15-Year-Old Olivia Moultrie Could Be Allowed to Sign NWSL Contract After Court Order

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVMay 25, 2021

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 27: Olivia Moultrie #42 of the Portland Thorns runs onto the field during a game between OL Reign and Portland Thorns FC at Providence Park on March 27, 2021 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Craig Mitchelldyer/ISI Photos/Getty Images

U.S. District Judge Karin J. Immergut granted a temporary restraining order to 15-year-old soccer player Olivia Moultrie on Monday that will allow her to seek out contract offers from National Women's Soccer League teams while her anti-trust lawsuit against the NWSL works through the court system.

ESPN's Jeff Carlisle reported Immergut wrote in her ruling the NWSL has provided "no legitimate procompetitive justification" for keeping its age rule, which prevents players under 18 from signing with its teams:

"Plaintiff has shown that the 10 teams that make up the NWSL have agreed to impose the NWSL's age restriction which excludes female competitors from the only available professional soccer opportunity in the United States because they are under 18, regardless of talent, maturity, strength, and ability.

"Defendants have not presented any compelling procompetitive reasons to justify this anticompetitive policy, nor have they shown that eliminating the Age Rule will cause any nonspeculative injury to the NWSL. Defendants have offered no legitimate procompetitive justification for treating young women who want an opportunity to play professional soccer differently than young men."

Moultrie and her father, K.C. Moultrie, filed the lawsuit in early May, including a request for a TRO that would clear the way for her to compete during the 2021 NWSL season, per Maxine Bernstein of The Oregonian.

"Ms. Moultrie does not seek an order from this Court awarding her a contract or a roster slot," the lawsuit read. "Rather, she seeks removal of an unlawful barrier to her participation."

The teenage midfielder is a California native who's already practiced and played exhibition matches with the Portland Thorns while taking part in the club's youth academy. The NWSL's age rule has prevented her from signing a contract to play in official matches, though.

Major League Soccer, the top men's league in the U.S., doesn't have an age restriction.

"Ms. Moultrie would be eligible to play in MLS if she were male, would be able to play in France if she were French, etc., stretching throughout most of the international soccer world," the lawsuit stated. "Ms. Moultrie is in the wrong country, and the wrong gender, to take advantage of her soccer precocity. And illegally so."

The NWSL, which has argued the decision about age restrictions should be made as part of ongoing discussions with the players' union about a collective bargaining agreement, maintained that stance in a statement released after Monday's court ruling, per Carlisle.

"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," a league spokesperson said. "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."

In addition to her NWSL status, Moultrie's lawsuit said preventing her from playing professionally would also impact her opportunity to earn a place on the U.S. women's national team for major events, like the Olympics and World Cup, which the judge noted was part of the "persuasive evidence" in the suit.

Moultrie, who received a college scholarship offer from UNC at age 11, has played for the U.S. at different levels of its youth national team system but hasn't made any appearances for the senior national squad.