Sophia Smith scored twice for the United States in the first half as the two-time defending champions opened the Women’s World Cup with a 3-0 win over Vietnam who won the tournament for the first time on Saturday.
Lindsey Horan added a goal for the favored Americans, who have won a total of four World Cups and are chasing an unprecedented three-peat in this year’s competition.
Vietnam has drawn comparisons to Thailand, with the Americans winning 3-0 in their opening game for the 2019 World Cup. But Vietnam were surprisingly resilient, keeping the game closer than expected, with goalkeeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh stopping Alex Morgan’s penalty attempt in the first half.
Morgan was knocked to the pitch as he hit his calf after trying to take the penalty she had missed, but she quickly returned. It was only the second penalty for the United States.
Smith, one of 14 Americans to play in the first-ever World Cup, showed why she was named USA Soccer Player of the Year and Women’s National Soccer League MVP last year with two goals in the first half.
Smith scored off a pass from captain Lindsey Horan in the 14th minute. Smith and Horan celebrated with a choreographed handshake after the goal. She scored again in stoppage time in the first half to make it 2-0 going into the break. The United States were initially flagged as offside before video review confirmed the goal.
Team USA was stacked with young talent including Smith and Trinity Rodman after settling for a disappointing bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Among the veterans, 38-year-old Megan Rapinoe made her 200th international appearance against Vietnam.
Rapinoe, who scored in the World Cup final in France and was named the best player in that tournament, did not start. She announced before the team left for New Zealand that this would be her last World Cup and that she would retire from her professional team at the end of the season.
Rapinoe and midfielder Rose Lavelle, who had been limited by injuries in the run-up to the tournament, both came on as substitutes in the 63rd minute. Rapinoe had bright blue hair.
The youngest player on the team, 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, was also a sub in the second half.
Horan scored into a wide open net from a pass from Smith, who was rushed by the goalkeeper and sent the ball back to her nicely. Horan, who was recently engaged, kissed her ring in celebration.
There was drama early on when Rodman, the daughter of former NBA great Dennis Rodman and one of the young newcomers to the team, appeared injured after falling hard on her back when defender Tran Thi Thu tackled her. Rapinoe got up on the sidelines and a stretcher was brought out on the file, but Rodman stood up and returned to the game a few minutes later.
Saturday’s game was the first meeting between the United States and Vietnam. The Vietnamese lost two exhibition games before the tournament and fell 9-0 to Spain in a closed-door game in Auckland last Friday.
Also in Group E are the Netherlands and Portugal, who meet on Sunday in Edinburgh. Portugal are also making their first World Cup appearance.
The group play all their games in New Zealand, which is co-hosting the tournament with Australia. The United States plays the Netherlands in the 2019 playoff final Thursday in Wellington.
If the United States top the group, the team will travel to Sydney for the round of 16.
Back home in the United States, a sign was erected on the North Lawn of the White House that said “Go Team USA! We’re all behind you.”