorns. She won National Women's Soccer League MVP and a league title in 2022 and the Golden Boot in 2023. Portland recently rewarded Smith with the largest annual contract in NWSL history.

Four minutes after Smith moved to her preferred No. 9 role Tuesday, she tallied her second goal. Jaedyn Shaw found the ball centrally after moving into the attacking midfield role, then Shaw turned and played a vertical ball to Rodman, who found a streaking Smith in behind.

Smith acknowledged that it is good to be versatile when the Olympic roster is only 18 players deep.

"I just try to do my job when I'm told I need to step up," Smith said with her tournament MVP trophy beside her in the stadium tunnel Tuesday. "I don't think anything of that. I try to lead this team in any way I can and if that's putting the ball in the back of the net for the PKs or in the game, that's what I pride myself in and that's what I'm trying to do."

The USWNT nearly wasted Smith's efforts. Crystal Dunn conceded a penalty kick late when she fouled Canada forward Adriana Leon, and Leon stepped up to bury a late equalizer from the spot -- just as she had 34 days earlier in the 127th minute of the Gold Cup semifinal.

Tuesday's match went straight to a shootout, and it played out much like the previous meeting. USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher put in another dazzling shootout performance, saving three penalty kicks and burying one of her own to lift her team to victory.

"I think it's just something that we put the time into in training," Naeher said of her focus in shootouts. "It's just part of the game. Even on the men's or women's side, the champion of a World Cup or different tournament has statistically some very high number has had to go through at least one shootout within the tournament, so it's something that we just put a lot of preparation into. The more you do it, the more confident [you are]. I think we've got 23 players that can step up and be comfortable taking a shot at any moment."

Next up for the USWNT is the long-awaited arrival of head coach Emma Hayes at the end of May. Hayes was announced as the team's next coach in November, but she stayed with Chelsea throughout the European season to finish her decade with the club.

In the interim, Kilgore has been working with Hayes to implement her plans ahead of her arrival. That process has been successful of late despite a concerning group-stage loss to Mexico at the Gold Cup. Since then, the U.S. has won or advanced in five straight games, picking up two trophies in just over a month.

"Now we're just at a point where we are tried, true, battle-tested," Kilgore said. "This is five games back-to-back against teams that have qualified for the Olympics. There's only one more game that puts you into a final, for context."