Pro at 15: Chloe Ricketts is a true trailblazer for the growth of the NWSL

Normal people at 15 are just trying to find their identity in high school. For Chloe Ricketts, it was when she signed her first professional NWSL contract.

The 2023 NWSL offseason was historic on a multitude of fronts. Whether it was the first-ever free agency period that created movement across the league or the talented-loaded draft, Jessica Berman and the NWSL have nothing but a bright future ahead. Amongst all these progressions forward, the league saw one of its newest rules be to provide athletes with professional opportunities.

Chloe Ricketts, a 15-year-old midfielder from Dexter, Michigan has begun a trend that every fan of the league should become more accustomed to. Before 2022, any player that was under the age of 18 could not sign with any NWSL club. With the consent of the player and their parent or guardian, the league will now allow each club to sign two under-18 players between its senior roster and entry list.

After the chaos it took to allow Jaedyn Shaw and especially Olivia Moultrie to join the NWSL, Berman has opened the door for a massive youth movement into the league. When Moultrie tried to join the league at 15, she was denied due to the rules, but after she sued the NWSL itself in May 2021, the league allowed her to sign a three-year contract with the club that she had been training with since 2019. Moultrie crawled so players like Ricketts could walk.

On March 3, 2023, Ricketts became the first to break the barrier — becoming the first 15-year-old to sign a professional contract with an NWSL club. The Washington Spirit gave the high school sophomore a three-year deal with an option for a fourth. Mark Parsons was impressed by her competitiveness in training camp before the 2023 campaign and the club decided it was time to utilize the new league rule. Given where the Spirit are following a three-win season in 2022, Parsons believed it was time to invest in the future.

According to the club, Ricketts will attend school virtually throughout her first season in Washington D.C. Ricketts’ record of being the youngest player to sign for an NWSL team did not last long as San Diego Wave gave 15-year-old forward Melanie Barcenas a deal just a few weeks later on March 21. Early on in her first season in black and white, Ricketts has made two appearances, one in the regular season and one in the Challenge Cup.

Many thought it would not be until the World Cup arrived that these U-18 players would get a chance to show what they are capable of. Ricketts has demonstrated she belongs at this level through her 73 minutes on the pitch for Washington a month into the season. In an eventual 2-1 victory over the North Carolina Courage on April 15, Ricketts subbed on in the 66′ for Marissa Sheva in the midfield.

As the match was coming to a close in stoppage time, Ricketts nearly found the back of the net. Trinity Rodman drove at the Courage backline, driving a cross into the box where Ricketts would end up with the ball at her feet. Confident and composed, the Michigan native struck the ball, firing it just wide right of the post. It may have not found the back of the net, but it was without a doubt a sign that she has the ability to be in the right place at the right time in the final third.

Chloe Ricketts has already shown she can compete with the best players in the world

Her journey to breaking into the professional game is quite an incredible climb. Right now she may be receiving passes from a potential USWNT starter this summer in the World Cup, but just a few years ago she was playing travel soccer in her home state. In order to play professional soccer before you even get your driver’s license in the United States you have to have a work ethic that matches the talent level. Being the youngest signing for a club is not new for Ricketts. Ahead of joining the Spirit, the current 15-year-old put pen to paper on a contract with AFC Ann Arbor of the USLW, playing a part in 11 matches during her time there while netting two goals, including one in her final regular season match with the club in September 2022.

She made a name for herself during her time playing for the Ann Arbor Tigers 2007 Boys team. Ricketts was a main contributor on a team that would go on to win the National Great Lakes Conference, one of the most elite youth soccer conferences in the United States. In addition, the young star helped guide the U-15 boys team to the National Championship.

Her teammates and coaches expressed how impressed they were with the youngster during her time there. Ricketts constantly competed, matching up with some of the best boys players in the United States. Her creativity shined during her time with the Michigan Tigers, demonstrating that despite her age, her discipline off the pitch would make all the difference.

In January of this year, Ricketts received an invite as one of the few non-roster invites to the Washington training camp. The Spirit’s No. 39 cannot be selected in next season’s expansion draft, and cannot be traded or let go until she reaches the age of 18. For a league that continues to grow on so many fronts, this is the beginning of the youth movement in the NWSL. Ricketts is not the only talented U-18 soccer player in the United States. The Michigan native simply set the stage for an extremely bright future. Not only she is breaking barriers on the pitch she’s doing it off the pitch as well — almost immediately after agreeing to a contract with Washington, Ricketts became the youngest female soccer player to sign an endorsement deal with Adidas.

She may not receive much playing time during her first professional campaign, but for Ricketts to make it on the pitch already for her club says a whole lot about how much the coaching staff trusts her. To play against players that are nearly twice your age is quite extraordinary, especially in a sport like women’s soccer. Ricketts is bound to be one of the cornerstone pieces for Washington as she grows into the new environment. Her journey to the NWSL may be far from ordinary, but with the kind of discipline and bravery Ricketts has demonstrated, this is exactly the place she is meant to be at this time in her life.

Check out our NWSL hub page for more news, analysis, opinion and unique women’s soccer coverage. And don’t forget to follow FOR(E) on Twitter, FanSided’s home for women’s sports.


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