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BY MAVERICK PALLACK/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Former Pilots star comes out of retirement during Women's World Cup to help Reign on the field


In the 2015 National Women's Soccer League final, Kansas City FC defeated Seattle Reign on a late goal at Providence Park.

After the defeat, Reign FC Stephanie Cox retired, ending a seven-year pro career.

It was symbolic that the game came in the city where she was a national championship-winning sophomore at the University of Portland in 2005.

Cox's career included Women's World Cup appearances, NCAA championships and a 2008 Olympic gold medal.

In 2019, Cox returned to Reign FC as an assistant coach. She filled in on drills when the team needed numbers.

Yet, something was missing. She began to yearn to return as a player and debated a comeback.

"I just had a feeling inside, whenever I would play," Cox said. "My husband (Brian Cox) was like, 'Just give it a try.'"

When the team needed players due to the 2019 World Cup, she took her chance. On Wednesday, May 29, she talked with Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski.

Following that conversation, her next step was to get more match-fit, which director of high performance Nick Leman helped her do as quickly as possible.

By Sunday, June 2, she was suited up for her first NWSL game since 2015, and eventually her first start on June 15 against Washington.

"It's fun coming back after so long," Cox said. "You have an opportunity to reinvent yourself. … I don't think I take it for granted because I didn't have it for a long time. I love every minute that I'm out there."

This all set up a special return for the 33-year-old defender. In the 83rd minute Friday against the Portland Thorns, Cox stepped back onto the Providence Park pitch as a substitute, with Reign FC up 1-0.

"This environment is just unbelievable," Cox said. "Warming up toward the end of the game and going up 1-0, I knew I had a chance to go in. I was nervous. I was just excited I had an opportunity to help my team close the win out."

Knowing of her recent run as an assistant, Andonovski felt comfortable subbing her in to help lead and solidify the defense. Cox and Reign FC held strong and won 1-0.

Andonovski said Cox was in charge of part of the field.

"She organized the team in a fashion where we wouldn't give up any opportunities," he said.

Although Cox worries that her coaching from the bench is annoying, she has tried her best to balance coaching and playing by bringing a different dynamic as a teammate.

"It's fun to be a mentor to some of these players and to be around them," Cox said. "Some of the girls came over to my house and played with my daughters. I'm the only mom on the team, so I add something new. I'm happy to be a peer now, rather than a coach."

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