AUKLAND, New Zealand — Sophia Smith scored twice for the United States in the first half and the two-time defending champions kicked off the FIFA Women’s World Championship with a 3-0 win over first-time team Vietnam on Saturday.
Lindsey Horan scored yet another goal for the American favorites, who have won four World Cups overall and are vying for an unprecedented three-time championship in this year’s tournament.
Vietnam drew comparisons to Thailand, which the Americans beat 13-0 in their opening match of the 2019 World Cup. But Vietnam played surprisingly resilient, holding the game tighter than expected, and goalkeeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh saved Alex Morgan’s first-half penalty effort.
Morgan fell to the field clutching her calf after trying to retake a missed penalty, but she bounced back quickly. It was only her second penalty miss for the United States.
Smith, one of 14 Americans to play in their first World Cup, showed why she was named U.S. Soccer Player of the Year and National Women’s Soccer League MVP last year with two first-half goals.
Smith scored after a pass from captain Lindsey Horan after 14 minutes. Smith and Horan celebrated with a choreographed handshake after the goal. She scored again in first-half injury time to make it 2-0 after halftime. The United States was initially flagged offside before reviewing the video confirming the goal.
Team USA has been replenished with young talent including Smith and Trinity Rodman after a disappointing bronze medal win at the Tokyo Olympics. Among the veterans, Megan Rapinoe, 38, made her 200th international match against Vietnam.
Rapinoe, who scored in the World Cup final in France and was named the tournament’s best player, did not start. She announced before the team set off for New Zealand that this would be her last World Cup and that she would be retiring from her professional team at the end of the season.
Rapinoe and midfielder Rose Lavelle, both limited by injury in pre-tournament times, both came on as a substitute after 63 minutes. Rapinoe has light blue hair.
The youngest player on the team, 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, was also included in the second half.
Horan scored a wide net from Smith’s cross, who was dashed by the keeper and deftly returned the ball to her. Horan, who was recently engaged, kissed her ring to celebrate.
Drama soon struck when Rodman, the daughter of former NBA great Dennis Rodman and one of the young players new to the team, was injured after falling hard on the back as she was tackled by defender Tran Thi Thu. Rapinoe warmed up on the sidelines and a stretcher was taken off the field, but Rodman got up and returned to the game a moment later.
Saturday’s match was the first meeting between the United States and Vietnam. The Vietnamese lost two pre-tournament friendlies and fell 9-0 to Spain in a closed practice match in Auckland last Friday.
Also in Group E are the Netherlands and Portugal, which meet on Sunday in Dunedin. Portugal also participated in the World Cup for the first time.
The team plays all of their matches in New Zealand, which co-hosts the tournament with Australia. The United States takes on the Netherlands in the final rematch of 2019 on Thursday in Wellington.
If the United States tops the group, the team will travel to Sydney for the round of 16.
Back at home in the United States, a sign was erected on the North Lawn of the White House that read, “Stand with America! We are all behind you.
AP Women’s World Cup News: and