First up: a new head coach and qualifying for the 2020 Olympics
Earlier today, US Soccer announced the appointment of former USWNT player Kate Markgraf as the WNT’s new general manager. Markgraf, USSF president Carlos Cordeiro, and newly-promoted sporting director Earnie Stewart were available on a conference call to discuss this new structure within the federation. According to Cordeiro, Markgraf and whoever replaces Stewart as the MNT GM will report to Stewart, who will in turn report to USSF’s CEO. Cordeiro called it a “collaboration,” with Stewart providing overall leadership.
Markgraf gave the following statement at the beginning of the conference:
“This new position is exciting for the development and evolution of US women’s soccer, from the full USWNT all the way through the youth teams. All of my life experiences, both on and off the field, have led me to this opportunity, and I cannot wait to get started. I’m excited to work on our next challenge on the women’s side, which is to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, and to set our youth teams up for success next summer. As I sit alongside Earnie and am advised by some of the best soccer minds in the country, I’m excited to help build a platform for continued success for many years to come.”
The timeline of her hiring began back in February of this year, when Markgraf said that USSF vice president Cindy Parlow Cone reached out to her as the leader of the USWNT GM search committee. Markgraf had further conversations with chief sport development officer Nico Romaijn and chief soccer officer Asher Mendelsohn as part of a review process she called both “enjoyable” and “rigorous.” The announcement was held until after the Women’s World Cup at the agreement of all parties in order to keep the focus on the WNT.
Now Markgraf will face several challenges, some of them more immediate than others. The most urgent is probably the senior WNT head coach position, but there are also youth team issues, given how both programs fared at the most recent U-17 and U-20 World Cups. Markgraf said her goal is to have the WNT head coach position filled “as quickly as possible,” but not to the detriment of picking the right person for the position.
“All things being equal,” she said, “We of course would consider both [male and female] candidates, but I would like to hire a woman if all things were being equal. But in the end it will come down to the best candidate regardless of gender.”
Cordeiro said that the Markgraf will head a search committee comprised of USSF’s in-house “soccer experts” and “perhaps one or two people from the board,” and that the search begins now.
As for the youth teams, it’s obviously early days, but Markgraf repeatedly emphasized development over results, calling development “the primary interest.” Her goal is to “position them for success through building an infrastructure that can be institutionalized and is not person dependent.”
“In terms of the degree of which there’s change or no change,” she said, “At this point I could not answer that. But I can tell you that a full evaluation and looking at everything will be done so that we can move forward on a successful track.”
Markgraf is also aware that USSF and NWSL are important to each other, citing her own experience in two previous domestic professional soccer leagues. “NWSL is by far the most successful out of all of them,” she said, “Not just because of its tenure, but because of the quality that it’s producing on the field. That quality is increasing every single year and I look at that, as well as US Soccer who help subsidize the national team salaries, as a grooming ground for our next best talent as well as refining our world class players in tough competition, week in and week out. So I look forward to a continued partnership and working closely with those involved in NWSL.”
Overall, Markgraf didn’t say much in terms of specifics - understandable given she probably hasn’t had a chance to do much acclimating yet. The most interesting thing to come out of the conference was probably Cordeiro naming Markgraf as “central to that discussion” about the United States hosting the 2027 Women’s World Cup. He pointed to Markgraf as someone who could also be an “external liason” between USSF and organizations like Concacaf and FIFA.
It’s a lot to take on, and of course time will tell if Markgraf is successful in the position. She’s entering the fray at a transition point in the women’s program, not just at the senior level, but as the youth WNTs search to regain some footing after a tough 2018, and as USSF continues to try to build up their development pipeline through the girls’ DA. In effect, she could impact the future of the WNT for years to come at every level, which could also have ripple effects through the international women’s game. The best of luck to her, and hopefully a very nice paycheck as well.