The journey of Sam Coffey: Decision to stay at Penn State prepared her for the NWSL — Jessica Berman meets the media — Must-click woso links
The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, March 14, 2022
When Sam Coffey heard her name called in the 2021 NWSL draft it was something of an unexpected surprise. A league rule, prompted by COVID-19, allowed players to be drafted even if they hadn’t declared. The only requirement was that they’d completed three years of eligibility.
Coffey was one of those players.
The Thorns took the midfielder with the 12th pick in that draft and she spoke to then-Portland coach Mark Parsons about her future with the team. But she wasn’t ready to leave Penn State just yet.
Coffey had played her first two college seasons with Boston College, and was even a Hermann Trophy semifinalist before entering the transfer portal and heading to Penn State. Because of coronavirus, she got an extra season of eligibility — and grabbed attention with a goal off a free kick that made ESPN’s SportsCenter.
The Nittany Lions advanced to the Round of 16 of last year’s NCAA tournament before falling to South Carolina. An attacking midfielder, Coffey finished her three-year Penn State career with 25 goals and 28 assists.
She signed a two-year contract with the Thorns in January. On Friday, she scored for the Thorns in a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars in the final match of a preseason tournament in Portland. OL Reign and the U-23 national team also took part.
“I knew that if I was going to stay at Penn State — which was 100 percent one of the best decisions I’ve made, as much as it hurt not to be here right away — it was just to continue relentlessly preparing for this opportunity and this moment. I watched games, I’d keep up with games, study them and try to implement as much as I could into my college games. And that extra year of college soccer was just so critical in physically getting me ready, mentally getting me ready, emotionally, tactically, technically.”
Katelyn Best also asked Coffey about the step up to the NWSL.
“It is a notch above, but it’s just so fun. I can’t get over that. I was expecting it to be `Oh my gosh, this is crazy,’ and it is, but instead of letting that become pressure, or too much, I feel like I’m just leaning into the joy of that, and the fun of that, and taking that next step to the next level of soccer. “
Coffey was playing at the six for the Thorns, which is a new role for her. But she said she likes the ability to quarterback a little bit.
“She such a smart player,” Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson said. “So she may be playing differently than in college, but she actually got moved around in college as well. She’s just open to playing, she just wants to play. So she’d comfortable there and I’ve really enjoyed watching her in the preseason.”
Here’s some of what Coffey said about her goal. Granted, it’s preseason, but it was nonetheless a big thrill for the rookie.
Looking ahead, the Thorns open the Challenge Cup this Friday night against the Reign at Lumen Field.
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The Athletic’s Meg Linehan spoke to Christen Press about Angel City FC.
Meredith Cash with The Insider spoke to Carli Lloyd about her “culture” comments.
Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas spoke with my colleague Joseph Wilson
The Athletic’s Steph Yang wrote about what convinced players and owners that Berman was the right person for the job.
The Equalizer’s take on Berman’s appointment.
Sandra Herrera’s Kansas City Current Preview for CBS Sports. Her Racing Louisville preview is here.
The Equalizer’s Angel City preview from Jeff Kassouf. The Equalizer is doing previews of all the teams, so bookmark the site — if you haven’t already.
Blair Newman for The Equalizer on Karolin.
Goal.com’s Seth Vertelney with a nice story on Naomi Girma.
Goal.com’s Amea Ruszkai spoke to Nadia Nadim about Ukranian refugees.
Howard Megdal’s look at Berman’s appointment for Forbes.
Oh, and me! for the Associated Press!
Chelsea Clinton spoke to Megan Rapinoe for her podcast.
The Defector on the Carli Lloyd kerfuffle. I really, really don’t want to go into Carli Lloyd’s thoughts about the “culture” of the team. I prefer just to remember her for the half-field goal at the 2015 World Cup — everything else is just noise.
MLS dedicates an edition of The Call Up to Nadia Nadim. Happy about the crossover here.
The Orlando Sentinel with a story on how the Orlando Pride are regrouping around Marta.
Hey guys, Ryan Clarke is the new Timbers/Thorns writer for the Oregonian. Give him a follow. Here’s a nice story he did on Hina Sugita. He also did a story on Sophia Smith, who signed a long term deal with the Thorns today.
Jessica Berman is the new NWSL Commissioner
The NWSL named its new commissioner last Tuesday. Jessica Berman joins the league after a lengthy career in sports, including stints with the National Lacrosse League and 13 years at NHL. There was a virtual press conference on Tuesday afternoon, and here’s what she said:
Opening Statement: I take this responsibility very seriously. I know that the responsibilities and the task at hand is not easy and I will be working really hard to help to unlock the potential of this league. It’s a bit anticlimactic because I don’t officially start until April 20th, while I wrap up some of the responsibilities that I have at the National Lacrosse League, but I am already getting started, getting up to speed. Thank you to those from the soccer ecosystem who have reached out to help me to get up to speed and be ready to hit the ground running and really maximize the opportunity that we have, since it (her first day) will be as the Challenge Cup is concluding and as the regular season is beginning and we won’t want to waste any time.
I guess just a couple of quick points on me, and my approach and my style that I would like to share with all of you: My goal will be to work in support of our players and establish a league that really has a strong relationship with the union and builds on the momentum that’s been established over the last several months. I want to thank Marla (Messing) for all of her hard work in getting the collective bargaining agreement done and helping to stabilize the league, and graciously working with me to help me get up to speed. I really want to work on having this league and our amazing iconic players set a positive example for the next generation. For those who know me and have heard my story, Nelson Mandela’s quote is my guiding principle: I firmly believe that sport has the power to change the world. And that is what inspires me each and every day. Those principles and that principle will be judged by our actions. So I like to be, as I told several people that I’ve spoken with in the recent days, I like to be in under-promiser and over-deliverer. So I’m confident that together we can really unlock the potential of this league.
Question: You’ve spoken a lot today already about rebuilding trust with the players, building that relationship. But in addition to navigating that, there is kind of this sense with the fans of having this tension with the league and feeling like maybe they’re being pulled in two different directions. Just hoping that you could maybe talk us through your approach to building that relationship with fans.
Berman: I like to think that everyone has a superpower. My superpower, I believe, is building consensus and really listening and learning and trying to understand different people’s perspectives. And so, I’ll accept at face value what you’re saying, I certainly have have no basis to dispute it. I would want to really seek to understand and learn the context of what is the underpinning of any of those challenges and then work to figure out solutions. I believe that by working together with all the stakeholders, we can combat almost anything and that the opportunity is ours for the taking, that this is the time for the NWSL. The cultural elements and signals are there for this league to reach its potential and by listening and learning we’ll be able to figure out our path forward.
Question: You’re at a point where the CBA is agreed to and where a lot of basics are now in place. And so it seems like an opportunity for growth. How much did that play a part in you viewing this as an opportunity, and what, with those in place, are kind of low hanging fruit for growth for the next stage of this?
Berman: As a labor lawyer by training, I view the CBA being done as really just the first step. For those who have worked in collective bargaining, we all know that the time to build trust and credibility in that relationship is during the term of the agreement. So I just want to, just as a side note, not related to your question about the growth of the business: There’s still a lot of work to be done. We have to figure out a way to work together to implement and execute the terms that have been agreed to. So that’s just point one, it still remains a priority. As it relates to business growth, I 100% agree, particularly for women sports. I think what we know, for all of us who follow and read the trade publications, and the research and data that’s been released by many different organizations, including one that I saw come through on my email today, women’s sports is a business and we have an opportunity to really catalyze the investment at the league, with new ownership with sponsors, through media, and by offering up the value of the sport and making sure that we are clear on what our value proposition is. So I think, as I said earlier, all of the ingredients are there for growth, and it’s really now incumbent upon us to really harness the collective voice of all the stakeholders, ownership, teams, players, union, league office, to really seize that opportunity.
Question: There are some owners that have not spoken publicly in well over a year. So I’m wondering what is your position on transparency among the owners and should there be some sort of mechanism in place where owners are mandated to speak to us and other media, once a year, twice a year or something along those lines?
Berman: Well, it would be unfair for me to comment on any specifics of the situation. I’m 40 days before my first day, so I will respectfully just say that, as to those circumstances, I’m not really at liberty to say one way or the other. As a general matter, happy to answer your question just generally about my approach to communication and transparency, which is that I think there is an opportunity to have respectful dialogue and discourse and to the extent they are valid and appropriate, outstanding questions that we figure out a way to get those resolved, whether that’s in a private or public forum. And I think all of that work has been underway through some of the issues and challenges that the league has faced, which you mentioned. I know that this league and I am committed to creating a safe and positive culture for this league and for the players, and that includes physical and emotional well being. And all of that ladders up to a transparent process. My background is in employment and labor law and setting the terms for a work environment that allow for productivity. And a professional sports league is, in some ways, no different. We have to make sure that we have clear policies and procedures that create a positive environment that allow people to feel safe to do their jobs — which in this case is to play professional soccer — and have clarity as to who and what they can do in the event they have issues. That’ll be the standard that we hold ourselves to.
Question: How empowered do you feel to push back on the owners, and tell them that they need to step up and and support the players?
Berman: Thanks for the question. I think that’s actually the reason they hired me. As I said earlier, I view myself as a consensus builder. Consensus building doesn’t mean that everybody always gets what they want. It means that they understand the context and the rationale for why we need to make a particular decision. In my role in the last two and a half years, I’ve had to handle various different situations like that. And I’m fortunate that my 13 years that I spent at the NHL, I sat front row watching Gary Bettman manage the Board of Governors and learned a ton from him. And therefore I feel ready for that. The job of the commissioner is to help the board to understand that we’re all going to be held to the same standard. Today you might not appreciate or like the way a rule is being applied, but if these are the rules that we’re all agreeing to, one day, you’ll want this rule to be enforced on your partner. And so maybe today this has to be applied in this context. And that’s the job of the commissioner, to help the teams to really understand, and the board to really understand, the broader context for why and how decisions are being made.
Question: We saw in the release that players were involved in the hiring process. Curious about what you can share about the process.
Berman: I don’t know of a single league that has had a players association and players interview the incoming commissioner candidates. Hats off to both the union for requesting it, and to the Board of Governors for agreeing to have them be part of the process and have a seat at the table. Doesn’t mean they had decision making authority but it means that their voice mattered, and their voice was heard and they had an opportunity to contribute. I really enjoyed as part of the process of meeting with them. We had two separate calls one with an East group and one with a West group of players. Their questions were thoughtful, they were informed, smart, engaging, passionate, really genuine in their interest in identifying an appropriate candidate to take this role. They gave me an opportunity to ask questions and learn about some of the context and the history. They were very transparent. And from my perspective, even as a candidate, I would say — and maybe this is an unintended consequence of having them be part of the process — it actually helped me to feel confident coming into the position. One of the questions earlier that someone asked, what were the signs or signals that made you interested in this role? That was really one of them. Really, having a first-hand experience talking with such a key stakeholder, such an important partner, as we move forward to build the league, knowing that they were prepared to show up, that they were cautiously optimistic about the future, that they had appropriate questions, that they were informed, was really a benefit to the process and I really enjoyed meeting with them and it really helped prepare me even for my meeting with the board in my final round.
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