Olivia Moultrie was one of the last players off the training field last Thursday morning. It was the day before Thorns FC was to face rivals North Carolina Courage and Moultrie had lingered on the field after practice, as players often do, ripping shot after shot into the goal in an empty Providence Park.
The headlines make much of Moultrie’s youth—she’s 16, having gone pro at 13, and starting games in a competitive league for a competitive team. Those facts are indeed amazing and her highlight reels do belie her age. What’s sometimes missed is that Moultrie eyes are locked on the horizon, that she’s striving for something that she fervently wants to outlive her teenage years: a long and successful professional career.
The day after her game-tying assist in the NC game, with the Thorns newly installed at the top of the NWSL standings, Moultrie boarded a 6 a.m. flight bound for Costa Rica, where she joined the U.S. U20 Women's National Team for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup tournament. It’s another major milestone for in a year of Moultrie milestones. The U.S.’s first game kicks off against Ghana on Thursday morning (10am PT, FS2). See the full schedule with watch info here.
When Moultrie finally left the pitch last week, we sat down with her to ask her about her mental growth, the World Cup, and what she’s learned as a pro so far.
Let’s talk about your time here in Portland with the Thorns. How do you feel you've grown here?
Olivia Moultrie: I've been a pro for a while—since I was 13. But it feels like I haven't really been able to step into living all the aspects of being a professional, because I wasn't actually able to play in the league until I was 15. So it doesn't feel like it's been that long. But at the same time, it does feel like it's been a while because I was waiting so long for the moment [when I get to play] to happen.
Before I made my debut, I definitely wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to step into the league and play. When I made my debut at 15, I felt like I was ready to step in—not only ready to handle it, but to be able to make an influence to help my team win games. You can imagine how big of a change I had to go through physically and mentally and as a player to go from not ready to play in the league to getting put in games. Teams don't want to sign you unless they feel you can help them win.
I've changed a lot… but changed for the better. And I wouldn't want any [other] journey or any moment of what I've had to go through to get here to change because I think it's made me who I am.
The mental switch that you had to make to feel like you can contribute on the field—when did that click for you?
OM: To be totally honest, I knew that's what I needed to feel the whole time. When I was 13, I was like, yeah, like I can do it. Now. I was ready. Maybe that wasn't the reality, because I wasn't playing yet. But that was my thought process.
[I kept thinking,] I'm ready and I want it now. Like, come on, have it go faster. And that just made me more and more ready for when it did happen. I was ready to come in and make a difference. That kept me in line with staying ready and not worrying about how long it actually took, but more just being ready for when it happened.
This summer, you've already scored two world-class goals. Do you feel like things are coming together in your game?
OM: Yes, it’s been good. It's been exciting. And it's a big start to what I want my career to look like—and even more so is what I'm striving for. But I also think it's just the beginning of what I want to achieve in my career.
I'm only 16 and I hope to have a really long career. So, to me, this is the first time that I've experienced starting a professional season from the beginning and going all the way through. I think the goals, the assists, the starts and whatnot—that’s just what happens in the professional game. That’s what I what I want and what I'm working for.
You’re leaving for the World Cup, how do you feel about those international games?
OM: Yeah, I think I think being here has prepared me better than anywhere else possibly could have playing in the league preparing me to play an international competition. And yeah, I'm really excited for the World Cup. I think we have a great squad and I'm really excited to go for that. I'm ready. My team is ready.
Is being with the national team different than being with the Thorns?
OM: This team—the Thorns… We’re very close. That’s a big part of us winning games and being a team competing for the championship. [Our chemistry] has definitely helped us get what we're striving for.
And it’s the same with the national team. I really love the group we have. We're all close and very like-minded. We're going to the World Cup to try to win.
We haven't had that long together. But I feel like we've all formed a really close bond, mostly because we've just been thrown into it. We were thrown into Concacaf after only one camp together. And then we're thrown into another tournament in France. And now we're going to the World Cup. I think that made us bond faster, in a good way.
Do you think of yourself as a role model?
OM: That was never my thought process going into this whole thing. Like, I hope that I can be a role model along the way. But has it been this amazing side effect of my journey so far. Yes. And it's really exciting to me—it's really cool. When people tell me that their kids look up to me,
I've always wanted it to be men and women to do that. I've always wanted little boys to be able to look at me, or the women's game in general be like, “Oh, I like that player. I want to watch her. I want to play like her.” And so when that happens, it just makes me really excited and makes me want to keep pushing [myself and] the level of the women's game in general.
That's a really special thing when somebody tells you that. It definitely makes you want to work for it even more and kind of continue to just push the game out to the world and for everyone to see it.
As you said, you've grown a lot as a pro since you were 13. Is there anything you wish you could have told your younger self that you know now?
OM: Honestly, there were a lot of times when it seemed like, “Geez, this is taking forever.” [Working] to be able to play, earning a spot on the field… there were some frustrating times. You can get so caught up in the moment. In the moment, it feels like, “Oh, this is this huge thing that's in my way right now.” But in reality, it's just part of a professional career. I think every professional player can attest to that.
Also, in reality, I was a 15-year-old playing minutes in the NWSL last year. Now I'm a 16 year old playing minutes, getting starts, helping my team win games, scoring goals. Sometimes I need to pull myself back out and see that the reality of what's going on is really good and that I'm working for something that I want.
So I would just tell myself to keep my eyes on the big picture, because these things that are happening are just bumps in the road. They're things that are going to make me a better player and make me stronger. I'm grateful for every single one of them. Yeah, that's probably what I would tell myself.