Stephanie Cox has nearly done it all.
An Olympic gold medal. First Hispanic woman to play soccer for the United States in the World Cup. A starting role in Women’s Professional Soccer the past three years.
Four years ago, the former standout at also started every game as a defensive back at the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the youngest player on the U.S. squad.
This World Cup, things are different. Cox is back on the U.S. women’s team currently competing in Germany—only her role has changed from starter to substitute, coming off the bench in two of the Americans’ three World Cup matches.
But Cox, 25, has embraced her new backup duties.
“I had a lot of ups and downs in the last four years since the last World Cup, so I think I appreciate the experience more,” said Cox. “I’m making the most of my time with my teammates and every moment when I get out there, whether it’s in practice or in a game.”
Sharing comes easy to Cox. Growing up in Elk Grove, her parents took in more than 100 foster children—most of them infants. The experience proved valuable to Cox both as an athlete and an individual, adding perspective during challenging moments in her professional career.
“It made me aware of how blessed I am to have a stable family, such great parents, and what a responsibility we have to give to others who are in need,” said Cox, who remains involved with charity work while juggling commitments to the U.S. national team and the Women’s Professional Soccer league.
At the same time, a spot on the bench hasn’t dimmed Cox’s accomplishments, which include two league championships and a Delta League Most Valuable Player award at Elk Grove. Cox, whose maiden name is Lopez, was also a Parade Magazine All-American and a member of the University of Portland soccer team that won the 2005 NCAA women’s national championship. She’s a starting defensive back for the Boston Breakers in the WPS.
Cox spoke with Elk Grove Patch by phone this week from Germany as she and the rest of the American team were preparing for their World Cup match against Sweden on Wednesday. (Sweden won; the Americans will play Brazil on Sunday in the quarterfinals.)
You’ve received many different honors throughout your soccer career. Which award or achievement has meant the most to you?
In my senior year I won the Senior Lowe’s CLASS Award in college at the University of Portland. That award stands for four different pillars: character, class, community and competition. So it kind of encompasses “student-athlete” as a whole. That was pretty special to receive that award.
Growing up in Elk Grove, you helped lead Elk Grove High school to a pair of Delta League titles. How did these experiences help prepare you for a professional career?
I remember my freshman year, everything was kind of overwhelming—I felt like a little kid on the varsity team. But as I got older, I realized I had to step out of my shell and realize that the team relied on me to be successful. I think that really expanded my role and my level of confidence, and definitely helped me at the next level.
How proud did you feel in 2007, when you were the youngest player on the US World Cup squad and also the first Hispanic player on the women’s national team?
Now that four years have gone by, I’ve kind of realized what an awesome thing that was. I couldn’t realize it back then. Everything was focused on the day-to-day, but now I look back and it was an awesome experience to be able to play with such veteran players. And to be the first Hispanic to break into the national team and be a role model for other Hispanic girls out there playing soccer is definitely a great honor.
After you started all six games during the 2007 World Cup, this tournament has you playing a different role from the bench. Has it been difficult to adjust to being a substitute?
It’s difficult having a different role, but I think that I’ve realized there’s value in every role out there and it’s an opportunity to show even more character as a sub player, to be a true team player. It’s very challenging—it’s almost more challenging than being a starter, so I’m excited about that challenge and how to be supportive on game day.
You were a past spokesperson for Casey Family Services, one of the country’s largest foster care organizations. What was it like growing up in a house where your parents cared for so many different foster children?
My parents have been taking them in since I was probably about 10 or 11. They’ve had over a hundred babies come through their home since I left home. I grew so much in that experience. I remember at Christmas, wanting more presents and knowing that I had to share because it all had to go around, but I wouldn’t change that experience for the world.
Could you see yourself caring for foster children in your own home someday?
I don’t know if I’ll host foster children, but I definitely want to have an open household. Right now when I play in Boston, I live with a host family. That’s a special experience and I appreciate them opening their home to me. There are so many ways to use your home and family to help other people out.
As a professional soccer player and member of the women’s national team, how do you balance your athletic commitments with charity work?
I definitely realized when I was older, that would have to take a different form because soccer was a huge part of my life. My mission is to the girls on this team, especially with being a sub...I think the [team] can see my [character] and respect that and that’s my outreach.
What do you remember from the 2008 Olympic medal ceremony in Beijing when the U.S. women’s team won the gold medal?
That was surreal. I just remember walking out with 18 other girls and holding hands and stepping up on that podium together…I was so proud to be part of that team and represent our country, and to hear the national anthem was pretty awesome. I had a smile plastered on my face the whole time.