The 15-year-old Portland Thorns star just achieved a breakthrough that could change the NWSL forever.
Olivia Moultrie will give you the business. At age 11, the midfield phenom accepted a scholarship to play college soccer at North Carolina. At 13, she changed course and turned pro, signing an endorsement deal with Nike. At 15, she’s already playing with the US Under-17 Women’s National Team, her third level of youth international ball.
With that in mind, perhaps she is the business.
But for as much as she’s been able to earn off the field in spite of her age — that Nike deal is reportedly worth six figures — the chance at professional glory on the field has been a dream deferred. Despite joining the academy system of the NWSL’s Portland Thorns in 2019 and training consistently with the senior team, league rules prevent her from signing a professional player contract and featuring in sanctioned, competitive games.
On Monday, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order in Moultrie’s favor that suspends the NWSL’s 18-year age minimum.
What it means? If Moultrie wants to sign a long-elusive professional contract, she has the law on her side.
The TRO only lasts for 14 days unless Judge Karin Immergut of Oregon’s US District Court opts to extend it. But within that window, the NWSL’s age minimum has been lifted.
“There’s a consensus among current and former players that I’ve talked to that Olivia should be allowed to play. The fact that she could play in the MLS if she were a 15-year-old boy makes it hard for the NWSL to justify keeping her out of games,” she said.
Much remains up in the air, even if the restraining order in Moultrie’s favor expires and isn’t renewed after the appointed two-week period. The NWSL and its players are currently involved in negotiations for what would be their first-ever collective bargaining agreement, with a wide range of rules regarding age limits, compensation, and various contractual stipulations potentially on the table.
With it comes an opportunity for the league to align itself with what Major League Soccer has not just permitted, but celebrated for the better part of two decades: To great fanfare, Freddy Adu signed a professional contract with DC United at the age of 14 all the way back in 2004.
This ongoing legal battle could turn out to be a protracted one. But in the meantime, Judge Immergut is far from the only influential voice standing in Olivia Moultrie’s corner.
“Olivia is a pro in all but matchdays. She should be able to play in the NWSL and we should be nurturing young talent—allowing them to develop by playing against the best,” Portland Thorns and longtime US National Team defender Becky Sauerbrunn tweeted in April. “Let her play.”
FOX Sports analyst and US National Team midfielder Stuart Holden put it more simply: “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”
And if you have to ask whether Moultrie is good enough, you’re not watching the same game.