A visit with Olivia Moultrie, who is about to play for the US in the under-20 World Cup in Costa Rica
The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie Peterson, August 8, 2022
I caught up with 16-year-old Olivia Moultrie last week before she left Saturday to join the U.S. national team at the under-20 World Cup in Costa Rica.
Moultrie currently plays for the Portland Thorns. You may remember that she sued the National Women’s Soccer League last year for the right to join the team.
The NWSL has a rule that says players can’t join the league until they are 18. But Moultrie thought that was discriminatory — because boys in the United States aren’t limited in the same way. Major League Soccer has homegrown player rules.
Now she’s been with the team for a year and she has absolutely no regrets.
“Obviously I’m having fun. I wouldn’t have been fighting for it if I didn’t think this is what I wanted. And so I’m just continuing now to work with my team to win championships. That was my goal all along, to win trophies and so yeah, I’m really excited and it’s been really great this past year. A lot of things have happened, and it’s just gotten better and I’ve learned a lot about myself and my teammates. It’s been a great experience.”
You can read more about what Moultrie said during our chat below!
Moultrie turned pro when she was just 13, signing a contract with Nike and hiring an agent. She moved up to Portland and trained with the Thorns for two years before she was able to join the team last summer — after a judge ruled in her favor.
I was on hand on Friday night when the Thorns played to a 3-3 draw with the North Carolina Courage. Portland had a 2-0 lead after the first half but North Carolina came back to tie it. Sophia Smith took a stunning pass from Moultrie for her second goal of the game to give the Thorns the lead, but North Carolina’s Jaelene Daniels (sigh) scored the equalizer for the final margin.
Moultrie’s experience set the stage for 17-year-old Jaedyn Shaw to sign with the San Diego Wave last month. Shaw scored in her NWSL debut, a 1-0 Wave win over the Red Stars.
Shaw had decided to skip college and was training with the Washington Spirit when the NWSL granted an exception to the age rule. San Diego had her discovery rights.
Shaw is on the under-20 team with Moultrie. They are the only two professionals on the team. The rest are college students and there’s one high schooler, Alyssa Thompson, who plays for the Total Futbol Academy in Los Angeles. (An aside: Alyssa and her sister Giselle signed name, image and likeness deals with Nike. It was the shoemaker’s first high school NIL deal.)
The U.S. under-20s begin their quest in the World Cup on Thursday with Ghana. The game will be televised on FS2 if you want to see what the next gen of U.S. soccer looks like.
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Five at The IX: Olivia Moultrie
Question: You fought for a long time to get here. How does it feel now that you’ve been a pro for a year?
Moultrie: I mean, it’s just like, a dream come true. And now it’s just like kind of what people like call living the dream, it’s like the term people use. But it was just so refreshing because you fight for something for so long and then it’s OK, now you’re just in it. Everything you’ve been working for. Now you actually just get to enjoy it and do what you’ve been wanting to do. So instead of always being on the outside, like you’re just in it now. And I mean, obviously I’m having fun. I wouldn’t have been fighting for it if I didn’t think this is what I wanted. And so just continuing now to work with my team to win championships. That was my goal all along to win trophies and so yeah, I’m really excited and it’s been really great this past year. A lot of things have happened, and it’s just gotten better and I’ve learned a lot about myself and my teammates. It’s been a great experience.
Question: What what were you doing like in that kind of like gray area between being an amateur and being a pro?
Moultrie: Ever since I moved up here in 2019, when I was 13, and joined the team. I was here every day, doing the exact same things, doing the trainings doing the lifts. I’d maybe played five or six games with the academy before I just started doing everything with the team, as in training games with the team, when we would do intersquads, when we would scrimmage the Timbers academy, I would just get to be part of all of that. And that was kind of where I got my game minutes. And so I was able to finally join the team and play in the professional game. So that was really all that was happening.
Question: Going back to when you were younger, when you were 13, what motivated you to go on this journey rather than the traditional academy soccer and then college route?
Moultrie: Obviously, when I committed to University of North Carolina at 11, that was my plan. I was like, `OK, perfect. Great School, won tons of NCAA championships, that’s where I want to go in my career, right?’ It got to the point where even the opportunity to join a professional club and be in that environment every day kind of opened up when I was 13 after I’d gone to Europe. My family was going to move over there so that I could train with youth academies. That’s when the Thorns’ situation opened up. And so it was like, `OK, either I have five or six more years of club soccer before I can get to college, before I can go pro, or I can go join this environment now.’ And at the time we were thinking, maybe I can become a pro at like, 17-18.
I didn’t anticipate it was going to happen as early as it did until I got here and I was like, `I think I’m ready for it now.’ And then that’s when we started fighting for that. But the thing that really pushed that forward was just the fact that I had determined that my goal is I want the best player in the world. And so my fastest path was not to wait five or six more years and then go to four years of college, for me it was like, if I can go pro now, that’ll be my fastest route. And that was kind of what spearheaded that whole planning process.
Question: Do you ever feel like like regrets because I’m assuming you’re not in high school in the traditional sense? Like proms?
Moultrie: I’m definitely not in high school in the traditional sense. Right now I don’t regret one thing, I absolutely love where I am and the process that I went through to get here has made me such a better player and just so much stronger mentally that I wouldn’t replace it for or anything — even the times that were extremely hard like I would never want those to go away for an easier route. I think everything that I did just made me a lot better and I’m really happy for it.
Question: Was anything surprising to you about becoming pro? You’d kind of been on this journey for like three years from 13 to 16. Was there anything that was kind of a surprise or unexpected about being professional?
Moultrie: Honestly, it was more so, if there were surprising things, it was when I went from club soccer right into the pro environment. That was the biggest change. And then obviously you’re doing almost everything before then officially being able to sign and playing the games. And then I think the only thing that really changed then was just, I guess, how much it’s completely your job, it’s your whole life. It’s your everyday. And it’s really cool because I love soccer and it’s all that I want to do. But it’s definitely your entire life, like, When is the team traveling? OK, we’ve got training, or I’ve got to focus on my day on recovery. So it’s cool and I really like it, but it’s definitely different than just like, Oh, I went to club practice tonight and I have to wake up and go to school tomorrow.
Question: Are there’s anything you have to do differently because you are a minor?
Moultrie: I think it was more so when I was 15, it was a lot harder. When I turned 16 things opened up, but there were a couple rules last year when I went and we played against the Washington Spirit and I came out of halftime it was because legally I couldn’t work past 9 p.m. So I had to literally come out of the game because I was not allowed to play, event though we were supposed to get an exemption. I mean, obviously that was extremely frustrating, especially because you’ve never seen a man deal with that. But I haven’t had to deal with really any more of it since I turned 16. But yeah, obviously that was a little frustrating at the time, but hopefully most of it is behind us and then when I finally turn 18 then I won’t have to think about it.
Question: What do you think was the message that you think you sent with the lawsuit and with your fight to be become pro at 16? Do you think that there was a greater message overall there?
Moultrie: The complete message was, first of all, that men and women should have equal opportunities. I was fighting for it because the MLS is not dealing with this. They have their homegrown rule, they have a way to implement it players. The women didn’t have that. And also, just in general, if you’re good enough, you’re older enough. That was the whole statement. And just both sides connected from the equal opportunity, and if you’re good enough you’re old enough, because the men have that and the women don’t. That was really the big picture. It’s like we should be able to do the exact same things they do in Europe and we should be able to do the exact same things that our male counterparts do here. And so that was really the overall message and something that I think we’re still fighting for, but obviously, I’m very glad that the lawsuit was a big step in that direction.
|By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer|
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