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Women’s soccer takes center stage at this year’s United Soccer Coaches convention

Portland Thorns' Crystal Dunn (19) heads the ball away during a National Women's Soccer League Championship Game held at Providence Park in Portland, Ore. on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Adam Lapierre/The Oregonian via AP)

It’s fitting that in this women’s World Cup year, women’s soccer will take center stage at this year’s United Soccer Coaches convention.

The annual gathering always welcomes many of American soccer’s top thinkers and influencers, and plays host to the National Women’s Soccer League and Major League Soccer drafts. Those two events are high on the marquee again this year, with the NWSL holding its draft Thursday at noon and MLS holding its draft Friday at 1 p.m. (the Union hold the No. 13 overall pick). Each draft will be streamed on its league’s website.

But the event that might be the most significant will have a foreign accent. On Thursday evening, members of the French soccer federation will hold a seminar on the country’s World Cup hosting plans. They’ve brought the World Cup trophy with them, which should be a popular selfie stop for the convention’s many attendees.

Expect a healthy dose of news all week, from trades to news conferences with the heads of the NWSL and MLS. The NWSL’s Orlando Pride notably don’t have a head coach at the moment, though a hire is reportedly imminent.

NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy will likely get grilled Thursday on whether northern New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC has been ordered to shape up after a barrage of reports last year on substandard training conditions at the club.

She’ll also likely be asked when the NWSL will hire a new commissioner. No one has officially held the title for almost two years now. Duffy is the highest-ranking executive.

Duffy presided over a NWSL board of governors meeting on Tuesday at the convention site. In the room were a number of club executives, as well as U.S. Soccer Federation CEO Dan Flynn and chief operating officer Jay Berhalter. (U.S. Soccer heavily subsidizes the NWSL, and some NWSL staff work in U.S. Soccer’s Chicago headquarters.)

Sky Blue was represented by president and general manager Tony Novo. Approached by the Inquirer and Daily News after the meeting ended, Novo declined to offer any on-the-record comments about the proceedings or the state of his club.

The board will meet again Wednesday.

On Friday, MLS commissioner Don Garber — now in his 20th year in the job — will take his usual peppering about all manner of subjects. Chief among them might be whether the draft has outlived its usefulness now that so many top prospects come up through clubs’ youth academies instead of college soccer. The Athletic reported Tuesday that the annual scouting combine for college prospects might be axed after this year.

The capstone to the week will come Saturday night, when former Philadelphia Atoms coach Al Miller is honored with the Walt Chyzowych lifetime achievement award. Miller coached the 1973 Atoms team that won the North American Soccer League title, the last championship claimed by any Philadelphia professional soccer team.

Chyzowych had deep Philadelphia ties, too. He grew up in the city, played for Temple and the professional Ukrainian Nationals and Spartans, and later coached Philadelphia Textile, Wake Forest, the Ukrainian Nationals, the U.S. men’s national team and the indoor Fever.

An award for a distinguished playing career will also be presented to U.S. women’s national team legend Michelle Akers.
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