Olivia Moultrie made history Saturday night when she became the youngest player to appear in an NWSL match. The 15-year-old Portland Thorns midfielder made her pro debut as a late sub in Louisville, just three days after signing a professional contract with the club.
Wearing the No. 42 jersey, Moultrie was an 83rd-minute replacement for Angela Salem. The previous youngest player in NWSL history was 18-year-old Ellie Carpenter, who also played for Thorns FC.
Born Sept. 17, 2005, Moultrie signed with Portland only after winning a legal battle against the NWSL for the right to sign a pro contract.
A federal judge ruled in June that the NWSL’s age restriction preventing players under 18 from signing for league clubs was unenforceable.
“For this club to have the commitment and vision to sign a young, talented player that we really believe in is immense,” Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said in a club statement announcing the signing.
Moultrie, a native of Wilsonville, Ore., has been part of the Thorns’ setup since 2019, playing for the academy and training with the first team. She also has featured in preseason competition with the senior side.
On the naitonal team level, Moultrie has featured for the U.S. Under-15 and Under-17 teams.
In her 11 minutes on the field Saturday, including four minutes of stoppage time, Moultrie played in the attacking midfield position. She made a few challenges, caused a turnover in the attacking half and connected on a pass near the opposition area.
She came into Saturday’s match with the Thorns leading Racing Louisville 2-0. That scoreline held up as the final result.
Moultrie said 42 was the first number she was given when she came to Portland in 2019.
— Hayley Snider, MPH (@HayleySnider2) July 4, 2021
Moultrie was born in California and excelled at the sport at an early age, attracting a scholarship offer from the University of North Carolina when she was 11. She eventually declined it and turned pro in February 2019 at age 13. She signed an endorsement deal with Nike and moved to Portland to join the Thorns academy.
Precocious soccer players who get early starts in the pro ranks are a regular occurrence in global soccer. In North American soccer, Freddy Adu made headlines when he appeared as a 14-year-old in 2004, and current Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies made his MLS debut with Vancouver at age 15.
However, other U.S. sports leagues have age limits. Age 19 is the limit in the NBA and players in the WNBA have to be 22 or older in the year they’re drafted. In the NFL, players have to be out of high school for three years.