A Mid-Season Check-in with Sam Coffey

We sat down with the standout rookie for a Q&A about her huge season. 

By: Taylor Vincent

If you’ve been watching the NWSL at all this season, you’ve probably noticed that the Portland Thorns have a new No. 17 in town, and she’s quickly become a staple in the Thorns lineup. Sam Coffey is a rookie in the NWSL even though she definitely doesn’t play like it. She was drafted by the Thorns in the 2021 draft and elected to play the extra Covid year at Penn before joining the Thorns this season. 

Sam Coffey teeing up for a shot / Taylor Vincent

Earlier in the season, teammate and Thorns/Canada team captain Christine Sinclair said of Coffey, “[She’s] one of those rare rookies that has been able to step in and she looks like she’s been here for ten years.” In ‘The Women’s Game’ podcast by Men In Blazers, USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn said of her, “She is the most efficient, clean, young player that I’ve seen in a long time… She’s got all the tools and so I’m really excited about her.” Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson spoke of Coffey, “She’s always light and bright  energy, and when she hits the field she’s a playmaker, I’ve changed her position, she just gets her head down and gets to work, she shows up with clips she wants to watch, asks very specific questions.”

With praise like that coming from some of the most experienced voices in the NWSL, it’s no surprise that Coffey was called into the USWNT camp prior to the Concacaf Qualifiers in June as an alternate. Further, she was called into the actual tournament a week into play after Washington forward Ashley Hatch had to leave with a muscle strain. With the high level of play coming out of Coffey lately, she’s likely to be a finalist for NWSL Rookie of the Year in 2022. She Plays sat down with Sam this week to ask some questions about her rookie year, living in Portland, and the entire experience. Here’s what she had to say:

On the last month, Portland to Seattle to Mexico:

I think whirlwind is a very good word to describe it. It was obviously amazing being with the full team at camp and I learned a ton that I want to bring back to this environment. It has just been overwhelming in the best way. I was at the camps in Utah and Colorado, was back here [Portland], and then got called back in, it’s been difficult to find a timezone to actually sleep in so that’s been one difficult piece.

I think the biggest thing for me has just been pacing myself. Even after having the week break and now looking forward to what is going to be a really big August, … it’s really taking things one day at a time, not getting ahead of myself. Obviously, I’ve got really big personal ambitions and, more importantly, goals for the team and that can feel really big sometimes, so just taking things one day at a time and not letting myself get too far ahead of the task at hand has been very important. It’s been super exciting and I feel very honored to have been with the full team, and I just want to continue to grow in this environment now. 

On getting the call from Vlatko to join the USWNT mid-Concacaf tournament:

We were in Seattle; it was the night before our game against the Reign so obviously emotions are already high…  A bunch of us were hanging back just talking, sitting around the table, and I looked down at my phone and saw his name pop up; he’s not somebody who calls me all the time so definitely was a call I knew I needed to pick up. … I answered and he asked me if I was watching, I think San Diego and LA were playing at the time, I’m like ‘Is this the reason you were calling, just asking if I’m watching this game?’ 

He ended up inviting me back to join the team and said there was an opportunity to bring one more player in and he’d like me to come and join them. Obviously there wasn’t any hesitation in my mind, that I would drop everything and go and join them. I’m so grateful for the Thorns staff here being so supportive of me doing that too. 

Regulating my emotions and focusing on just what was going to happen the next day, which was our game against OL, was definitely a challenge because so much was going on. …  I just really had to stay in the moment the best I could, focus on each task at hand. I didn’t want to look past the OL game because that was the most important business at the time and I would look forward to camp when that was done. That was definitely hard because I was super excited to get there and rejoin the team, it was just an honor to get called back in and I hope I continue to have the opportunity to do so. 

On how her rookie season is going:

The year has definitely exceeded my expectations. I feel so fortunate to … be a part of a club like the Thorns and learn from the staff, to be around the players that I’m around every day. I attribute the success to that and just being around excellence all the time. When you have the Beckys, and Klings, and Sincy and Crystal and so many others you get to play with every day, you’ve got to show up; there’s no off days. 

It has, again, been a whirlwind, so exciting, and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunities that I’ve had. I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself. I’m so excited for how it’s gone and I’m so excited for what’s to come, but right now my focus is just Friday and us beating North Carolina and us doing whatever it takes to do that. I just want to continue to grow and get better and be the best player I can be.

Sam Coffey with Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson / Taylor Vincent

Favorite thing about living in Portland:

I’m a big outdoorsy girl so I love—in whatever free time we get, which in this coming August won’t be much—but I just love going exploring new spots. I’ll drive out to the coast, I’ll find new trails, I’ll venture off into different parts of the state, [like the] Mt. Hood region. There’s so much to do here, so much natural beauty to see, and so I try to do as much of that as I can in my free time. 

On the re-integration of teammates after international duty:

I think it was really interesting, just being a new player and never experiencing that dynamic within a team of people leaving, and I was kind of a weird part of that in that I was with the team, not with the team, with the team, and then not with the team again—it was so back and forth. 

It just takes time. This week has been huge in just getting us all back together again. Internationals returned, we had a training session, and then we were off going to take care of business in Louisville. It was a lot of moving pieces at once but I think this week has been great so far in just getting everybody back on the same page, reshifting everyone’s focus to whatever it was before the week off to what we’re doing here as the Thorns and what our team goals are. It’s definitely been a day-by-day process, but I think every day we’re all getting back on the same track and finding our rhythm again as a group. 

On lessons from the tough Louisville game:

I think we took a lot away from the Louisville game. There were so many factors that were at play for every team: players gone, travel, international break, everyone coming back from a week off. We went in knowing it was going to be a little messy in some ways. I think the biggest takeaway we can have is that we still [have to] get the job done. We’re not going to make excuses for ourselves; it was not our greatest performance.We can certainly be better on the ball, with our decision-making, better in controlling the emotions of the game. 

I think we kind of reflected a little too much the way that Louisville plays, but I think it’s a huge testament to the team that we still got those three points on the road. Rhian kind of went into the game talking to us [about] how we’ve only won one game on the road and that’s not up to our standard. The fact that we weren’t just going to settle for the tie, that we went there for 3 points and we left with them is a huge testament to just the culture and the fabric of this team. We just want to continue to bring that relentlessness and those standards into the game against North Carolina. We’re taking no prisoners so we’re really excited to play them on Friday. We want another three points, we want to keep this streak going.

If you want to watch Sam Coffey in action this week, the Portland Thorns will be taking on the North Carolina Courage Friday, August 5th at 10:30 ET on CBSSN.

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