by Paul Kennedy
Players under the age of 18 have played in MLS for years.
In 2021, 12 MLS players have already made their first appearance of the season before their 18th birthday.
Players start out very young in pro leagues around the world -- men's leagues and women's league.
U-18 Players: 2020-21 women's leagues
1. Italian Serie A, 30
2. Dutch Eredivisie Vrouwen, 16
3. German Frauen-Bundesliga, 11
4. English Women's Super League, 8
4. French D1 Arkema, 8
Why then can the National Women’s Soccer League impose an age ban preventing players under the age of 18 from playing in the only U.S. women's pro league?
That's what 15-year-old Olivia Moultrie asked in filing an antitrust lawsuit against the NWSL in U.S. district court in Portland, Oregon.
Judge Karin Immergut agreed with Moultrie, who moved from California to Oregon two years ago to train with the Portland Thorns.
A 14-day temporary restraining order was issued on Monday, allowing Moultrie to sign with an NWSL team. By issuing a temporary restraining order, the court determined it's likely Moultrie will win her case and she would be harmed if she wasn't granted temporary relief.
The NWSL made several arguments to justify its age rule that the court rejected. Among them:
-- It was a single-entity (and therefore could not legally conspire with itself for the purposes of one of the elements of an antitrust claim);
-- There were safety concerns about a minor playing in the league and the cost of caring for minors was burdensome.
(An age rule, to have any chance of passing legal muster, would have to be bargained for in a collective bargaining agreement. The NWSL has no collective bargaining agreement but negotiations have been taking place.)
The bottom line, for the court: "The only thing currently standing between Plaintiff and her aspiration to be a professional soccer player in this country is her gender. Promoting gender equity in athletics is clearly in the public interest.”