all scores

Sam Coffey impresses in first cap with USWNT alongside childhood hero

Sam Coffey is a Rookie of the Year candidate for the NWSL's Portland Thorns. (Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When she was a little girl, Sam Coffey, like many young soccer players, dreamed of playing for the United States women’s national team. Her daily inspiration was a picture of Alex Morgan that hung on the wall of her bedroom in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., one that’s remained there to this day.

On Tuesday, Coffey earned her first cap with the USWNT in a 2-1 friendly win over Nigeria. And her childhood hero was in the starting lineup with her.

“It might be time to remove that [picture],” Coffey said last Thursday with a laugh. “But yeah, I mean, it is so full circle in terms of it just being this dream I had worked for.”

Coffey’s path to playing for the greatest team in the world, as she refers to it, was not linear. It was Morgan who reassured her that it didn’t have to be.

Coffey, 23, made scattered appearances with youth national teams during her teenage years, but she never played in a junior World Cup and was never heralded as a child prodigy like U.S. teammate Mallory Pugh, who made her senior national team debut at 16. Morgan’s journey was similar, with the California native earning just 10 caps at the youth level while playing for the U.S. U-20 team in 2008.

Now, Morgan is fifth all-time on the USWNT scorers’ list, with 119 goals in 198 caps with the senior team. Coffey, in her third camp, has been trying to absorb every single piece of feedback from veterans like Morgan.

“I think it definitely can be intimidating when you look around you and you’re like, Becky is to my left and Alex is to my right and Crystal is in front of me, and, I mean, I can obviously go on and on of players that I watched growing up,” Coffey said. “But I think my goal is just not shrinking back to the challenge and being confident in what I bring to the team too, because I’m here for a reason.”

(Erin Chang/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Coffey’s first big play in Tuesday’s game was a lobbed ball into the box that went around a defender and right to the feet of Morgan, who narrowly missed the goal with her shot.

Playing the full 90 minutes at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., Coffey took risks and stayed creative on and off the ball, pulling opponents away and dribbling through multiple defenders at once. Her ability to break lines was apparent as she continually sent passes to midfielders and forwards in high attacking areas.

A rookie in the NWSL this year, Coffey has adjusted to the No. 6 position with the Portland Thorns after playing as an attacking midfielder at Penn State. She held down the defensive midfield with the USWNT on Tuesday night, doing everything she could to fit the mold of head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s “modern-day six” — a player who can manage the position both offensively and defensively while also distributing the ball and winning tackles.

“I thought that she was very calm on the ball, very composed,” Andonovski said after the game. “For somebody who’s playing their first cap in front of a full stadium in a tight game, I thought she did a very good job,” said Andonovski, adding that there’s still room for Coffey to grow defensively.

On Thursday, as she remembered the picture of Morgan on the wall of her childhood bedroom, Coffey joked that she struggles to defend the USWNT legend in practice.

None of that wide-eyed wonder, however, has stopped her from embracing the challenge in front of her.

“Here you’re competing with the best players in the world, and if you told me last year I’d be doing that, I don’t think I would have believed you,” Coffey said. “I try not to let go of how amazing it is and what an honor it is here and how much all of this is going to continue to really positively impact my growth.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.