When Royals coach Laura Harvey selected Abby Smith from the NWSL dispersal draft back in January, Harvey was already predicting a future with the national team for the goalkeeper.
“Abby Smith had a fantastic season in goal for Boston and showed true potential to break into the national team,” Harvey told The Salt Lake Tribune at the time.
Smith, 24, came up through the youth national team system and earned her first call-ups to the senior team in June and July last year. Now, after being left off the SheBelieves Cup roster in February, Smith is back with the national team.
“I’m still pretty new, or fresh, in the group,” Smith said, “so every time I get a call or an email it’s super exciting.”
As thrilled as she was, Smith kept the news to herself when she first received it this time around. She was listening to music and working on a puzzle with five of her teammates in Royals midfielder Katrina Gorry and forward Elise Thorsnes’ apartment when she got the email from the USWNT. She read it but didn’t mention it to her teammates.
U.S. WOMEN’S NATIONAL TEAM VS. CHINA<br>When • Thursday, 7 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium<br>TV • FS1
Harvey, on the other hand, couldn’t contain her excitement.
In a tweet congratulating all players who received call-ups for matches during the international break, Harvey zeroed in on Smith.
“Special shoutout to this leg-end fully deserved after a great start with @UtahRoyalsFC,” she posted last week, along with four photos of Smith.
Smith was one of nine Royals players to be called in to their respective national teams, including fellow USWNT teammates Becky Sauerbrunn and Amy Rodriguez.
But in contrast to veterans Sauerbrunn and Rodriguez, Smith is still in the process of shaping her legacy with the USWNT as she works toward her first cap with the senior team.
“She’s someone who we feel has got the athletic ability, the technical ability, and she’s growing, obviously been getting good competition in the league and playing games week in, week out in the league, ” USWNT goalkeeper coach Graeme Abel said of Smith’s call-up.
Smith was one of four goalkeepers the U.S. brought in for friendlies with China PR at Rio Tinto Stadium Wednesday and in Cleveland on June 12, the last games on the USWNT schedule before coach Jill Ellis names the roster for the Tournament of Nations.
Alyssa Naeher (24 caps) and Ashlyn Harris (14 caps) have the most experience of the goalkeepers by a long shot. French club Montpellier HSC goalkeeper Casey Murphy rounds out the group with her second USWNT camp appearance.
The first step for all new senior team goalkeepers, Abel said, is to demonstrate consistency at the international level.
“If they’re able to do that,” he said, “obviously they’re able to move up the pecking order to, ‘OK, are they someone who we want to play in the game?’”
Already, Abel has seen an improvement in Smith’s approach to balls in the air and crosses, a skill they identified as one she needed to develop about a year ago. Despite her youth, Smith has won the starting spot on the Royals over former USWNT goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.
“With everything that happened at the beginning of the season it was a little frustrating,” Smith said, referring to her former club, the Boston Breakers, folding in the offseason. “But I couldn’t have been in a better situation now. It’s helped me grow as a person and as a player just because it’s a very competitive environment and everybody’s very supportive and wanting to make everyone better.”
Harvey brought Smith in because she believed she could make an immediate impact on the team. In that assertion too, Smith proved her right.