We are very excited to bring you our latest interview with former Michigan Wolverine & current Orlando Pride goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer! She covers a lot of topics, including the growth of the women's game in the United States and how her journey overseas has helped her development as a goalkeeper. Check out the full interview below!
How did you get into goalkeeping? Was sports a big part of your life when you were younger?
When I was growing up, my aunt Margaret was an All-American defender at the University of Wisconsin and I also had a couple uncles who were women's college coaches. The game itself has always been in my family- as well as sports generally with my mom and sisters playing college volleyball. When I was younger, I desperately wanted to be good at soccer; although running was never my strong suit. I I tried goalkeeping when I was 11 or so and the coordination aspects from other sports sort of made the position stick. Plus, I didn't have to run :)
Throughout your youth career, you saw multiple women's professional leagues come & go. When did professional soccer become a reality for you? When did you know that was something you wanted to work towards?
Throughout most of my collegiate career, there was no women's pro league in the US. I was coming up on graduation with the reality that the only way for me to keep playing would be overseas. It was a stroke of luck that the NWSL started in the winter of 2013. I had taken a medical red shirt my freshman season so I played a fifth year and graduated just before the very first draft instead of that summer before, which would have faced me with the reality of being overseas already or fully immersed into a 9-5 life.
How would you quantify the importance of the NWSL for the expansion of youth soccer on the women's side in the United States? Does a strong league with more teams lead to higher youth soccer involvement?
I don't know numbers or stats on current female participation, however I do know the importance of having role models and accessibility to high level soccer absolutely inspires more kids to play. It also provides coaches more structure and resources on how to coach players at every age and level.
You spent multiple seasons in Seattle and currently play in Orlando; at the age of 28, talk about the development of the league itself and where you see if going from here.
There have certainly been changes and shifts in the league in the now 5+ seasons I've been a part of it. I would say the biggest from a club perspective is the benefit and movement to add MLS backed teams that provide greater resources and levels of professionalism than those who don't. By adding teams like Houston, Orlando and Utah- teams that wish to join the league knowing what the standard of living and training is for elite players. And for teams that aren't MLS backed, the commitment to try and match the standards set elsewhere is great. Unfortunately, as we've seen with Boston and Kansas City, not all teams are able to commit to the funding and work it takes to compete and be a desirable destination for players. I hope we continue to see expansion to teams with great MLS (and even some USL) backings. The more teams in the league, the more opportunity girls all over the world have to play and compete at the highest level.
You've had the opportunity to work with multiple US Women's National Team goalkeepers on a regular basis, such as Hope Solo and Ashlyn Harris. How has that level of competition helped you develop as a goalkeeper? What are the major takeaways from those experiences?
I always say that there are things you can learn from any keeper you train with- be it the best in the world or a recent college grad who's just looking to gain experience. Obviously, players like Hope and Ash have more to offer from a learning perspective, but truly every day is a chance to compete and get better. I trained with Hope for many years and I think simply getting to watch her- how she trained, how she competed and how she moved in the goal- has definitely helped shape the keeper I am today. At this stage- 5/6 years in, I think there's now just little pieces I'm looking to add- and Ash has a lot of those pieces. She's very good at breakaway scenarios and that was a piece of my game I knew coming into this season I wanted to improve on. Every day- I try to push the keepers I train with, and they do the same.
As well as playing domestically, you've spent multiple seasons in multiple countries playing professionally. What were those experiences like? Is the level of play as high as it is in the NWSL? Is women's professional soccer well-followed overseas?
I've played in both Cyprus and Australia (two seasons). Both were "compliment seasons," meaning I was able to go and play in our off-season for the NWSL. The two were very different- with Champions League being such a cool experience and definitely peaked my interest in European soccer maybe somewhere down the line. The leagues in Australia have a lot of crossover between American and international players who play in both leagues- so the standard is high. I would say, however, the biggest difference is that in Australia the non-international players are much younger at 16-19 being the norm. Collegiate teams do not exist so when you're good enough to play, you do. In that sense, it poses different challenges. It's a very fast game. But it's also a greater learning environment.
What is your strongest attribute as a goalkeeper? Being a professional athlete is a hard achievement in itself but sticking around for as long as you have and being successful is a lot harder. What do you attribute this longevity to?
I think the hardest thing about being a goalkeeper is managing the highs and lows of the game. The position is very much in the spotlight. When you're doing great, you're on top of the world and it gets noticed. When it's not, you're the one everyone looks to blame first. Keeping a level head in either scenario isn't easy. I haven't been perfect with it certainly, but I've managed to keep creating opportunities for myself and for the most part, working hard and taking advantage of them.
What advice would you give young goalkeepers who aspire to reach the level you have in your career?
Never stop learning. Nobody has "arrived" and even the best in the world have faults. Keep pushing to make yourself better.
I was born in Ohio, most of my family lives in Ohio, and my cousin played football at Ohio State so naturally I'm a buckeye...I won't hold being a Michigan Wolverine against you but I have to ask; who has the better sports program, Michigan or Ohio State?!
I mean... GO BLUE!