Q+A: Sam Coffey on NWSL rookie season, USWNT debut and Yates report takeaways

Soccer player Sam Coffey of the Portland Thorns
Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
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Portland Thorns midfielder Sam Coffey has enjoyed a stellar start to her pro soccer career, earning a nomination for NWSL rookie of the year. Coffey, who grew up in Sleepy Hollow, New York, had an early look at what it takes for elite soccer players to succeed thanks in part to her dad, Wayne, a sports journalist who co-wrote memoirs with Carli Lloyd and, more recently, Briana Scurry.

After beginning her collegiate soccer career at Boston College, Coffey transferred to Penn State. She was drafted by the Portland Thorns ahead of the 2021 NWSL season, but opted to take her extra year of NCAA eligibility before joining the Thorns earlier this year.  Coffey’s strong NWSL rookie season resulted in the 23-year-old earning her first international caps in USWNT friendlies vs. Nigeria, England, and Spain this summer and fall.

Coffey and her Thorns teammate have also navigated an especially challenging few weeks following the release of the Yates report on October 3. The report included damning evidence about how Portland failed to take action after former coach Paul Riley was accused of harassment and sexual coercion. Following the report’s release, President of Soccer Gavin Wilkinson and President of Business Mike Golub, were fired. Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Timbers and Thorns, stepped down as CEO of both organizations. Fan groups and some players — as well as all three of Oregon’s gubernatorial candidates — have called for Paulson to sell both teams.

Ahead of Sunday’s NWSL semifinal at Providence Park, the Portland Thorns announced that a significant portion of ticket proceeds from the game will be donated to three charities chosen by the players.

With her rookie season coming to a close, On Her Turf spoke with Coffey earlier this month to discuss her transition to the NWSL, when pro soccer became her goal, and how she found out about her first USWNT invite. We caught up again after the Yates report was released to discuss her thoughts on the findings and how Portland Thorns fans can support the players moving forward.

This Q&A was conducted over two sessions (October 1 and October 20). The conversations have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. 


Saturday, October 1, 2022

On Her Turf: How would you summarize your first season playing with the Portland Thorns in the NWSL?

Sam Coffey: I could never have pictured this year going the way it has. It really couldn’t have gone better for me, personally, and I feel so blessed and fortunate to say that. It’s obviously just a testament to this wonderful organization that I was drafted into. I’ve been supported in every way that I could possibly be supported. I’ve been able to be around literally some of the greatest soccer players in the world, every day since January.

The impact that that’s had on me, I don’t think I could put it into words. It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been a journey. It hasn’t all been good and sunshine, but I feel like I’ve grown so much this year, I learned so much and it honestly just makes me so excited for a career in this league and a career as a professional footballer.

On Her Turf: I know you played with U.S. youth national teams when you were younger… but I’m curious, at what point did professional soccer become your goal?

Coffey: Professional soccer has been the goal since I was a pipsqueak. I can remember, even in grade school, we would have those questionnaire sheets about what you want to be when you grow up and the answer for me was always: I want to be a pro soccer player. I have (that goal) written on things that I still have today so it’s cool to look back and see that that dream has come true.

On Her Turf: Given how long it’s been your goal to be a pro soccer player, I’m guessing the NWSL wasn’t even in existence at the time… Was that back when the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league existed?

Coffey: Yeah, it was the WPS. I grew up going to Sky Blue games at Yurcak Field at Rutgers. I would go to those games as often as I could, watching Heather O’Reilly and Marta and Christie Rampone and players that are still playing in this league today… Seeing those women who came before me do what I ultimately wanted to do was so formative for me… It’s so cool to think about myself (as serving as that inspiration) to little girls in the crowd (today).

So yeah, the NWSL was not a thing yet, but (to see) the league going so strong now, that it’s the 10-year anniversary and has such a strong foundation, I feel really honored to be part of it.

On Her Turf: I covered the process behind the NWSL’s first ever collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and it strikes me that — for rookies like you — you never necessarily knew any different. Have you personally felt the impact of the CBA?

Coffey: The CBA is life altering for players in this league. And yeah, I don’t know any different. I know just from hearing (other players talk about it). I think it ultimately gives me gratitude for the players who came before me, the players who did have to endure those hardships. It makes me grateful and in awe of them, and their courage and resilience. And it makes me excited for what’s to come.

On Her Turf: You also made your USWNT debut this summer. How did you find out about your first call-up to the national team?

Coffey: I had heard some rumblings about it possibly being a thing, but I didn’t think of it as anything more than a rumor.

I was at the airport with the (Thorns) — we were about to go to San Diego for a game — and I got a call from (USWNT head coach) Vlatko (Andonovski). I was like, ‘Ok, I wasn’t expecting this,’ but obviously, I talked before about my dreams coming true and that (call) was the epitome of that goal.

It was such a surreal moment. I was like, ‘Did that just happen?’ I was standing outside of McDonald’s at the Portland airport and FaceTiming my family and loved ones to tell them the good news. I had literally been dreaming of that day for my whole life and my experience with the full team has been so incredible so far. I feel so grateful to be part of, what I believe, is the greatest team in the world.

***

Thursday, October 20, 2022

On Her Turf: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk again. Given all that has happened in the last few weeks following the release of the Yates report, I thought your feelings on some of the topics we spoke about earlier this month may have changed. No pressure, but I wanted to start by giving you the space if you have any initial thoughts on the Yates report that you want to share. I know so much of what was in the report happened before you joined the league.

Sam Coffey: I think we all have a lot of strong feelings about the report. What’s in it is horrifying and disgusting and dark on so many levels. I think reading that, as a player and especially being in the position that I’m in now (as a player on the Thorns), I think for all of us, it was extremely disturbing to read.

I actually posted something to my Instagram a couple days ago about how darkness has just plagued this league for so long. Yes, here in Portland. But it’s everywhere. It’s all around us. It’s in the NWSL. It’s in U.S. Soccer. It’s in youth soccer. The grassroots level is where so much of this — the abuse and mistreatment — is stemming from. There’s no room for it anymore. Obviously there should’ve never been (room for it) and I wish with everything in me that it didn’t have to happen.

But does that mean that I don’t love Portland or I don’t love this club? Of course not. I do love this club. But I think, with that love, comes a responsibility to criticize it and to want it to be better and to do better and to change for the better and I have full faith in the club to do that.

I just feel honored and lucky, honestly, to be with the women that I’m with here every day. We just help one another navigate this unchartered territory. I think we’re not accepting that this is what it is… It’s definitely been a dark period of time, but I am looking forward to the change and the progress that is going to take place as a result of this.

On Her Turf: Thank you for sharing that. Your teammate Bella (Bixby) posted on Twitter about what she hopes fans keep in mind if they’re struggling with how to support the players. I was wondering if you have any thoughts on that ahead of Sunday’s NWSL semifinal at Providence Park?

Coffey: Yeah, I echo everything that Bella said. I think she put it so beautifully and eloquently. We are not naive or ignorant to the fact that fans are struggling with this. I mean, we’re struggling with it as players, in a different way. And it’s now kind of a question of, how do I move forward?

None of us want to condone this… And I understand, from a fan level, you think you give your money to a club and that you’re supporting what it has done. But I think Bella’s statement was so spot on, in that, when you show up to a game, you’re showing up for us and showing that you love us and support us and that you’re in this fight with us and our desire for the club to be better.

Our supporters have been such a pivotal part of that happening since the club’s inception — before I ever showed up here — and that gives me a lot of hope. Thinking about all of us, collectively, in this fight to make Portland a better place, a safer place, and to ultimately grow from all that has transpired and ensure that it will never ever happen again.

On Her Turf: I’ve written before about the fragility narrative and how, for so long, NWSL players we’re scared to speak up because they were told, ‘This league is fragile and you don’t want to break it for your teammates.’ I think something that has given me hope in the last year is that players have spoken up and these truths have come out and fans have reacted by continuing to support them. It feels like a strong rebuttal to the fragility argument to say, ‘We spoke up and made this thing stronger.’ But at the same time, I know there are fans out there wrestling with that.

Coffey: And I don’t blame them. In fact, I applaud them for doing that. I think the fact that we have supporters (that) are going to hold the club accountable… It might be tough for ticket sales and sponsorships, but at the end of the day, I think that is why Portland is the place that it is because we do have supporters that are going to speak their mind.

This is kind of random, but there’s a James Baldwin quote about his love of country: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” I can’t stop thinking about that quote when I think about what’s going on here… Our supporters love this club so much. We love this club. (Portland) has been a pioneer for women’s soccer in so many ways, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to fight to do better or that we’re going to let any of this slide. We need to criticize her perpetually – I love the way that it’s phrased… I think we assume that because you’re demanding better or criticizing something that means you don’t love it or support it — and I think it’s the opposite.

I think we, as players, are fighting to do that and it’s something that we can all collectively do together. But I do think it’s a good reminder that, if the stands are empty, that ultimately hurts us the most. It’s gut wrenching but, when they’re there and cheering us on and fighting the battle with us — on and off the field — that changes everything for us.

On Her Turf: What are you most looking forward to this weekend with Portland hosting the San Diego Wave in the NWSL Semifinals?

Coffey: It sounds so simple, but I’m just so excited to play. Just to play, to have fun, to enjoy being in Providence Park for the last time, and just to be out there with our supporters and with my teammates. This time has been so dark and heavy for all of us — in different ways for (different people). Everybody’s been navigating it in their own way. But I think, at the end of the day, when I think about Sunday, I’m so excited for us to play with joy because it has been so heavy and dark… I think we’re in need of that and we deserve that. It’s been a lot for us as players.

2022 NWSL Playoffs: Schedule, how to watch, results


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Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.