In the sixth minute of a U16 girls soccer match between Belgium and the United States in late spring 2017, an American midfielder played a through-ball into the box to forward Abbie Kotter who tucked the ball home past Belgium’s keeper for the first of five U.S. goals in its 5-1 victory over the European side.
The goal by Kotter, a native of Providence, and her assist in the 23rd minute made few headlines, wasn’t on SportsCenter and will likely not be remembered by more than a handful of people. For Kotter, though, scoring a goal with the U.S. National team was the first major payoff from a lifetime of dedication to the beautiful game.
“It was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me,” Kotter said. “I felt like all of the training, practicing had actually really, really paid off, finally. Just the repetition and being able to be calm in the moment and place it where it needed to be.”
Kotter described the hours she puts into training as “insane” and “countless,” which can be partly shown by the fact that she plays for La Roca Futbol Club, a U.S. Soccer Development Academy team based in Kaysville. She must drive the nearly two and a half hours both ways at least four times a week for practice and also for games — half of which are out-of-state contests. But this dedication, according to Kotter, is a product of who she is and her love of the game.
“Anything that I do and that I love doing or that I need to do, I want to do my best at that,” Kotter said. “And from experience, I’ve totally learned that putting in the work does get you the results. Just knowing that, it’s definitely kept me motivated because then I know I’m improving every time I touch the ball, every time I go to practice.”
The love for the game that drives Kotter came quickly after she was introduced to the sport. Initially, the 16-year-old girl from Providence and her sister was encouraged by her father, Kurt, to sign up for soccer as a way to stay in shape for distance running. Later, Kotter’s sister asked to join a club team to her father’s surprise. Inspired by her older sibling, Abbie followed suit and was immediately hooked.
“I just totally fell in love with the game,” Kotter said. “I loved everything about it.”
Kotter was 12 when she joined La Roca, one of the best soccer clubs in Utah. With the club, she has won two state cub championships and a Desert Premier League Championship. It was through La Roca that the then-15-year-old soccer player was able to play in front of U.S. national team scouts on several different occasions.
In December 2017, La Roca was holding one of these camps with several scouts looking for high-level players.
“I distinctly remember thinking about how crazy it would be to have national coaches watching my games,” Kotter said. “Then I remember just shifting my attitude from thinking about what they would be thinking, to thinking about how I was just going to do my best and be me and only worry about what I could control on the field.”
Whatever she did to calm herself and do her best clearly impressed the coaches as they sent an email to Kotter’s coach, Felipe Diaz, on Jan. 10 to relay their invitation for her to participate in the U16 Girls’ National Team Camp in Florida later that month. When Diaz gave her the news, Kotter said she “could not believe it,” saying she read the invitation multiple times to fully grasp the entirety of it.
“Getting the first invitation, I could not believe it,” Kotter said. “I had to read it a couple of times to realize that I was actually getting called up because it just meant so much to me. Because the hours I put into soccer, it’s insane, it’s countless. So just kind of feeling like it’s being paid off by just by being able to go and represent my country, just gratitude, that’s all I was feeling.”
Kotter was one of just two of the 22 girls at the camp who were not on the current U.S. team roster or had been on it in the past. But as a result of the camp, Kotter was place on the spring roster for the national team. Due to a foot injury, she did not travel with the team to Italy or Slovenia as part of the Torneo delle Nazioni international competition.
By the time the third tournament for the team came around, Kotter’s foot was healed. But leaving her home country — even briefly — wasn’t something that came natural for someone who’d spent most of her life in small-town Providence.
“Portugal was super stressful for me,” Kotter said. “I’d never been out of the country. And there I was, sitting in the Salt Lake City airport. I’d left my parents, about to leave for a week and a half to go play soccer with a bunch of girls that I didn’t really know.”
As rough as the travel may have been for the teenager, Kotter said the experience abroad with the team was a positive one and not just because of the team won all three of its games.
“It was so fun to just talk with them and get to hang out with them,” Kotter said. “We did some team bonding activities which were super fun because it opened me up to everyone and their personalities.”
The other girls even gave Kotter a nickname, which was necessary because there were three Abbies on the team, including Kotter. They eventually settled on “Utah” since no one on the team outside of Kotter had ever set foot inside the Beehive State, making her a bit of a curiosity.
Whereas the travel and social aspects of joining the national team were a challenge at first, the on-field portion of the trip came as naturally as it always does for Kotter.
“It was an easier transition than I was expecting,” Kotter said. “Everyone is so good. Everyone knows what they’re doing. Everyone is there to do their job and play their role on the field.”
In the three games the team played — 5-1, 2-1 and 2-1 wins over Belgium, Portugal and Switzerland, respectively, Kotter played 132 minutes. In those minutes she had one goal and one assist, both against Belgium where she played 62 minutes — the most of all three games.
Moving forward there are few certainties when it comes to playing with the national team again. Kotter said she isn’t sure if she’ll be invited back for future national team camps. Still, she is grateful for the opportunity.
“I just feel so blessed,” Kotter said, “to have been able to wear the USA crest. To represent the youth of our country playing the sport that I love.”
Kotter said she will “control what I can control” by working hard with La Roca, where she currently is playing this fall season and preparing for a college career. As of this summer, Kotter has verbally committed to play for BYU.