Chicago — Members of the NWSL were featured on panels during the 2019 United Soccer Coaches Convention in Chicago. Highlights from the panels:
Champions of Respect: Strategies for Creating LGBTQ Inclusive Teams Education Session
Featuring: Nevin Caple, Ross Duncan, Chris Holmes and Orlando Pride defender Ali Krieger
On managing it all:
Krieger: A couple people sitting in the audience, that’s how I manage it. I don’t know if I really think twice about it. I know that I have this force within me, this drive to want to be a winner and be successful in everything that I do, and also inspire as many people as I can both young and old and I know through sport I can do that. I think that is just my mentality. This whole process, just going through my career both on and off the field, I try to manage it the best, most professional way I know how and to try and be my authentic self and try to reach as many people and connect with people, because we all are human. Just because I’m a professional player and public figure doesn’t mean I’m not a normal human being, so I really like to try and focus on that aspect of myself in connecting with fans, people, coaches, our administration and organization, and people within soccer. I really think that’s important.
Talking about sexuality within a team framework:
Krieger: Penn State, this was the first experience I had with exploring my sexuality and finding my authentic self and fluidity. I never realized I would start having those type of feelings until I reached college, and having that experience that I’m so grateful for. But, going through those experiences and through college and just being on different teams overseas as well, it was never really a thing. It was never really talked about. It was okay. So I feel like in women’s sports it’s very acceptable, more acceptable than in men’s sports. Going through school, we were all very open and honest with each other and I never went through any kind of discrimination, especially within my teammates. I had a handful of other teammates who are part of the LGBTQ community that are also very fluid. It just was never a thing we ever had to talk about it, and I’m just so thankful for that experience because it helped me go through my personal process in finding my truth and being more authentic with myself and sexuality and experiences. I feel very lucky that I had that at Penn State.
Advice to someone looking up to you:
Krieger: I think for me, I try to surround myself with really good people growing up, putting myself in challenging situations that help me grow. College did that in all aspects of my life, both personally and professionally. Control what you’re able to control, because you can’t control anybody but yourself and that’s your work ethic in everything that you do.
1 on 1 with Amanda Duffy, NWSL
Featuring: NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy and Alexi Lalas
On her day-to-day role and if it’s what a commissioner in the NWSL would do:
Duffy: It’s not just the commissioner. It’s what does the staff of a league office look like? So, if we look at ours right now at NWSL, we have as of 5 p.m. today, we’ll be at four full-time staff at the NWSL. So I think that anybody can say that’s not what a league office looks and functions like. So do I do things that a commissioner would do? I’m probably doing things that a commissioner would not do just to keep our day-to-day function.
Examples of her day-to-day duties:
Duffy: The processing of our player contracts and player transactions. Everything to do with our players, I’m in the weeds of moving that along right now. We jus recently hired [a] director [of] operations and player affairs, Liz Dalton, who is on board with us so that is going to transition away. Patrick Donnelly, director of communications, today is his last day with the league so why I say at 5 p.m. this afternoon we move to four people. So, in the time being until we fill that gap in the position, I’ll be making sure we cover the media side of our business. So there is day-to-day stuff I’m doing right now because we aren’t resourced in the right way that I don’t think a commissioner would do.
Transition from being a player to the front office:
Duffy: I played at East Carolina University. When I came out of ECU in 2003, I went into camp with the Carolina Courage. 2003 was the last year of WUSA, so I went into camp with them and spent a little more than a month with them and ended up being cut by their roster. Then I had an opportunity to go to China which SARS, the outbreak of SARS, was ongoing at that time, so I decided against going to China. I went to Virginia Beach and played in the USL W-league ,where we had an undefeated season and won the national championship of the W-League. Wonderful season and I was anticipating to be back in camp with the Courage following that season in August, then the league shut its doors. So I was in a position of not really knowing what the future was and I finished undergrad, finished playing in college. I was one of those players that could get to the next level, but maybe needed that year of the W-League to get me prepared for it. And then that opportunity was just gone. So I ended up going to grad school. Played a couple more years in the W-League, which was the highest level in the United States at that point. And I felt like I was continuing to get better as a player, which was really hard to have that feeling and not be able to take it to what you would say is a professional level.
When I finished grad school I was doing an internship at USL to complete my masters degree and was just like, ‘I’m not ready to stop, but I don’t know what to do?’ But, fortunately the opportunity to go to Sweden fell into my lap and I took advantage of it. Just being in Sweden and being a part of that culture. I was there for a year — by the time I was done I was 26, a couple years out of grad school and it was just like, ‘Alright, I feel ready.’ I have played now, playing professional in Sweden. I’m living over here. It’s such a wonderful life experience, but it was not going to be my life for the next five to ten years. So I just knew that it was time.
I came back and I was fortunate to have maintained relationships with Tim Holt at USL and the group there and was fortunate enough to come back and be a part of USL as soon as I got back. It was because I knew the time was right to enter the next phase of life. I didn’t have as hard as a time of taking those steps.
There were certainly times, and I think the first year I was at USL, the W-League, there was one [team] in Orlando and the W-League team from Virginia Beach was down playing and they needed players, so I think I got registered and played a game or two with them. So it was cool to still be close and involved. The thing that I miss the most and I still miss the most, is the locker room and things and friendships that happen in the locker room. You just don’t replace those in any sort of business setting. Those are friendships that for a lifetime you have and are so special to me today. The transition was really easy because I knew that it was right and I knew that I had done what I could as a player and an athlete at that point. So as I moved through the next parts of it, all of the effort and energy I would put into the training and the games — just started going into work at a computer and administratively became a more consulting problem-solving work ethic I took on.
1 on 1 with Laura Harvey, Utah Royals FC
Featuring: Utah Royals FC head coach Laura Harvey and JP Dellacamera
On the competition of the NWSL:
Harvey: It’s difficult. In our league, you’ve got to try and win every game. To try and get into the top four, you can probably afford to lose four games, maybe five and scrape in, but that’s it. That’s the joy of the league. It’s so competitive.
On the growth of the NWSL:
Harvey: I remember coming here in 2013. I had just left Arsenal and I’m thinking, ‘What have I done? This is nuts.’ And we flew by the seat of our pants probably for two years in the league. Then I think we realized as a league, we’re not just here to make sure we throw out a performance every week, but we need to create this league to be sustainable. I think since 2015 probably, that’s been the mindset: How do we make sure that this keeps being sustainable? I think personally now in this last year, with Dell Loy Hansen, the owner of Utah Royals FC, he’s had a huge influence on — we don’t just now need to be sustainable. How do we be the best league in the world? I’ve always said we’re the most competitive league in the world and I stand by it. Now it’s, how do we raise everything to make sure that we’re there and I think he set a standard for that. All the other owners and all the other people that are invested in the league have done such a brilliant job to get us to this point — I think they needed someone like Mr. Hansen, if anyone’s met him don’t know that he’s very influential when you meet him, to push that little bit further and go, ‘We can do this.’ I do believe in the last 12 months he’s done that.
I think that’s why the housing, salary cap’s gone up. I think that’s why the finances for each player’s gone up and all the other standards around the league are gradually raising. People like him are a huge influence on that.
On equality between the men’s and women’s teams in Utah and owner Dell Loy Hansen:
Harvey: Hansen] said it a lot when I first met him and anyone who’s been in the women’s game long enough sometimes think, ‘Yeah. Whatever. That’s not going to be happen.’
Everything’s equal. Everything. If you look at equality and say there’s a 50/50 split on everything, we get that.
Even to the point that when RSL came into their season and we were starting our season last year, their grass fields weren’t quite thawed out from the snow and I was sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, we’re just going to get put to the back and we’re going to have to deal with what they don’t want.’ And it was completely not that.
He’s a huge influence on that, but everyone within in the club — even Mike Petke, the head coach of RSL, we sat in a meeting and it was like, ‘Right. 50/50. What do you want?’ I was like, ‘Wow, I get a say? That doesn’t normally happen.’
Super lucky. Players have loved it. But I think now from our perspective, internally, we want to give back to them and [Hansen] specifically by winning.
On becoming Utah’s head coach and coaching players like Amy Rodriguez and Becky Sauerbrunn:
Harvey: Amy Rodriguez was finally going to play for me. She’s never being traded ever again. I’m never trading her.
You think Becky Sauerbrunn’s a good player, and then you coach her and you realize how good she is. And not just how good she is, but how much she doesn’t actually think she’s that good, which is mind-blowing to me. So humble. I’m like, ‘No, you’re exceptional.’ It’s been a joy coaching someone like Becky. Even at the point of her career when she’s won everything, done everything, she still wants to learn. She still wants to be better every day and you can’t ask for much more than that.
On the evolution of her coaching style:
Harvey: I think I used to be an idealist. This is the way the game should be played. That’s probably been a big change in me. I think the sentence I say a lot now is, ‘You’ve got to play what the game gives you.’ Sometimes the idealist in me is withering away sometimes because our league is going very transitional.
In 2014 and 2015, when Seattle were very successful, we were a very possession-oriented team and the two teams who were successful in those years were us and [Kansas City] and we played very similar styles. … The same question that’s being asked of [North Carolina] now was ‘How do we stop Seattle and Kansas?’ The way to stop us at the time is to go transitional, so now it’s flipped itself. For everyone going against Carolina, it’s how do we stop Carolina? How do we compete with them? We’ve all realized that we have to be able to deal with how good they are in transition, both sides of the ball. And be prepared of how you’re going to prevent that potentially and how you’re going to stop that when they’re doing it.
I think the idea for me is I want the game to be beautiful and I want us to make a thousand passes and it to be like this heaven. But sometimes the game’s not like that so that’s been a big development in me.
I think I’ve finished fifth three years in a row, which is horrendous. So I think now with me I’m more about — I want to win. I don’t really care how. I just want to win. Honestly.
Global Spotlight: 2019 Women’s World Cup, Presented by Fox Sports
Featuring: Kyndra de St. Aubin, JP Dellacamera, Alexis Lalas and NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy
On the NWSL being on a global stage at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup:
Duffy: We had more than 50 NWSL players playing in the World Cup in 2015. Certainly, the United States are at least half of those, but a number of other countries were represented by NWSL in 2015 and we expect the same in 2019. Thinking about the Australians that are playing in NWSL, Brazil, Japan and several other countries that have great representation and are currently playing in the league and really make it — we talk about the U.S. women’s national team being the best national team in the world. We look at NWSL as the best women’s professional soccer league in the world. That is supported by the fact that so many U.S. players are playing in it, but so many other internationals are in this league and driving the competition and driving the level of play better each season. It is a destination for players around the world.
On the growth of women’s soccer:
Duffy: I think from the league standpoint and how I’ve seen it evolve, is that it’s less about the women’s soccer business being charity driven. It is a business and people are approaching it with that mindset and there are opportunities to build the business of women’s professional soccer or women’s soccer in general. We’re able to work in general in the same business forums that we see on the men’s side. I think a lot of that has been driven also by the growth of the sport in the United States, not just women’s soccer in general over the recent years, but the sport over the last 10-15 years. There are more fans, more supporters. … We still maintain such a high level of youth participants in soccer and it’s helped all of the women’s side really move forward and accelerate at a pace that is good for the game.
Looking ahead to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and having the sport on a global stage:
Duffy: The tournament as a whole is going to be wonderful and the visibility. To have the women’s game on the global stage that it will be on and to know that so much of that visibility will come back into and through NWSL through the stories that will be told through the performance of the players — the players that will then come back to the United States and represent their clubs is going to be a great moment for NWSL and will really continue to push our growth forward.