Sophia Smith: USA has lot more to give after opening WWC win

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — U.S. women’s national team forward Sophia Smith said that her team’s 3-0 win over Vietnam was “a good starting point” but that the Americans have “a lot more to give,” especially in terms of finishing off chances.

Smith — one of six U.S. players to make their World Cup debut on Saturday — was the hero, scoring twice in the first half and then assisting on Lindsey Horan’s clincher with 13 minutes of normal time remaining.

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But the U.S. was forced to work hard for their victory against a disciplined and organized Vietnam side, perhaps harder than expected given that the Americans blew away Thailand 13-0 four years ago in the opener to the 2019 World Cup and that the Vietnamese suffered a 9-0 friendly defeat to Spain last week.

Yet both Smith and manager Vlatko Andonovski were satisfied that the first win of the tournament is behind them.

“I feel good. I think it was a good starting point for our team in this tournament,” Smith said. “I also know that we have a lot more that we can give, a lot more to do, little things to work on.

“So I think it’s a good place to start. And personally, it was good to just get a World Cup game under my belt, kind of see how it felt, know what to expect. But yeah, I think it honestly just makes me more excited for the next game.”

Andonovski noted that this was the first time that these 11 players had been on the field in a competitive match together, and given the chances the team created — the U.S had an 18-0 advantage in that category — he was pleased with the performance.

“To see some of the connections and some of the combinations that they were able to do was very positive,” he said.

Among the new faces in the starting 11 was Julie Ertz, who slid into a center-back role alongside Naomi Girma.

Ertz was a mainstay in that spot during the 2015 World Cup, but in the run to the 2019 title she had played primarily as a holding midfielder. Yet when Becky Sauerbrunn went down with a foot injury that kept her off the U.S. roster, Andonovski approached Ertz about moving into the back.

“We had a conversation with Julie before we even tried it; did a lot of work before we even got in camp in terms of videos, analysis on both sides,” he said. “We were helping her out, but also she wanted to get adjusted, acclimated as soon as possible.

“And I think that today it showed how good she can be in the back line in possession and out of possession. So I’m glad we made that decision and I know that the back line is just going to get better and better going forward.”

All of which leaves Andonovski focusing on how his team can be more efficient. The U.S. couldn’t even convert a penalty that was awarded late in the first half, with Alex Morgan’s attempt saved by Vietnam keeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh.

It was the first U.S. penalty to be saved at a World Cup since Mia Hamm’s attempt against Norway back in 2003.

“It wasn’t a good penalty for me and I know that,” Morgan said. “But I’m glad that the team put three goals away and that we’re onto the next one.”

Andonovski feels that just a bit of fine-tuning is needed.

“I think that if there is one thing that we need to do better, besides finishing the opportunities, is just how can we help the players that are in the position to finish those opportunities, and give them a little better service,” Andonovski said.

“So whether it is finding them on the right step, finding on the right proper foot. So I would say the service before the finish and the finish itself.”

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