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13-year-old female soccer player turns pro and signs with Nike

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Viewers who paid close attention to Nike’s all-women “Dream Crazier” ad, which debuted during Sunday’s Academy Awards and features Serena Williams, might have noticed a young-looking soccer player toward the end, gazing calmly and confidently at the camera. As it turns out, that soccer player is indeed young, but at age 13 she already has turned professional.

Oh, and Olivia Moultrie is now officially on the Nike roster, but she won’t be wearing the swoosh while playing for the University of North Carolina. In turning pro, she is giving up the soccer scholarship from the Tar Heels she accepted at the tender age of 11, but her father is confident that it’s the right call.

"For literally almost every kid in girls’ soccer, you should go to college; there’s not a million dollars at the end of the rainbow,” K.C. Moultrie told the New York Times in a story published Monday. “I think if you’re truly, truly elite, if your goal is to be a world-class player and a pro and, in Olivia’s case, to be the best player in the world, there’s no way it’s better to play college than it is to play full time.”

Moultrie’s agent, Spencer Wadsworth of the Wasserman sports agency, told the Times that her Nike deal was worth more than the value of a four-year scholarship to a school such as UNC. Having been the youngest girls’ soccer player to publicly accept a college scholarship, she is now the youngest to pass it up in favor of the pro ranks.

“It’s just a shift in women’s sports,” Wadsworth said. “You see it more and more now where women’s soccer is catching up to the men’s side, and there’s more opportunities for them.”

It’s not exactly clear what kind of organized soccer Moultrie, who has also given up high school and youth club eligibility, will be playing for the next few years, apart from participation on a rung of the U.S. national program. The Oregonian reported Monday that she was set to move from her native California to Portland to become a developmental player for the Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League, but the league’s rules indicate that athletes must be at least 18 to compete.

According to the Times, FIFA rules make going to a soccer club in Europe unlikely before Moultrie turns 18, as well. She trained with a few of that continent’s giants last year, including Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, where (per the Times) she ended up playing against the French club’s under-17 boys’ team.

Wherever her path leads, Moultrie has been training intensely toward it since the age of seven, when her parents signed her up with a local soccer academy that specialized in individual drills and agility. “She can do it all and she’s always willing to keep learning,” the owner of the academy, Alfredo Sainz, told Urban Pitch in 2017.

“I always told her, ‘Be good at everything.’ Whether it’s juggling, skills, agility, street, futsal, grass or pitch,” he continued. “Don’t ever be comfortable with just one thing and shy away from not being able to play futsal or street because you’re not ‘that type of player.’ ”

“I really became passionate about soccer when my dad and I made the decision to start working as hard as I do now,” Moultrie, who has been home-schooled since the fifth-grade to give her more time to train, said in 2017 (via Urban Pitch). “When I started treating every day like an opportunity and training to be a professional, I really fell in love with the process of trying to become great.”

In bypassing college, Moultrie is following in the footsteps, albeit at a much earlier age, of USWNT stars Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh. Horan also chose to forego a UNC scholarship, signing instead with PSG in 2012 before joining the Thorns in 2016, while Pugh was briefly on UCLA’s squad before jumping to the NWSL’s Washington Spirit in 2017.

Turning pro at a young age isn’t all that unusual for top talents among boys; 15-year-old Leo Torres, for instance, signed this month with the USL’s San Antonio FC. The U.S. national team’s Christian Pulisic signed with Germany’s Borussia Dortmund in 2015 at the age of 16, and Freddy Adu was famously just 14 when D.C. United took him first overall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft.

That fact that Adu never quite delivered on his next-big-thing hype, though, stands as something of a cautionary tale for Moultrie. UNC Coach Anson Dorrance told the Times that while her soccer skills were unquestionable, Moultrie’s physical development was still an X factor.

“That’s the risk for any young kid whose ambition is to play at a high level,” Dorrance said, “or for a shoe company that is signing them young or a professional team that is signing them young.”

“I tell her all the time, ‘Nobody cares that you’re the best at 12,’ ” K.C. Moultrie said to the Times last year. “If you’re not the best at 17 or 18, nobody’s going to care. You’re going to be one of those child actors that nobody cares about. You’re going to be Macaulay Culkin.”

With a push from Nike, it’s safe to say that Moultrie has reached child-star status. It remains to be seen if she continues to show dominant ability as an adult, be it in Portland or elsewhere, but the 13-year-old has already made her mark as a trail blazer.

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