(photo: Eckerd College)
The American soccer community is a close-knit family, where a single event can ripple across an untold number of friendships and connections. Successes are shared, passion for the sport is amplified, and in cases of heartbreak, there is often a strong, unified response.
Unfortunately, recent weeks have demanded a display of the latter, as those from the club level all the way up to the U.S. women’s national team have joined to mourn the loss of Rachel Price, an 18-year-old standout who was well on the way to fulfilling her soccer dreams.
A member of several U.S. girls national teams, Price had completed her freshman season at Eckerd College before she and a friend, 19-year-old Jamaree Cook, were killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver Feb. 28 in St. Cloud, Fla.
The tragedy prompted a show of support from throughout the sport — including U.S. national team players Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd, as well as U.S. legend Mia Hamm — and Rachel’s passing has affected two clubs in the Florida Premier League.
Price was a standout at Space Coast United in her native Melbourne, Fla., and played most recently for the Tampa Bay United Hellenic women’s team, in addition to her time at Eckerd. All three groups have rallied to support the Price family and Rachel’s memory, as SCU held a memorial soccer game on March 10, and TBU Hellenic and Eckerd both plan to establish scholarships in her name.
“It’s always about the kids, and when you lose one of them, it hits you really hard,” said TBU Hellenic coach George Fotopoulos, whose wife Danielle coached Price at Eckerd. “Even though she’s not one of my four, I always consider her part of my family.”
By all accounts, Price had a similar effect on everyone she met. A well-liked soccer star who played with the U.S. at the U-15, U-17 and U-18 levels, she seemed destined for a big career in the game.
In high school, she was named Class 5A and 6A Player of the Year and earned a spot on the ESPN Rise winter all-star list. Even though she lost a Division I scholarship offer after suffering a knee injury and being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus, Price wasn’t done.
In just four games at Division II Eckerd last season, Rachel finished tied for third on the team with three goals, and she added an assist. She also became the youngest traveling member of the Hellenic’s W-League and WPSL teams.
“Rachel was probably one of the best players to come out of Florida in the last 10 years,” George Fotopoulos said. “She had competed at every level of youth soccer, internationally and even in the women’s league, and at every level she was one of the top players in the environment.”
That’s something Florida International University forward Nicole DiPerna knew well. She played alongside Price at Space Coast, then against her in the WPSL.
“She was a tough girl to say the least,” DiPerna said. “She was always fun and energetic, always wanting to get out and do something, go train or get out of the house. If we hung out, it was never in her house for more than five minutes. We were always running or training or playing, always outdoors having a good time. There was never a dull moment with Rachel.”
DiPerna helped set up Space Coast’s memorial soccer game last weekend, where participants donated money to support the Price family and were eligible for raffle prizes that included U.S. and Pele apparel. Two matches were held, with the second reserved for Price’s family and close friends.
The group is still accepting donations to an account set up through Bank of America, and those wishing to contribute can contact DiPerna via email.
Eckerd also held a memorial game and candlelight vigil, and the Tritons are raising money by selling shirts with Price’s name and jersey number. Eckerd and Hellenic players also joined to place a signed cross at the site of the accident, and further updates can be found on the TBU Hellenic Facebook page.
“I think the best word to describe Rachel was selfless,” George Fotopoulos said. “She was always putting others before herself and always extending a hand instead of throwing a fist. Those were my impressions of Rachel Price the person.”