For Kate Markgraf, the focus of her new role as general manager of the United States women’s national team rests on one word — development.
Markgraf inherited a host of pressing challenges stepping into the role months away from Olympic qualifiers, namely the appointment of a new head coach. But as she tackles the brand-new position, she will focus on building a reliable future from the bottom up for women’s soccer in America.
“This new position is exciting for the development and evolution of U.S. Soccer,” Markgraf said during a conference call with reporters hours after news of her hiring broke Monday afternoon. “I can’t wait to get started. I’m excited to help build a platform for continued success for many years to come.”
From the beginning, Markgraf was the federation’s top pick for the job. The search committee, headed by U.S. Soccer vice president Cindy Parlow Cone, first reached out to Markgraf in February. During the following months, she underwent a series of rigorous interviews as the committee narrowed its selections.
But when summer came, the federation paused the process. Both Cone and U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro didn’t want the selection process to distract from the national team’s work on the field during the 2019 World Cup in France. So for more than two months, Markgraf and the federation watched and waited.
“We didn’t want there to be any distractions,” Cordeiro said. “We wanted to make sure the team was focused and they had everything they needed in France, so we made the conscious decision to wait on this announcement until now. With the World cup behind us, all of us focused on the future, we felt that this was the right time to make this announcement.”
Now, Markgraf will lead the search for a replacement for two-time World Cup champion head coach Jill Ellis, who will step down from her role at the end of the World Cup Victory Tour. Markgraf explained the hiring process will be a collaborative effort alongside newly-appointed sporting director Earnie Stewart, whose experience she values.
With the Olympics less than a year away and qualifiers fast approaching, Markgraf believes the biggest challenge during the coaching search will be balancing the need for a quick decision with seeking out the highest quality person for the position.
“Our goal, obviously, is to have that position filled as quickly as possible, but not at the detriment of not picking the right person,” Markgraf said. “So we will take our time and we will select the person who can help drive development and involvement of the women’s senior side.”
She also echoed Ellis in saying she’d like USWNT’s next coach to be a woman.
“I would of course like to hire a woman if all things are being equal,” Markgraf said. “But in the end, it will come down to the best candidate regardless of gender.”
As she works to build women’s soccer in the U.S., Markgraf said one of the first places she will look is to the National Women’s Soccer League. Due to its ability to both grow new talent and challenge existing players, Markgraf said continued support of the league will be a priority.
The league and U.S. soccer have had a relationship since its debut in 2012, although some aspects of that agreement – such as the decision to fund the salaries of national team players — have been called into question during the national team players’ fight for equitable pay.
“I played in two iterations of domestic soccer leagues here and NWSL is by far the most successful out of all of them, not just because of its tenure but because the quality it’s producing on the field,” Markgraf said. “That quality is increasing every single year, and I look at that 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.”
When discussing the future of the U.S. women’s national team, Markgraf continued to mention her focus on development.
She will strive to create a more streamlined approach to development, starting with the youngest teams, and believes that creating a unified culture with a clear path for upward mobility will allow the program to identify talented players at an earlier age and cultivate that talent more effectively. The goal is to make create an infrastructure that is institutionalized and is “not person dependent.”
And although her priority in staffing decisions lies in seeking a new head coach for the senior women’s national team, Markgraf will also begin filling a series of vacancies at the youth levels.
“The whole focus for us is development, because in the end you want this pathway in development for world-class talent happening at every level,” Markgraf said. “Results matter, but development is our primary interest.”