Olivia Moultrie: What is the NWSL age rule & why is it stopping young stars playing?

Portland Thorns

On Monday, rising teenage talent Olivia Moultrie won a court order against the National Women's Soccer League's minimum age policy.

The 15-year-old starlet filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the league and its minimum age requirement last month. The women's top flight insists on all players being at least 18 years of age before they can sign for a professional club.

A court ruled in Moultrie's favour after all ten NWSL teams "agreed to impose the age restriction" set by the USA's "only available professional soccer opportunity".

While Moultrie, who currently trains with Portland Thorns, is now able to sign for an NWSL side professionally, the order she has been granted is only temporary.

This indicates that the age restriction will remain an issue for young, up and coming footballers who are being made to wait to make their senior debut. Until the NWSL completely withdraws its minimum age bracket, there'll be a lot of talented youngsters missing out on huge opportunities and indeed, clubs will also be without the chance to sign them up.

The rule in place is not an obstacle anywhere else in the world, nor is it present for male athletes in the MLS. Moultrie has suggested this rule is somewhat sexist in a recent tweet.

Moultrie is already a professional, after signing a nine-year brand deal with Nike when she was just 13-years-old. If the Thorns protege was forced to court in order to sign for a pro club, those with less experience stand less of a chance to break through organically unless the league changes its rules.

Australia international Ellie Carpenter became the youngest player to feature in the NWSL back in 2018. The Matilda made her senior debut for Portland Thorns when she was 18 – but a new record has since been set. Trinity Rodman became the youngest NWSL player earlier this year when she was selected in the most recent league draft.

The teen was picked as the No.2 overall draft by Washington Spirit and went on to score on her league debut against reigning champions North Carolina Courage. 

While the NWSL boasts world-class talent like Megan Rapinoe and other US national team members, its younger players are paving the way for the future of the league. However, they are limited in the impact they can make, due to the age restriction in place.

The judge present at Moultrie's court appearance stated that the NWSL failed to offer "legitimate pro-competitive justification for treating young women who want an opportunity to play professional soccer differently than young men." 

The National Women's Soccer League must reconsider their requirements in order to fuel the growth of the sport, but to also provide fair and equal opportunities for both young men and women breaking into elite level football.

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