Portland Thorns, Sophia Smith agree to contract extension: ‘I’m in the prime years of my career’

Sophia Smith will continue her professional career in Portland. On Wednesday, Smith signed a new contract extension with the Portland Thorns, keeping her in the NWSL through the 2025 season. The new contract takes effect immediately with an option for 2026.

Portland did not disclose the terms of the deal in its press release, but general manager Karina LeBlanc said Smith is the highest-paid player in the league on an annual basis with the new contract. An NWSL spokesperson confirmed her base salary is the highest yearly in the league.

“I’m feeling really at peace with the decision to stay in Portland,” Smith said on the eve of the announcement in a roundtable that included The Athletic. “There’s still things that I want to do with this club, and trophies I want to win. With new ownership coming in, I have already felt that this club is going in the right direction and I want to be a part of that. I don’t want to miss that. I’ve grown so much as a person and a player here; I feel like I still have so much to learn and grow.”



Portland Thorns complete $63 million sale to Bhathal family

With the deal done, the Thorns no longer need to worry about Smith testing the market via free agency. It’s a massive vote of confidence that goes both ways between Smith and the club’s new ownership led by Lisa Bhathal Merage.

“I have just been waiting for some stability and some reassurance that this club is headed in the right direction, and the Bhathal family coming is doing exactly that, if not more,” Smith said. She’s seen the vision, the forward-thinking mindset and the new set of standards but that sense of stability can’t be overstated in the role it played in keeping Smith in Portland.

Smith calling the city her home, declaring that this is the right move for her, is valuable for the Thorns in future conversations. It’s not like Smith didn’t have options, after all. Had she become a free agent, there would have been immediate interest from other NWSL clubs and abroad.

“I thought of all the options,” Smith said. “I’m always thinking of all the options because I always want to put myself in the best position. I do feel like I’m in the prime years of my career, and where I play right now will play a big role in how much I can achieve.”

As to the Europe question, Smith didn’t even want to compare the leagues there to the NWSL, simply because she believes they’re too different to compare.

“I don’t believe that every player needs to go to Europe to become who they’re supposed to be,” Smith said. “I don’t believe that narrative.”

Europe would have presented different challenges than the ones she faces in the NWSL, but Smith decided the fit was better for her here.

“This league is so good for me. It’s the exact type of style that I like to play and thrive in. I still have so much to learn in this league, and with this club specifically, and I don’t want to move on from that yet.”

It’s easy to forget that Smith is still only 23 years old.

She was only a couple of weeks shy of that birthday when the 2023 Women’s World Cup started and she opened the tournament by scoring two goals and adding an assist in the U.S. women’s nation team’s 3-0 opening win over Vietnam. She went from the high of being “THAT girl” to what she called an “emotional rollercoaster” following the USWNT’s earliest exit from a World Cup and her own missed penalty in the shootout against Sweden.

Earlier this year at the CONCACAF W Gold Cup, on a night when a match against Canada didn’t so much resemble soccer as it did a Slip ‘N’ Slide, Smith seemed to release the emotions, drenched and grass-stained, sinking to her knees after scoring, immediately swarmed by her teammates. Later, she’d be the first to the spot in a round of penalties to decide who advanced. There was no mistake as she finished her kick in the bottom left corner, past a diving Kailen Sheridan.

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(Photo by Brad Smith, U.S. Soccer for Getty Images)

Her entrance into the NWSL, too, was an early one — after two seasons with the Stanford Cardinal, she declared for the 2020 NWSL Draft and went No. 1 overall to the Thorns. But the first season was anything but standard due to the pandemic shutting the league down, and with Smith rehabbing from a foot injury. She made her debut in the 2020 Fall Series.

Two full seasons later, she was the league’s most valuable player, before leading the Thorns to the 2022 Championship — picking up the final MVP award as well. In 2023, despite a long injury layoff, she still scored enough goals to secure the golden boot.

There’s always more to do, though. More to win. And Smith promised she’s ready to give everything.

“I just want to be the player that everyone knows is gonna go out and give 110% every time I step on the field, giving that to this club, to the city and the fans,” she said.

“Sophia has the ability to be the best in the world,” LeBlanc said. “She’s hungry to do a lot of things.”

Smith wants to be viewed through the lens of that drive, that hunger. That’s not all she wants to achieve in Portland, though. There’s an opportunity to reshape the Thorns,

“I want to play a role for this club that’s helping make it a better place for the players that come here after me, continuing to build off what this club has always been: a championship club,” she said. “It’s a club that’s always set the standard for women’s sports, and I want to continue to push that standard and work with these new owners to make the changes that really need to happen around here.”

LeBlanc was also looking forward to Smith’s growth off the pitch, in the locker room, in spaces that maybe she doesn’t entirely feel comfortable yet. “Who is Sophia as a leader?” LeBlanc asked, saying that Smith’s now been around Portland long enough to know that her presence will make an impact, but that her words will too and that the team didn’t want her to feel forced into something she’s not. The Thorns aren’t looking for her to be what LeBlanc called “the rah-rah leader,” because that’s not who Smith is.

“She’s watched Christine Sinclair for so long, do it right. Christine is the same type of leader: humble, just wants to get the job done,” LeBlanc said. “I’m intrigued to watch (Smith) grow as a leader because that’s one of the areas she wants to.”

The Thorns trust Smith as she is and see a way to build with her and around her.

“We have new owners who are willing to invest (in changes) and to listen to the players. That’s been the coolest part so far,” Smith said “They’ve come in and are so open to listening to what we as players need, what we think this club lacks, what would make us different from everyone else.

“They’re so open and willing to make those changes. It’s a really cool and exciting feeling. And, like I said, I want to be a part of that.”

“Every grocery store or anything I’ve ever gone into, the first question fans ask, ‘How are you doing and when are we resigning Sophia?” LeBlanc said, laughing, clearly relieved to no longer have to keep this secret. “I think the city of Portland is gonna be really excited.”

Smith’s contract extension isn’t the only project on her plate. “’ This is done, now we’ve got to put more work in to keep us at that standard.”

She said the team wants to solidify its core. Smith isn’t the only piece of that, and there’s been other movements, including an extension with midfielder Olivia Moultrie, who is also having success with the national team at the moment.

“You can’t be successful one year and not the next. Obviously, Sophia Smith is a big piece of that,” LeBlanc said, “but it’s also making sure she has the right players around her that can make her be the great player that she can be, the great player that she is.”

For now, Smith has the security and stability of her new contract locked in, the ability to have an open dialogue with the team’s new ownership about what’s working and what needs to change, the normal rhythms of the start of an NWSL season. The Thorns haven’t had the easiest start, with the club going 0-and-2 for the first time in their history after a wild opening day loss in Kansas City (Smith scored a brace in the 5-4 defeat), then heartbreak at home against Gotham FC in their home opener (Smith had two goals ruled offside).

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(Photo by Troy Wayrynen, USA TODAY Sports)

But she can also feel settled now. She didn’t want to leave Portland, because, as she said, it’s home now. She has her routines around training and games. Coffee in the morning, matcha in the afternoon. There’s no lack of options around town for that.

And at 23, she never wants to stop learning. It’s something LeBlanc has seen too, when she was talking about that hunger Smith has, to keep studying, to fine-tune, dial in to the finest details.

“Her speed with the ball at her feet is exceptional, right? The nuances in the game of developing the movements, finding the pockets. She’s a fearless finisher — you saw it in the game, the goal that was scored and called back last week. She’s brave enough to take the shots. She’s also learning how to be a leader of how she’s commanding her space.”

Portland is a place where Smith’’s surrounded by players she still wants to learn from. The national team, too. Every environment offers something different, something new, something to push her and feed the flame of that hunger.

“It doesn’t matter how many years I’ve been playing, it doesn’t matter how many accolades or anything I have, I will always learn,” Smith said. “I will never take that for granted, and I will never go in with a closed mind of ‘I have nothing to learn’ because it’s just not true. I am still young. I still have so much of my career to play in, and it’s a really exciting time for me.”

(Top Photo: Portland Thorns)

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