Skip to content

Richmond athletes' soccer dreams take flight in Portugal

Natalie Cooke and Dakota Chan will play in Portugal’s top-division league
Natalie Cooke (front) has played soccer in Richmond since she was 5.

Two Richmond soccer players recently had a breakthrough in their professional careers.

Natalie Cooke and Dakota Chan are heading to Portugal this weekend to play in the country's top-division league as team members of Länk FC Vilaverdense for the remainder of the season.

Cooke, a 24-year-old Richmond Secondary grad, said this is a step up for her soccer career. After graduating from the University of Nebraska Lincoln in the U.S, Cooke decided to pursue a professional soccer career.

Previously, Cooke played for two seasons on teams in the second division in Norway and Iceland and her teammate Chan played in Finland.

While in Europe, Cooke's main focus was soccer, but there were breaks when she was able to travel around Europe and "do a little bit of exploring."

“It's been really fun to meet some awesome people and also travel,” she said.

Länk FC Vilaverdense currently ranks last in Portugal’s top division and Cooke said she hopes by joining the team, she and Chan can help improve the team’s ranking in the league.

“It's the top division in Portugal so there's lots of other good teams," Cooke said. "It can be a good stepping stone to finding some bigger and better teams possibly in the future."

Cooke started playing in the Richmond Girls Soccer Association, now called Richmond United, when she was five years old. Since then, soccer has been a big part of her life.

She joined the female soccer team at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in nutrition and exercise health sciences.

“I have really enjoyed soccer. I love the team aspect of playing with a whole group of people and working together. It's also fun to run around after a stressful day and to have something just to relax,” said Cooke.

For those who are interested in pursuing a professional career in sports, Cooke said it’s important to focus on self-development.

“Obviously, you can learn a lot playing in games and (with) different teams," she said. "But in order to reach that next level, you really got to take responsibility for your development and do extra stuff on the side, and that has worked for me."

But it's also important to remember to have fun, Cooke added.

"Sometimes in the competitiveness of a high-level sport, you can lose touch of that," she said. "But I think, most importantly, just remind yourself why you love the game and have fun at it."

Got an opinion on this story or any others in Richmond? Send us a letter or email your thoughts or story tips to [email protected].