When you hear her teammates talk about her, Olivia Moultrie isn’t just a 15-year-old gimmick, she’s a contributing member of the Portland Thorns. And now that the NWSL has allowed her to become the youngest player in league history, she’s making an impact on the pitch.
In her first career start, Moultrie provided the game-winning assist, sending in a peach of a cross for Simone Charley to head home as Portland held off Washington 1-0 on Saturday night.
Moultrie played 45 minutes from a central attacking midfield role and looked comfortable there, hitting the woodwork within five minutes of the opening whistle. She also had the wherewithal to find space out wide in the 29th minute, setting up Charley for the only goal of the match.
Brilliant ball, even better finish ⚽️#WASvPOR | https://t.co/0LtSAUK1Jw | #NWSL21 pic.twitter.com/IYF3Yfg3UX— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 8, 2021
After the match, Thorns coach Mark Parsons was full of praise for Moultrie.
“She was outstanding,” Parsons said. “I know we’ll talk about her role in the goal, but she was a defensive warrior in that No. 10 (position), being a great presser, winning the ball back and showing people the right way. She was great on the ball, making great decisions and playing passes she needs to play there.
The NWSL had a strict age restriction of 18 before Moultrie sued the league and won the right to play. OL Reign had the player’s rights, but Moultrie had been training with Portland since she was 13 and a third-round draft pick saw her traded to the Thorns at the end of June. When she was 13, Moultrie signed a six-figure deal with Nike.
Moultrie made her NWSL debut with a seven-minute cameo against Louisville on July 3. She made two other brief appearances as a substitute before finally getting her chance to show what she can do as a starter.
“Olivia Moultrie we felt needed to get a start in the next two weeks,” Parsons said. “She’s played 15-20 minutes, and when you play that, the jump up to 45 makes sense. So it was going to be this week or Orlando (next week). We went with this week.
“What we’re very, very committed to is Olivia’s development. We believe that coming on and closing out games is one thing, but we’re a very dominant team and we need to see her in the first half.”
Based on her performance Saturday, it’s likely Olivia will receive more starts in the future, though playing time could be limited once Portland’s Olympic players return, including Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan, who play similar positions to Moultrie.
I know a lot of people will want to compare Moultrie to Freddy Adu, but for the sake of both footballers we should let both players be themselves.
The Spirit had their share of chances to score against the Thorns, including hitting the post. The best opportunity came early when Trinity Rodman looked to have scored before defender Christen Westphal swooped in to deny the 19-year-old.
OMG @Cwestphal20 what a save! #BAONPDX pic.twitter.com/sZqiNMTOCq— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) August 7, 2021
Portland currently leads the NWSL with 28 points after an unbeaten Olympic period. No team is even close to the Thorns, with second-place N.C. Courage seven points back. And this team will only get better when the Olympic players return.
Speaking of teams hoping to get players back from international duty, the Houston Dash will be ecstatic when goalkeeper Jane Campbell returns after shipping five first-half goals to the OL Reign on Saturday.
GOALS GALORE #RGNvHOU | @Nationwide pic.twitter.com/tPNYLC3SLv— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 8, 2021