Like her team’s UEFA Women’s Champions League run, Paris FC midfielder Daphne Corboz’s professional soccer journey is that of improbability and grit. So when asked to pick a favorite memory from her career, she struggles with a response.
“That’s really hard to say,” Corboz admits in an interview with The Athletic. “I don’t know if I could pick a particular moment.”
She pauses, then starts recounting some highlights.
There’s the time when she and Manchester City won their first Women’s Super League title in 2016 after defeating Chelsea, the defending champions. Corboz was just a rookie out of Georgetown University enjoying her first professional contract.
Or the time in 2017, when Corboz was playing for her hometown club, Sky Blue FC, and her teammate, Sam Kerr, netted four goals against Seattle Reign — one of those was assisted by Corboz. It helped secure a dramatic win for Sky Blue and set the still-standing NWSL record for most goals scored by a single player in a game.
But more recently, there’s Paris FC’s ongoing season.
So far, the Parisian team has had an almost impeccable record in Division 1 Féminine, standing 7-0-1 in year-round competition. The club’s only loss was to Lyon, 6-1 earlier this month. The team bounced back with a 6-0 victory against Saint-Etienne a week later and currently sits second in France’s top division, behind Lyon.
In the Champions League, Paris FC toppled Arsenal and Wolfsburg from the competition in a pair of surprising upsets earlier this year.
“We’re definitely an underdog. Knocking out the semifinalists and the finalist of last year puts a little bit more emphasis on you,” Corboz said. “But I think we got those results from really being a collective unit. … That needs to be our strength going forward.”
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Though they fell 2-1 in the opening group stage match at Stade Charléty against Swedish club Häcken, Corboz and Paris FC have a chance to bounce back on Thursday against another European giant in Chelsea, led by recently-announced U.S. women’s national team head coach Emma Hayes.
Though she’s now collected an impressive European resume, playing professionally was not even originally part of the plan for Corboz. The New Jersey native had her heart set on going to Princeton University and later becoming a doctor, according to her former coach Dave Nolan.
Nolan, the longtime head coach of Georgetown University’s women’s soccer team, remembers having to persuade Corboz that Georgetown was the right fit.
“Somehow, I convinced her that the soccer opportunities here would help her to continue her dreams of playing as long as she could,” he said. “So, I think once she got to college and she started to see that she was one of the best players in the country, I think the light bulb went off.”
Every decision Corboz has made in her soccer career has been meticulous and well-thought-out, with her education top of mind. After graduating from Georgetown, she was accepted to Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University around the same time she was offered a pre-contract with Manchester City.
“They flew out my parents and I to visit, and it was just, like, a soccer dream world, surrounded by 15 perfect pitches, and all the (women’s) infrastructure was identical to the men’s infrastructure,” Corboz said. “It was an opportunity I never imagined having, and obviously couldn’t turn down.”
At first, she deferred her medical school acceptance before ultimately making the tough decision to forgo medical school entirely to continue playing. Man City is where Corboz got a taste of a championship-winning season.
“I could not let go of this love I had” for soccer, Corboz said. She remembers her brother and fiancé convincing her that she could always re-apply to medical school and retake her MCATs, but her time for soccer was fleeting. “Soccer right now is the only time I can do it, and if I want to go back to medicine, if I put my mind to it (and) study a lot, hopefully, I’ll be able to have that opportunity again.”
Corboz has kept up with her studies. While at Man City, she received a master’s degree in biology. After joining Paris FC, she earned a second master’s degree and just completed her first year in a doctoral program in biology. It’s tough balancing soccer and higher education, but Paris FC, Corboz said, values players’ duality.
“Basically, they have the philosophy that the girls play soccer, but also have either studies or a job – just to have balance in their lives,” Corboz said. “So that was really attractive to me because that’s kind of what I have been living my whole life.”
Corboz joined Paris FC in 2020 and is now under contract through June 2025. She was part of an early wave of American-born athletes who chose to play in Europe. Prominent past examples have included Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath. More recently, Lindsay Horan signed with Lyon in June, after initially being on loan from the Portland Thorns, and former Notre Dame star and recent USWNT call-up Korbin Albert forwent her remaining college eligibility to sign with Paris Saint-Germain in January.
“I think as more and more men’s clubs got involved on the women’s side (in Europe), with their infrastructure and the money that they had, it grew clubs that were huge,” Corboz said. “That attracted a lot of players because of the infrastructure, but also because we all grew up watching the Champions League. To play for big clubs, I think, is a dream of everyone’s and as much as the U.S. league is super interesting, it’s also another dream to play in the Champions League.”
The move was easier for Corboz, at least logistically, because she is a dual-national with ties to France. She was born in Alabama to French parents. At the time, her father was completing his postdoctoral work at the University of South Alabama. When Corboz was 4 years old, her family moved to New Jersey, where she and her two siblings were raised.
Her father played soccer semi-professionally in France’s third division and his passion for soccer was inherited by Corboz and her younger siblings, Mael and Rachel. The three footballers, who all now play professionally in Europe, had to navigate the vast youth system in the United States with foreign-born parents unfamiliar with its nuances.
“My parents, being French, didn’t know the (soccer) system at all,” Corboz said, with a laugh. She explained how the sport wasn’t played by many girls in France, so her father didn’t initially think to sign her up to play. It wasn’t until her father was at her brother’s tournament that he saw a bunch of girls playing on a field nearby. He signed Corboz up immediately.
She eventually found her way to the Players Development Academy, a New Jersey club that’s produced top players like USWNT goalkeeper Casey Murphy and South Korea’s Casey Phair, who, in July, became the youngest player to debut in a World Cup.
“We got pretty fortunate that PDA was a 20-minute drive away from us,” Corboz said. “I got to play on one of the best teams in the country and that obviously helps in your development.” It also helped that her hometown, Greenbrook, N.J., was a short drive from Rutgers University in Piscataway, where she’d often go to watch their women’s team play, as well as Sky Blue. The two teams, at the time, shared Yurcak Field.
“I used to go to Rutgers games … and used to watch Carli Lloyd play because I used to be an attacking midfielder,” Corboz said, “I used to go to every single home game of Sky Blue.”
Once at Georgetown, Corboz developed into a two-time All-American midfielder and was even crowned the Big East Midfielder of the Year in 2013. Eventually, her younger sister Rachel also committed to Georgetown. The pair overlapped for one season when Daphne was a senior and Rachel was a freshman. It was a rare reprieve from competing against one another, like they had in high school and like they do today in France with Rachel playing for Stade de Reims.
Today, Corboz’s days are busy. Her mornings involve research for Inserm, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, from about 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for her PhD. Then, in the late afternoons, she trains with her club, before commuting 45 minutes home to Paris, which she describes as “the most beautiful city in the world.” The days may be long, but they’re worth it, Corboz says.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love it,” Corboz says. “When I think about my life, I’m like, ‘What a dream I could have never imagined.’”
Corboz will continue taking life by the day. She enjoys her research, but still dreams of becoming a doctor. She’s on track to complete her PhD program by 2025, but “will see how things develop.” The thought of retiring, or slowing down, hasn’t crossed her mind.
“As long as I’m enjoying it,” she says, “I can’t imagine stopping.”
(Top photo: Daniela Porcelli/Getty Images)