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SSFC Spotlight: Sam Coffey continues to thrive in NWSL

Will she assume a bigger role with the USWNT?

China v United States Photo by Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images for USSF

Missing the cut for the World Cup is a great disappointment, compounded by the four-year gap between competitions that sees some players fall completely off of the radar. For many, timing can be unfair, although the women’s game has the added benefit of the Olympics serving as a senior competition and providing another opportunity for inclusion at a major tournament. Sam Coffey was on the outside looking in last year but appears to be trending toward a ticket to Paris next summer with inclusion on the CONCACAF W Gold Cup roster. The 25-year-old Portland Thorns midfielder is one of the top creators in the NWSL and should provide a real boost to the United States Women’s National Team moving forward.

Born in Sleepy Hollow, New York, Coffey competed at the club level with Match Fit Academy, Patriots FC, Bergen Essex Celtics, AYSO, and New York Soccer Club, being named an All-American. She also played with her high school, the Masters School, earning a bevy of individual awards and scoring 100 goals. Coaches described her as a competitor who “spoke her mind and did the work” despite occasionally being overlooked for being “too small.”

Coffey then matriculated to Boston College, starting all 20 matches in her freshman year while contributing five goals and ten assists and garnering All-ACC Third and Freshman team honors. Her sophomore campaign was an improvement with 12 goals and 14 assists in 20 appearances, being named ACC Midfielder of the Year and a first-team All-American. She then transferred to Penn State, registering 25 goals and 30 assists in 62 matches over three seasons, claiming First-Team All-Big Ten, Big Ten Midfielder of the Year, and multiple All-American citations despite occasionally being forced to shift into a defensive midfielder role due to teammates’ injuries, a move that would open up opportunities at the professional level. Prior to her fifth year of college, granted due to the COVID pandemic, the Portland Thorns selected her in the second round of the 2021 NWSL Draft and retained her rights.

“I knew that if I was going to stay at Penn State — which was 100 percent one of the best decisions I’ve made, as much as it hurt not to be [in Portland] right away — it was just to continue relentlessly preparing for this opportunity and this moment,” Coffey told The IX. “I watched [Thorns] games, I’d keep up with games, study them and try to implement as much as I could into my college games. And that extra year of college soccer was just so critical in physically getting me ready, mentally getting me ready, emotionally, tactically, technically.”

Following the completion of her time as a Nittany Lion, she signed a two-year contract with Portland. In her first year of professional soccer, the defensive midfielder featured in 25 total matches, contributing one goal and two assists as the club claimed the NWSL title. The league named her Rookie of the Month for June and Best XI of the Month for June and September/October, which was capped off by Best XI honors for the season. In light of the “mature beyond her years” rookie “exceeding expectations,” the club signed her to a contract extension through 2025.

Last year, Coffey played in 27 total matches as Portland fell in the semifinal round of the playoffs to eventual champions NJ/NY Gotham FC. She led the league with eight assists and once again received NWSL Best XI honors. The defensive midfielder thrived as both the progenitor of the team’s “relentless attack” and as an “extremely sound defender,” continuing to build her case as one of the league’s most effective players, yet refusing to rest on laurels.

“I’m a very growth-minded person, like I always want to get better,” Coffey said recently. “For me, it’s not about the accolade or the awards or even the recognition: it’s just about simply being my best. Tactically I have areas I want to improve, technically I have areas I want to improve, but for me, it’s all about taking steps forward both with this team [and] hopefully with the Women’s National Team, as well…. I just want to get better and continue this path to mastery and excellence and enjoying that along the way.”

At the international level, Coffey competed for the United States program in the U-18, U-19, U-20, and U-23 age groups, finishing runner-up at the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship. After being included on the roster for the 2022 CONCACAF W Championship but failing to appear, her senior debut came against Nigeria in September of 2022. Thus far, she has earned seven caps and scored her first goal in December’s opening friendly against China.

A midfielder standing 5’6”, Coffey is a fantastic distributor who thrives at setting up teammates and completing passes at all distances while also putting in hard work on the defensive side of the game. She is described as a “versatile player” with a “team-first mentality” and high work ethic who can “lead from the back, always be available, manipulate the opposition, and create space for herself.” Rose City praises her as “the best [passer] in the USWNT pool” and “an elite quarterback [who] is able to keep control of the ball with her dribbling, quick thinking, turns, and world-class ability to read [the] opponent’s defense.”

Total Football Analysis produced a comprehensive scouting report on Coffey. “The central third is where she is at her most comfortable, and it is in this section of the field that she has often had the biggest influence on her team’s performances,” wrote David Astill. “When not required to help out at the back, it is customary to see [her] in a more central position, often finding spaces in and around the centre circle. From there, she is able to control the tempo of play and pick out passes that create goalscoring opportunities further up the field... [She] is also capable of moving up the pitch and occupying advanced areas of the field when necessary, again working to ensure that her team always have the ability to keep their attacks alive.”

Coffey has performed at a high level in the NWSL and should continue to drive the attack for Portland. She appears to be benefitting from a changing of the guard with the USWNT, shifting from occasional roster inclusion to a regular. With international soccer typically involving more entrenched defensive tactics, a creative midfielder is an essential part of roster building, which means that her “huge goal” of going to the Olympics should be accomplished within the coming months.