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Takeaways from the USA vs Vietnam World Cup game

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

All right. Now let's turn to the 2023 World Cup. Last night, the U.S. women's national soccer team locked in its first victory. The defending champs defeated Vietnam, three goals to zero, with star striker Sophia Smith scoring two. Sam Mewis knows exactly what it feels like to play and win at World Cup. She was part of the U.S. team that was crowned world champions four years ago. This time around, she's sidelined with an injury, and she is covering the World Cup for the Men In Blazers Media Network. Hey, Sam. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SAM MEWIS: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

DETROW: So we got the first game in the books - U.S. three, Vietnam zero. What were your takeaways from the game?

MEWIS: Yeah. I think the first game, it's just really important to get those three points in the group stage. I also thought it was great to come away with the shutout. We didn't let up any goals. I think there were some interesting things on the field. I was really happy to see Sophia Smith scoring two goals, Lindsey Horan with a goal. I think there's definitely a lot to build on and grow on as we enter probably a little bit of a more challenging opponent next week with the Netherlands. So just really excited for the team, to see them get the win, and I'm excited for what's to come.

DETROW: So when you're going for your third straight World Cup, you open yourself up to a question like this - is a three-nothing win a warning sign, given the experience gap between the U.S. and Vietnam? I listened to the "Men In Blazers" podcast last night. You said the phrase shaking the dust off a few different times. Any early flags or worries or something you want to see different next time?

MEWIS: Well, I'm not worried for the team at all. I think this team has such an awesome blend of experience and veteran leadership combined with youthful exuberance, rookies who are just excited to be here for the first time. So I think it's natural - and we're seeing a lot of these first World Cup games have been really close scorelines, even with games like Spain-Costa Rica, England versus Haiti. These teams can keep these games really close, which is such a positive testament to the growth of the game globally. So for the U.S. in particular, I think it was great. We got three points. We got a shutout. This team is so good under pressure, and so I think that they'll just continue to rise to the challenge. I'm not nervous at all. I have total faith in them.

DETROW: Sophia Smith is somebody who might be on a lot of listeners' radars for the first time - two goals last night, an assist, great player. What should they know about her?

MEWIS: Oh, my gosh. Sophia Smith is so dangerous. She's so fun to watch. Like you said, she just has such a knack for scoring goals. She scored so many goals in our domestic league, the NWSL, last year for her club team, the Portland Thorns. Getting her speed, her technical ability, her strength to hold off defenders in and around the box is just super dangerous for the U.S. women's national team. And with such talented attackers, it's a testament to be out there, to be competing in her first World Cup. She's beat out other incredible players to have that starting spot, so definitely keep an eye on her. I'm really excited to see her. She's already shining at this tournament, and she's a great player.

DETROW: You know, Smith has a big night. Megan Rapinoe comes in off the bench and gets her 200th international appearance for the team. Is this a changing-of-the-guard World Cup?

MEWIS: I think in a sense. Always having these rookies who are up and coming, who are pushing for these spots, there's kind of always a changing of the guard within the U.S. women's national team. And I think that that's what makes the program so successful and so competitive. On any given day, somebody can outperform you in training, and that's who should be on the field. So I have total faith in both the veterans like Pinoe, like Alex Morgan, like Kelley O'Hara and the rookies like Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman. Everybody understands the task at hand. So whoever is playing at their best, they're going to be out there. They're going to perform. And I think just the fact that the team is so united around that common goal is what has set the U.S. women's national team apart.

DETROW: I want to end by asking something I've really been wondering about you. I mean, you've played and won the World Cup. Your sister's on the squad this year. You've said your best friend's also on the squad. Is it more nerve-wracking to be walking onto the pitch to play in a World Cup game yourself or to watch from afar, from another continent when people you're so close with are playing?

MEWIS: Oh, my gosh. It should be closer, but it is so much harder to play.

DETROW: Yeah.

MEWIS: I was really nervous in 2019. I got to start in the final, and it was just such heightened emotional experience. Fortunately, like, I have so many close friends on the team. I knew we had so many fans supporting us. And luckily, those veteran leaders that I've mentioned really just paved the way for us all to succeed in 2019. I am nervous for my friends and for my sister, but it's fun watching. I have, like, total faith in the team. I know how hard they work. I know how much the team pushes each other in training, so watching them feels good. It feels like - I just feel like I can have full, total faith and confidence in them.

DETROW: That's Sam Mewis, reigning World Cup champion. You can hear her coverage of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand on the Men In Blazers Media Network. Thanks so much.

MEWIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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