Coloradans prepare for pressure, new era before Women’s World Cup

While the pressure on the Coloradans of the United States Women’s National Team is zeroing in, Windsor native Sophia Smith is more than happy to admit it’s a new era.

Smith spoke earlier this week ahead of USWNT’s final tune-up matches with a pair of games against fellow World Cup qualifiers Republic of Ireland Saturday at Q2 Stadium in Austin, as the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in July in Australia and New Zealand. A second game against the Irish will be held Tuesday, April 11 at the new CITYPARK in downtown St. Louis.

“I don’t know if I’d refer to it as a villain era as I’m a sweet, happy person,” Smith started her answer Wednesday. “I think on the field, yeah, I don’t play games. I don’t step on a field to do anything but win and I take a lot of pride in that.

“So, I think I guess this era is just winning. And doing everything I can to do that to help my team.”

Smith has missed the last two camps with the USWNT and will wear her country’s colors for the first time since November 2022. She’s back playing with her club team, Portland Thorns in the NWSL where she’s off to a scorching start. She has scored four goals and an assist in two games this season, including a hat trick last weekend.

But still, as crunch time nears before the roster reveal, she knows there are areas to improve upon. Smith was one of three Coloradans called into the 26-woman final camp roster, alongside Highlands Ranch’s Mallory Swanson and Golden’s Lindsey Horan, plus CU alum Taylor Kornieck. Horan will look to build off of disappointment after bowing out of the UEFA Women’s Champions League quarterfinals with Olympique Lyonnais where she missed a decisive penalty kick in a shootout against Chelsea.

“That’s football. That’s life. That’s why we play this sport and are lucky enough to experience these emotions.” Horan posted last week on Instagram. “… We move forward.”

Longtime national team players, defender Casey Krueger and defensive midfielder Julie Ertz, are also back in the picture for the first time since late 2021, as both became first-time mothers last summer.

With Smith missing time and her teammates being welcomed back into the fold, she’s embracing the pressure of how close her first World Cup is and what it will take to gel.

“It is hard to miss a camp or have players miss a camp because you learn so much, things change,” Smith said. “You’re not in that environment to see how the team is growing and changing. … But when people come back in, everyone is very helpful and welcoming to catch that player up and make sure they’re up to speed with everything that’s changed and is going on. So that when you step on the field, it doesn’t feel like you’ve missed out and you’re behind.”

For USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski, he told reporters Friday that the team is in good spirits, but it’s still a key evaluation period for everyone, including Ertz and Krueger.

“We’ll certainly see (Ertz) on the field, but as everyone else, she will have to earn some minutes,” Andonovski said. “Nothing is going to be given. … We understand that this is our last opportunity to see certain players in certain positions. I can’t say we’re going to see everyone on the field, but we will see most of them on the field at certain points in time in these two games.”

Kickoff against the Republic of Ireland is at 12:30 p.m. MST on TNT and Peacock.

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