Published Jun 4, 2024

Written By: Thomas Costello
Photography: Ralph Schudel




The Columbus Eagles aren’t like most WPSL teams. It’s part of a small group of clubs across the country that aren’t an extension of a large youth organization. The Eagles exist as a team to bring professional women’s soccer to Central Ohio, and the players who make up its roster bring a diverse set of experience – as diverse as the city in which it plays. On Sunday, May 19, forward Nikki Cox represented the Eagles and what it hopes to do on the field this season. 


Although the result didn’t end like the Eagles hoped, allowing a match-tying penalty in the 88’ minute, the 4-4 draw included an East Region Player of the Week performance by Cox. A performance not seen by the Central Ohioan in some time.


“Not since high school,” Cox said. “It’s been a while.”


Cox scored all four goals for the Eagles that Sunday afternoon. Something the forward didn’t do during her four seasons playing at Bowling Green University. The first came 16 minutes into the match. 


After the Eagles sent a pass into the 18-yard box, the second cross into the box turned into the first goal. Cox sent an arching header towards the top of the net, with the Corktown WFC goalkeeper trying to stop it, but instead knocking it in for the first of four goals. 


Columbus went on to allow two unanswered goals, heading into the halftime locker room down 2-1. 


“It wasn't going as we wanted to in the first half,” Cox said. “I felt, not pressure, but just like I wanted to make sure that I was taking ownership and leading the team to hopefully get a win.”


Before the season, Head Coach Matt Ogden spoke with Cox and a group of Eagles veterans. Cox played with the Eagles sporadically during her college years, but became a permanent fixture two years ago after graduating.


Coach Ogden told the veterans in the squad that there were a lot of younger, college age, players coming into the club. That meant he needed Cox and others to be leaders. The forward showed that new group of players what it meant to lead in the second half.


In the span of 29 minutes, Cox added three more that didn’t need help from a goalkeeper. The first goal of the half was indicative of what Coach Ogden expects of his players. Cox’s second goal came off a mistake she made.


Holding possession in its offensive half of the field, Cox attempted a backheel pass down the sideline, but went to the feet of Corktown. Cox didn’t get down on herself, or stop playing. Instead, the Eagle intercepted the pass that followed the turnover and dribbled it 15 yards before slotting it into the bottom left corner of the net from 18 yards out. 


The third goal for Cox almost looked like an attempted cross, landing in the top right corner of the posts, past the outstretched keeper’s arms.


With three goals already, Cox already did the exceptional. The fourth goal moved Cox’s day to the spectacular.


Corktown passed back to the keeper, with the match tied 3-3. Columbus pressed the backline, and the keeper sent the ball forward. It didn’t get more than 10 yards before Cox intercepted the pass. From a tough angle, over 20 yards from goal, Cox dribbled the ball once, turned and sent in her seventh shot on goal in the match. The shot was a laser, hitting against the left side netting. 


“I was just getting shots on target,” Cox said. “That can make or break you having a scoring opportunity is making sure they're on target. I know I have a lot of games where I shoot a lot, but I missed the frame altogether. But that game I was getting them on target and they were going in.”


While the final goal didn’t lead to an Eagles victory, it still secured an away draw to start the season for Columbus. 


Last season, the Eagles made strides, leading to a 6-1-1 record and a rare playoff appearance for a side that’s gone through its struggles in the past few years. After the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Columbus brought in its founder Mark Wise to coach for a season, giving Coach Ogden a summer off following an NCAA season filled with COVID protocol. 


Not only coaches but venues. The Eagles moved between collegiate and high school fields. Then, last year, Ogden’s return and a new home at Historic Crew Stadium propelled the Eagles to new heights. That consistency brings Cox and her veteran teammates back each season.


It goes beyond the tangibles too. 


“I also think there's a lot of girls soccer players in Columbus who just love to play soccer,” Cox said.


Now, the Eagles hope to add to its upward momentum. With performances from leaders like Cox, creating goals that help instill club values into a new group of players, there’s a chance to go even further.


“I think we have as good a chance as anyone to go the length of the season, and that's what we're hoping for, that we obviously don't ever want to set our standards lower than winning everything or winning every game,” Cox said. “So I think with the group that we have, we have the ability to go as far in the tournament as anyone else.”