Jeff CarlisleAmerican football reporter4 minutes of reading
Auckland, New Zealand — U.S. women’s national team forward Sophia Smith said her side’s 3-0 win over Vietnam was “a good starting point” but the Americans “have a lot more to give,” especially in finishing chances.
Smith, one of six U.S. players making his World Cup debut on Saturday, scored twice in the first half and assisted on Lindsey Horan’s clincher with 13 minutes of normal time.
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But the U.S. was forced to work hard for a win against a disciplined and organized Vietnam team, perhaps harder than expected given the Americans’ 13-0 thrashing of Thailand in their 2019 World Cup opener and last week’s 9-0 friendly loss to Spain.
However, both Smith and manager Vladko Antonovski were satisfied that they were behind their first win of the tournament.
“I feel good. I think it’s a good starting point for our team in this tournament,” Smith said. “I also know that we have a lot more to give, a lot more to do, and little things to work on.
“So I think it’s a good place to start. Personally, it was good to get a World Cup game under my belt, to see how it felt and know what to expect. But yeah, I think it honestly makes me more excited for the next game.”
Antonovski noted that this was the first time the 11 players had been on the field together in a tournament, and the chances the team created — in which the U.S. had an 18-0 lead — he was pleased with the performance.
“It’s been really positive to see some of the connections and some of the combinations that they’ve been able to do,” he said.
Among the new faces in the starting 11 was Julie Ertz, who slipped into a central role alongside Naomi Kirma.
Ertz was a key presence in that position during the 2015 World Cup, but he has primarily played as a holding midfielder in the run to the 2019 title. When Becky Sauerbrunn went down with a leg injury that kept her off the U.S. roster, Antonovski approached Ertz about moving to back.
“We had a conversation with Julie before we tried it; we did a lot of work before we got to camp in terms of videos, analysis on both sides,” he said. “We’re helping her, but she wanted to get used to it sooner.
“I think today showed how good she can be in possession and out of possession. So I’m glad we made that decision and I know the backline is going to get better going forward.”
All of this keeps Antonovsky focused on how his team can be more efficient. The U.S. could not even convert a penalty awarded late in the first half as Alex Morgan’s effort was saved by Vietnam keeper Tran Thi Kim.
It was the first American penalty saved at a World Cup since Mia Hamm’s effort against Norway in 2003.
“It wasn’t a good penalty for me, I know that,” Morgan said. “But I’m happy that the team scored three goals and we reached the next goal.”
Antonovsky thinks it needs some fine-tuning.
“Besides finishing chances, if there’s one thing we need to do better, it’s how we can help the players who are in a position to finish those chances and serve them a little bit better,” Antonovski said.
“So it’s finding them on the right footing, on the right footing. So I’ll say service before it’s over and done with.”