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After two years of waiting, Sam Coffey will finally be on the USWNT’s big stage at the Olympics

Manager Emma Hayes is a big fan of the Penn State-bred midfielder, who has a playing style that's both 'old-school' and modern.

A year after narrowly missing out on the U.S. women's soccer World Cup team, Penn State product Sam Coffey is going to the Olympics.
A year after narrowly missing out on the U.S. women's soccer World Cup team, Penn State product Sam Coffey is going to the Olympics.Read moreJonathan Tannenwald

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — For nearly two years, Sam Coffey was almost there: on the cusp of the 2023 World Cup, then on the cusp of this year’s Olympics.

Now, finally, you can get rid of the was, the almost, and the there. Coffey is here, on the Olympic team, which kicked off its training camp on Tuesday at Rutgers.

“It feels great,” the 25-year-old Penn State product told The Inquirer before heading onto the field. “It’s been a crazy, chaotic last few weeks, but I could not be more excited, more grateful for the opportunity, and excited to just kind of dive right in and take it all head-on.”

» READ MORE: Sam Coffey makes the U.S. women’s soccer Olympic team, but Alex Morgan doesn’t

Coffey was at her club home in Portland, Ore., when new U.S. manager Emma Hayes called with the news that she’d made it. It’s a moment that’s always fraught with emotions, and it was for Coffey, too.

“It was wonderful — I honestly kind of blacked out for most of it,” she said. “But I was obviously waiting for the call all day. I didn’t let my phone out of my hand.”

Praise from Hayes

Hayes — the third U.S. manager whom Coffey has played for in just those two years — watched the defensive midfielder with the NWSL’s Portland Thorns before taking the U.S. job, and liked what she saw. Once Hayes had the American helm, it didn’t take long for her to make Coffey a regular.

“When I took over the team, it was the one area I identified that we needed to accelerate opportunities for,” Hayes said. “Sam Coffey was a player I admired watching her play for Portland, and absolutely wanted to bring her into the group.”

» READ MORE: Sam Coffey reflects on the work she's put in since missing the World Cup

Hayes said that while sitting next to U.S. captain Lindsey Horan at a news conference Monday, which gave context to a compliment she paid Coffey.

“They don’t make players like Sam much anymore,” Hayes said. “There’s a combination of some very old-school attributes in the way that she plays, but also a simplicity to her game that allows people like this wonderful player [Horan] to flourish. She’s someone who’s growing in the national team shirt.”

Such praise must thrill Coffey’s family, with its past and present newspaper sportswriters (father Wayne and sister Alex, of The Inquirer), and a local TV sports anchor (brother Sean) across the tree.

» READ MORE: A look back at Sam Coffey's USWNT debut, through the eyes of her sister Alex

Sam, who was a journalism major at Penn State, appreciated Hayes’ remarks.

“I think that’s how I identify a lot as a player,” she said, “I think I often judge my performance and what I’m doing on the field by the way that people around me are able to also succeed. I think I view my position a lot as one of helping the team find a rhythm, helping serve the people around me, helping set up the people around me for success.”

A simple style, but really not

Coffey does not consider her skill set “the most flashy,” and she’s fine with that.

“I think there’s a lot of beauty in simplicity, and that you don’t have to overcomplicate things,” she said. “Oftentimes, I think maybe what I can do on the field might be overlooked. But I think there’s a beauty to that, because I also know how impactful that simplicity can be.”

» READ MORE: The U.S. women’s soccer team is Lindsey Horan’s to lead now ahead of the Paris Olympics

It’s not surprising that Hayes highlighted defensive midfield as a position of need. The U.S. has lacked bite at the position since Julie Ertz’s heyday.

But Coffey isn’t just a defensive-minded player. She was an attacking midfielder at Penn State, so she can play a pass: a 79.6% completion rate and 11 assists in three years with the Thorns. And she’ll shoot if you let her, with three goals for her club and one for her country.

That is how the best defensive midfielders play these days, not just breaking up opponents’ attacks but starting their own teams’ forays. So while Hayes and Coffey might like that “old-school” term, in fact Coffey is anything but.

The U.S. will play two warm-up games before heading to France, against Mexico at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., on Saturday (3:30 p.m., TNT, truTV, Telemundo 62, Universo, Max, Peacock), and against Costa Rica in Washington next Tuesday (7:30 p.m., TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, Peacock).

Then it will be off to France, where Coffey said she’ll have many family and friends in the stands cheering her on.

» READ MORE: Paxten Aaronson makes it three players with Union ties on the U.S. men’s Olympic soccer team

“Honestly, it’s a little hard to keep track,” she said, and in fairness, she does have a few other things to do right now. “But I’m just really grateful to share it with them. They’re my rock and my support system, so being able to go over there with them will be really special.”

Other headlines

Twenty-one of the 22 players heading to France were in attendance Monday. Goalkeeper Jane Campbell, one of the four traveling alternates, was the absentee due to Hurricane Beryl hitting her club home in Houston.

Star attacking midfielder Rose Lavelle worked off to the side during a full-field drill. A team spokesperson said it was load management, and she’ll be fine for Saturday’s game.

Both send-off games are just about sold out, no surprise since the U.S. women have a huge fan base in this part of the country. A full house at Red Bull Arena (capacity 25,000) would be the team’s seventh straight sellout in nine years, always with a thunderous atmosphere. The game at D.C.’s Audi Field (20,000) will be the program’s 17th all-time visit to the Washington area.

» READ MORE: A year after his U.S. team downfall, Vlatko Andonovski is back atop the NWSL in Kansas City

USWNT Olympics schedule

Times listed are Philadelphia time. All of NBC’s video streaming of the Olympics is available free with pay-TV provider authentication at, or via subscription on Peacock.

Saturday, July 13: Warm-up game vs. Mexico at Harrison, N.J. (3:30 p.m., TNT, truTV, Telemundo 62, Universo, Max, Peacock)

Tuesday, July 16: Warm-up game vs. Costa Rica at Washington (7:30 p.m., TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, Peacock)

Thursday, July 25: Group stage vs. Zambia at Nice, France (3 p.m., USA Network, Universo, Peacock)

Sunday, July 28: Group stage vs. Germany at Marseille, France (3 p.m., USA Network, Telemundo 62, Peacock)

Wednesday, July 31: Group stage vs. Australia at Marseille (1 p.m., E!, Universo, Peacock)

Saturday, Aug. 3: Quarterfinal at Paris if group winner (9 a.m., E!, Telemundo 62, Peacock); Marseille if runner-up (1 p.m., Telemundo 62, Peacock); or Lyon (11 a.m., E!, Universo, Peacock) or Nantes (3 p.m., English TBD, Universo, Peacock) if a third-place qualifier

Tuesday, Aug. 6: Semifinal at Lyon if group winner or runner-up (E!, Universo, Peacock); or Marseille if a third-place qualifier (3 p.m., English TBD, Universo, Peacock)

Friday, Aug. 9: Bronze medal game at Lyon (9 a.m., USA Network, Telemundo 62, Peacock)

Saturday, Aug. 10: Gold medal game at Paris (11 a.m., USA Network, Telemundo 62, Peacock)