Even for those who saw it coming, today's announcement that Seattle Reign defender Stephanie Cox is retiring from professional soccer still hurts. A lot. Cox was quietly one of the best defenders in the NWSL, with a left foot unlike any other in the league. She also was a team leader who contributed to the best locker room environment I've ever witnessed.
If you need further proof of the kind of impact Cox had on her teammates, watch the video above to hear what her teammates and coach had to say about her.
After giving birth to Future Reign Star Kaylee Cox in 2013, Cox joined the Reign midway through their inaugural season. Since then, she's played in 49 matches—tallying four assists and leading a defense that had a league-best 0.83 goals against average in 2014 and was the second best defense in 2015.
Cox does all the little things. Her positioning and one-on-one defending are so strong that she rarely has to make a last-second dive or tactical foul. In fact, she committed just 16 fouls and earned only one yellow card in her two and a half years with the Reign. Cox never folds under pressure, either. If you need somebody to help the team recapture its shape and control the flow of the game, you turn to Cox.
"On the field, [Cox] is by far the best left back that I have ever worked with and had the privilege of watching play," coach Laura Harvey said in a Reign FC press release. "A lot of the credit for how successful the team has been over these last two seasons comes down to her."
While her defensive work is stellar, Cox's offensive contributions were another big reason the Reign dominated possession in their last two seasons. If the other team doesn't get the ball, it's hard for them to score. Both Kim Little and Jess Fishlock have said that Cox makes their attacking jobs so much easier. In fact, Fishlock said in a post-match interview this year that she's never seen anybody cross as well as Cox. Seriously, who else can send in balls like this time after time after time.
In addition to her contributions on the field, Cox brought us one of the Reign's most popular sidekicks. Her daughter Kaylee—deemed number 14.5 by the team—was present at training and matches, and even followed the team on cross-country trips on occasion. For Cox, being able to share her passion with her daughter was one of the biggest highlights of her Reign career.
"Kaylee signing autographs after the semi-final, all the away game flights and traveling from person to person who would play with her. I will be forever grateful for our players and staff who took care of her, made special ‘Reign lady shirts' (Kaylee's name for the logo) for her and covered her booboos with bandaids," said Cox.
Are the tears flowing yet?
The good news is that while Cox is hanging up her playing boots, she'll still be right around the corner. Cox accepted a coaching position for Gig Harbor High School's women's team. With her soccer pedigree and leadership, I have a feeling Gig Harbor will be grateful to have her as long as they can.
Those who only know Cox from her Reign career might not realize the impressive career she had with the U.S. Women's National Team, which began in 2006. During her 89 career USWNT caps, Cox was a critical part of the U.S. teams that earned a bronze in the 2007 World Cup, a gold in the 2008 Olympics, and a silver medal in the 2011 World Cup. She was one of the last players cut before the 2012 London Olympics, where the U.S. took home another gold medal. After performing well with the Reign, she received a few call-ups in 2013 and 2014 by both Tom Sermanni and Jill Ellis.
It's going to be extremely difficult to replace Cox, although I'm sure Coach Harvey already has a few names in mind, including utility player Kiersten Dallstream or one of the Reign's two first-round picks in the NWSL Draft. Instead of being sad for too long, I'm going to remain grateful we got to see her in a Reign jersey for two and a half great seasons. Thanks for everything, Stephanie.