PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Portland Thorns signed 15-year-old Olivia Moultrie to a three-year contract Wednesday, nearly two months after she filed a lawsuit challenging a National Women’s Soccer League rule prohibiting players under 18.
The midfielder has been practicing with the team since 2019.
“Every coach has always told me there’s a lot you can do in training, but where you really grow and mature as a player is in games,” Moultrie said. “And for that to finally be here, for me to take that next step and just continue to grow as a player, like I said multiple times it’s just very exciting and I know this is where I’ll be able to grow the most.”
Moultrie’s lawsuit, filed in early May, alleged that the league’s age rule violated antitrust law and hindered Moultrie’s career development and chances of reaching the U.S. national team.
U.S. District Judge Karin J. Immergut granted a preliminary injunction June 17 clearing a path for Moultrie to sign with a team.
The Thorns acquired the rights to Moultrie from OL Reign, the first team on the NWSL Discovery Priority list, in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft.
“This step is very important for Olivia,” Thorns coach Mark Parsons said in a statement. “For this club to have the commitment and vision to sign a young, talented player that we really believe in is immense. Olivia has continued to grow and push forward throughout her time here and has taken every challenge and turned it into an opportunity.”
Moultrie, who signed a sponsorship deal with Nike when she was 13, couldn’t join a team overseas under FIFA rules, meaning the NWSL was the only pro league available to her.
The NWSL has argued that terms and conditions of employment should be addressed during ongoing negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement.
“As we said when this action was filed, the NWSL is in the midst of collective bargaining negotiations with the NWSL Players Association over all terms of employment, including the age rule,” the league said in a statement last month. “We continue to believe that is the appropriate place for a decision on this topic and are evaluating our options with respect to the district court’s order.”
The Thorns play Racing Louisville on Saturday.
“She’s been practicing and scrimmaging with professionals for years and it’s heartwarming to see that she’ll finally get a chance to play in an official match now,” said attorney Max Forer of Miller Nash, the firm that filed the lawsuit on Moultrie’s behalf.
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