New North Carolina Courage signing and San Diego native Stephanie Ochs lives for soccer. It is fair to say that her character has been defined by the beautiful game. Growing up in America’s Finest City, Ochs played competitive soccer first for Crusaders Soccer Club and later San Diego Surf before joining the team at the University of San Diego in 2008 where she played in all 22 games as a freshmen, before going on to have a successful collegiate career. She was named USD Torero Female Athlete of the Year twice in hour attempts.
After finishing school, Ochs was drafted as the third pick of the United Women’s Soccer First Round in 2012 to play for then-WPS side Western New York Flash, but the league folded before she was able to play. Regardless, Ochs traveled back east and played in the WPSL-Elite season with Flash, winning the championship that season.
In 2013, Ochs was selected by the Washington Spirit to play in the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League via the Supplemental Draft and has competed in the league with the Houston Dash and with Australian club Canberra United during the NWSL offseason, having been scouted by United’s coach while on National Team duty with the U-23 Women’s National Team in La Manga, Spain during the Four Nations Tournament in 2013.
Having witnessed the slow and steady growth of the NWSL, Ochs offers an authentic opinion of where the league is today.
“The NWSL has definitely improved from the first year,” said Ochs. “It has come a long way. There is not really a ‘minimum standard’ across the league. For example some clubs provide housing for players whereas others will set you up with a host family. Some of the girls are working on a Player’s Union. I was the representative for Houston at the time I was there, and we would get on calls with the Commissioner at the time and discuss ways we could make the league better.”
There is no denying that the NWSL has grown in recent years. Currently in an unprecedented fifth season for a women’s professional soccer league in America, the league has deliberately endeavored to grow in a sustainable way so as to remain active. The league has added expansion teams with more on the way, television broadcast contracts have been signed, and corporate sponsors have been secured.
Even so, there is a long way to go until all is said and done.
“One of the challenges we have is that we are only paid during the season. It’s really hard to stretch those funds throughout the offseason. Our contracts are only semi-guaranteed, meaning that if we get cut, we’re pretty much stranded. Health insurance expires at the end of whatever month we are released in. I’m not sure what it would take to get the league to the point where there is a minimum standard, but we could use a bit more protection. Those are things that could be helped with a union.”
Despite all these difficulties, “It’s never crossed my mind that I’m not making enough money,” continued Ochs. “I’ve had a few times when I’ve thought ‘maybe I’m done’ but I think it’s so important to do what you love. We’ve had this dream of playing professionally since we were young.”
There is a deep-seeded love of the game that drives Ochs and others who make up the ranks of NWSL teams. For many players, playing soccer is just part of who they are.
“I started playing soccer after watching the Women’s World Cup in 1999. That could be seen as a superficial beginning, but I was at a point where I was looking for a sport to play and it just clicked. I was never pushed into playing. I just started and became enamored with it. Some parents can be guilty of pushing kids at times, but for me, my parents just supported me the whole way through. They’d ask me every season if I still loved it and still wanted to play (laughs). There was no other path for me.”
Now with the North Carolina Courage, Ochs is expected to help boost her new team’s title challenge, providing defensive support for the league’s leading team. Fans can follow Stephanie ‘s progress with the Courage at the team’s official website.