PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — It's been a little more than a year since Olivia Moultrie signed with the Portland Thorns after suing to join the National Women's Soccer League at just 15 years old.
For Moultrie, the lasting lesson of her legal odyssey is that women should have the same opportunities to reach the top tier of U.S. professional soccer as men — even if they're still teenagers.
“The message was, first of all, that men and women should have equal opportunities. I was fighting for it because the MLS (Major League Soccer) is not dealing with this. They have their homegrown rule, they have a way to implement players. The women didn’t have that," Moultrie said. "And also, just in general, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. That was the whole statement.”
Moultrie has since become the youngest player ever to play — and score — in the NWSL. And she's currently in Costa Rica to play for the United States in the under-20 World Cup. The national team opens the tournament Thursday against Ghana.
Moultrie filed her lawsuit in May 2021 challenging the NWSL's rule against signing players under the age of 18. The suit alleged that the rule violated antitrust law and hindered Moultrie’s career development and chances of reaching the U.S. national team.
Moultrie, who signed a sponsorship deal with Nike when she was 13, wasn't able to play overseas because of prohibitive FIFA policies, meaning the NWSL was really the only pro league available to her.
A judge sided with her and granted a preliminary injunction that cleared the way for Moultrie to sign with an NWSL team. The Thorns acquired her rights from OL Reign. She made her debut for Portland on July 3, 2021 .
Despite her youthful appearance, Moultrie has the confidence of an athlete far beyond her years. She doesn't mince words when she states her goal to become the best player in the world.
“Liv has been working hard for many years. She fought hard to become a professional at a young age and she continues to work really hard to earn the right to play,” Thorns coach Rhian Wilkinson said. “And when she does, she's really starting to quickly find the pace of the game and play her way.”
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 league granted her an exception to the age rule. San Diego had her discovery rights.
Shaw and Moultrie are the lone professionals on the under-20 national team, which is made up mostly of college players.
Last weekend, before she left for Costa Rica, Moultrie pulled off a deftly executed pass that led to a Sophia Smith goal in the Thorns' 3-3 draw with the North Carolina Courage.
“I'm so proud of Liv,” said Smith, who also plays for the senior national team. “She's just taken on her role really well. She plays with confidence every chance that she gets. She doesn't come on the field and plays her age, she plays way older than that."
While Moultrie's path hasn't been traditional, she insists she has 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," she said. “A lot of things have happened, and it’s just gotten better. I’ve learned a lot about myself.”
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Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press