Forward Sophia Smith was named the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year on Friday after leading the national team with 11 goals and starting in a team-high 17 matches.
The 22-year-old Smith is the youngest player to win the award since Mia Hamm won it, also at 22, in 1994. Smith is also the youngest player to lead the United States in scoring since Hamm had 10 goals in 1993.
”Obviously this is surreal, and I’m super humbled,” Smith said in a statement. ”It’s been a very exiting year, and certainly there’s been some challenges, but just being able to grow and develop in the environments with the National Team and the Thorns, and being surround by such amazing players, players that I have looked up to for so long, has pushed me to become a better player and person.”
Smith, who plays for the Portland Thorns, was also named the National Women’s Soccer League Most Valuable Player after scoring 14 goals in 18 regular-season matches. She also scored for the Thorns in the league’s title game,
”This was a big year for Sophia, and she deserves this recognition, but I’m just excited about where she can take her game from here,” national team coach Vlatko Andonovski said. ”She is a special player with special qualities, but the best thing is that she has the humbleness, work ethic and drive to keep developing all aspects of her game.”
Smith is currently nursing a foot injury that kept her off the national team’s roster for its January training camp in New Zealand. The United States will play New Zealand on Jan. 18 in Wellington and on Jan. 21 in Auckland. The matches will help both teams ramp up for this summer’s World Cup, which will be hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Smith is one of the players who have emerged as Andonovski has focused on developing young talent in preparation for the World Cup.
Andonovski said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday that Smith’s injury is not serious.
”We felt that this was the time that we wanted to fix this and not have any problems going forward,” he said. ”In fact, she’s back to training or light training now. Because of the treatment that she received in December, she wasn’t able to train and get up to speed or necessary fitness in order to be in the January camp.”
Smith is just the fourth player in history to win both player of the year and young player of the year honors, joining Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz and Tobin Heath.
Smith finished second on the team with 1,192 minutes played last year. She became the youngest player since 2000 to score a hat trick when she had her first career three-goal match against Uzbekistan on April 9.
The awards are decided through votes cast by national team coaches and players, member of the U.S. Soccer board of directors, the federation’s athletes’ council, NWSL coaches, select media members, college coaches and fans.
Smith won with 50.8% of the vote, ahead of Alex Morgan with 18.4%.
Jaedyn Shaw, 18, a midfielder and forward who was a standout at the under-20 Women’s World Cup, was named U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year. Shaw, who plays for the San Diego Wave, won with 35.1% of the vote, followed by forward Alyssa Thompson with 34.4%.
”It means everything to me to be a part of the list of players who have won this award, but it also tells me I have so much work to do to keep improving and growing,” Shaw said in a statement.
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