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Kate Markgraf is first USWNT general manager, Earnie Stewart promoted to U.S. Soccer sporting director

U.S. Soccer is expected to make the official announcement at 5 p.m. ET Monday.

Kate Markgraf as been hired as the first USWNT general manager. Here, she speaks on a panel in New York City during the International Champions Cup launch event March 29, 2019. (Photo by Mike Stobe/International Champions Cup/Getty Images)

Kate Markgraf is the first general manager of the United States women’s national team. U.S. Soccer officially announced her appointment Monday afternoon and simultaneously promoted men’s national team general manager Earnie Stewart to sporting director of the federation.

As the USWNT’s general manager, Markgraf will hire and manage the technical and administrative staffs at all levels of the U.S. women’s soccer program. She will be expected to create plans and goals for the program in the coming years, while maintaining the team’s quality ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Markgraf’s first major task will be hiring a replacement for two-time World Cup champion head coach Jill Ellis, who will retire in October at the end of the World Cup victory tour.

“We’re thrilled to have Kate as the first general manager of our women’s national team,” U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said in a statement released by the federation a few hours after Yahoo Sports first reported Markgraf’s hiring. “Having won multiple championships, she’s truly steeped in the culture of the program. At a time when more countries around the world are investing heavily in women’s soccer and competition is getting more intense, Kate will help ensure that we achieve excellence across all our women’s teams and programs, both at the Federation and across the United States.”

Markgraf — a former USWNT player, World Cup winner and Olympic champion — was widely expected to get the job.

Over the course of a 12-year career with the national team, Markgraf logged 201 games as a defender. She started for the 1999 World Cup champion team and also played in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups. She took home Olympic gold with the team in 2004 and 2008, along with a silver medal in 2000. 

After announcing her retirement from professional soccer in 2010, Markgraf made the transition to sports broadcasting. She started with ESPN, providing color commentary for the 2011 World Cup, then moved to NBC for the 2012 Olympics. Markgraf continued to work for Fox Sports and ESPN commentating U.S. women’s national team games and served as a soccer analyst for NBC and ESPN. She also called college soccer for the Big Ten Network.

Besides briefly volunteering as an assistant coach for the Marquette University women’s soccer team in 2009, Markgraf has not worked on the business or coaching side of the sport. She will step into the general manager role with the task of creating a top-to-bottom culture for the women’s program with an emphasis on growing youth development and continuing success at the senior team level.

“This new role presents some big challenges, but all are exciting, important to the future of the game and certainly energizing,” Markgraf said in the statement. “I’m honored to come back to an organization and program that I love, one which helped mold me as a player and person, and to contribute to its continued growth. To reach the top of the world is difficult enough, but to stay there takes a tremendous amount of hard work by players, coaches, staff and administrators, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with those inside and outside of U.S. Soccer to make that happen.”

The general manager position is new for the U.S. national teams. Cordeiro announced the roles for the men’s and women’s teams in February, 2018. Stewart was hired four months later in June for the men’s job, while the women’s vacancy remained open. With his promotion, U.S. Soccer will begin the search for a new men’s general manager.

Stewart will now move into the newly-created position of sporting director, which will oversee the Sports Performance Department at the senior and youth levels of both the men’s and women’s national teams.

“I am thrilled to have this opportunity as we take another important step in our mission to make soccer the preeminent sport in the United States,” Stewart said. “I firmly believe that having alignment in all the technical areas and programs of the federation will fuel ideas, create better understanding and ultimately improve performance. We want U.S. Soccer to be the leaders and drivers of the sport in this country, which also means we have to engage and communicate with participants at all levels. I look forward to the challenge.”

The position of sporting director is aimed at achieving the same goal as the general managers — streamlining the country’s approach to identifying, developing and promoting talent at all levels of the national teams programs. In his new role, Stewart will manage talent identification, performance and analytics while attempting to create a uniform process for running the senior and youth programs.

While focusing on player development, Stewart’s position will also help to create more accessible and formalized pathways to advance through the different levels of the national team. This effort will include creating more options for education for coaches and referees, as well as offering support for the development of youth clubs.

“This is a great day for the federation and for soccer in America,” Cordeiro said. “In Earnie Stewart and Kate Markgraf, we’re keeping our commitment to ensure that soccer operations are run by soccer experts. …We have the leaders in place to align our technical approach, develop the next generation of players and win championships.”

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