Moultrie is a pioneer, breaking glass ceilings by going pro without stepping foot on a college pitch. By skipping a typical step for female soccer phenoms, the 13-year-old is changing the world of women’s soccer one kick at a time.
Legacy in the making
It all started for Moultrie a few years ago at a UNC women’s soccer summer ID camp — a camp designed to find young talent.
“She ripped it up,” North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance said. “She was excellent. The dad (K.C. Moultrie) basically approached us, and says, ‘You know, Anson, I’d love for her to commit to the University of North Carolina,’ and I said, ‘No problem.’”
Although she was young, Dorrance thought she was worth the gamble.
“Like the Nike ad is saying, is this crazy?” Dorrance said. “Well, maybe, but you know, maybe not.”
The soccer phenom started specialized training when she was seven years old, later than most players nowadays. She was a quick learner. By fifth grade, Moultrie’s parents started home schooling her, allowing her to focus on soccer. The young girl trained abroad at youth academies for European clubs like Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.
By 11, she verbally committed to UNC and accepted a full scholarship that would amount to around $300,000.
Moultrie is the youngest women’s soccer player to publicly accept a collegiate scholarship offer, but the commitment was originally planned to be kept secret. Dorrance and Moultrie’s parents agreed not to announce that she was going to UNC until Moultrie was much older.
However, as more collegiate coaches reached out to her current coach, the recruitment became too much. Her father reached out to Dorrance, and they agreed to go public.
“Then, of course, there’s a media storm like this one because of how young she was,” Dorrance said.
In December 2017, Moultrie posted on Instagram and announced her decision to play soccer at UNC. After that moment, her life completely changed. The media became fixated on the young star, and the publicity grew, the very thing Moultrie’s parents and Dorrance had tried to prevent.
Sometime in the next 14 months, Nike approached the Moultrie family with an offer that seemed too good to be true. The 13-year-old signed a multi-year endorsement agreement for an undisclosed amount, giving up her amateur status and her chance to play high school and collegiate soccer.
Then, The Oregonian reported that Moultrie will join the developmental academy of the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League, despite not meeting the league’s age requirement.
She may not be going to college immediately like the great females before her, but she’s following the elite male athletes that have paved the way, like Lionel Messi, who left home at 13 to move to Spain to join the youth academy for FC Barcelona.
The question remains, as mentioned by Dorrance, about whether she will mature physically to check at least three athletic boxes – speed, athleticism and strength. Whether she has the genes to check the boxes or not, Moultrie is the beginning of a new era and she's blazing a new trail.
In 1999, 90,000 fans watched the U.S. women’s soccer team defeat China in penalty kicks in the World Cup final in Pasadena, California, a match that would change how the world viewed women’s soccer.
“I remember after the U.S. won, going out into the streets and people sort of taking over the streets,” Illinois head women’s soccer coach Janet Rayfield, Dorrance’s first recruit, said. “It’s the sort of thing you would see at some big male sporting event. There was no difference. You all of a sudden felt this equal level of fan appreciation. You felt this equal level of importance.”
Time froze as Brandi Chastain’s winning goal hit the back of the net. Chastain ripped her shirt off, falling to her knees as the rest of the team ran onto the field to hug her. Not only had the U.S. women’s soccer team just won the World Cup championship on its own soil, but the game marked the largest crowd ever to watch a women’s sporting event.
“She put that last penalty kick away, and it was chaos after that,” said head UCF women’s soccer coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak, who was a reserve during the 1999 World Cup. “We rushed the field, and it was complete joy and relief and just something people talk about when you’re working for something for so long … It was one of the best things I’ve been a part of, for sure.”
The team stayed in the spotlight for the next several months, doing interview after interview, show after show. The players thought this would help put women’s soccer on the nation’s radar, but as years passed, women’s soccer started to fall into the background like it had in prior years.
Twenty years later, women’s soccer programs across the nation are still fighting to be recognized and respected. On March 8, the national women’s soccer team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the country’s soccer federation, looking for pay equity and equal working conditions for current players and future prospects like Moultrie.
The lawsuit alleges purposeful gender discrimination is still evident in differences between paychecks, coaching and medical treatments and other factors between the men's and women's teams, even during periods when the women’s national team makes more money, plays and wins more games, and has a larger television audience.
“I would love the women’s game to start to generate incomes for these young women,” Dorrance said, citing low salaries in the National Women's Soccer League. "... So, it’s nothing; it’s starvation wages.”
With a movement to empower women surging, the athletic community in particular has stepped into the spotlight. Nike joined the conversation with the “Dream Crazier” campaign video, highlighting monumental moments in the history of women’s sports in solidarity of what a female athlete goes through on the national stage.
Dorrance recalled his surprise at seeing Moultrie on national television.
“I didn’t know she was going to be in the ad, but I knew she was going to sign a contract with Nike,” Dorrance said. “I had a smile on my face.”
It all started with a dream.
For the 1999 U.S. women’s national team, it all started with chasing new heights and making names for themselves.
For Moultrie, it all started with the kick of a soccer ball and the stroke of a pen, sparking a new era symbolized by the slogan in the video.
“It’s only crazy until you do it.”
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