Setting the bar: How Amanda Duffy plans to take the NWSL to the next level

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You mentioned stability. Operations is a general term and you’ve only just started, but what are some things you look at with the league that might be top priorities for you?

For me, I want to look first at facilities. Some of them, I know them; some of them, I still need to see them and see what’s happening within those, what that setup is. What does the front office look like as a structure and also with the people in them? What does that look like? And then also, what hotels are being used? What do those look like? Just from that baseline level of, ‘What are teams doing as a business?’ I want to get a better understanding and make sure we have that minimum quality that we want to be at for a professional league.

We can’t just call ourselves professional but operate under the standard in areas – training facilities, game facilities, front offices, hotels, travels. What are the teams doing? And is that at the professional standard so that our product for players is something they are proud of, that they are excited about. Because at the end of the day, if you look at the salary right now, we’re not at something that a player can necessarily make a career out of this. So, in that experience, they can at least understand and experience a professional league and standard.

That all sounds like accountability on a lot of fronts. The No. 1 thing I hear from players is that they need better basic treatment – better buses for road trips, treatment after matches – things men’s players might take for granted. All of it speaks to needing better standards for players.

We want to bring more women through the business ... – and this goes for any gender, when it comes to our organizations – we need to make sure that there is stability within those organizations to help bring them through.

I don’t want to come across and say that I think we’re failing. It’s understanding where we’re at right now so that we can put our path together and really drive this forward and manage our operation, our policy, how we handle the players with player rights and player registration – make sure we handle that properly.

So, there’s stuff that internally will help us, too, so that we can then come back and help with what the teams are doing and ultimately, we want our teams to be successful and we want the league to be successful. We all need to work hand-in-hand to do that. And again, no one is failing, but I don’t know that there is a good general sense of, specifically, what everyone does have and what everyone is doing – what it really takes from a front office standpoint and how to structure that to be successful as a team, drive revenue and push forward on what we want to do.

What are your long-term goals for this league three, five, 10 years?

I have my personal thoughts. I haven’t sat down and laid those out with Dan (Flynn), Sunil (Gulati) and Jeff (Plush), but that is something that I’ll want to do very early. Right now, I know that we need to get a schedule together and out, and there are some immediate things that we need to get taken care of that we’ll be executing this year, but I’ll also be working on that path forward.

One issue that April Heinrichs continues to raise is the lack of a robust “Zone 3” league – a competitive environment for 18- to 22-year-olds outside of the short college season. You worked for the W-League, which filled that void up until its demise following the 2015 season. Is that something, with your unique experience, needs to be addressed? It probably isn’t a high priority…

It’s not a high priority, but I think there’s a need for it, and as I look at the players that were drafted and the number that played in the W-League – and they excelled in the W-League – I think that was part of the development. The college season is short and it’s in the fall, then you have your spring season, which is just training. And spring games which are limited by NCAA. It’s a long period without any real competition, when you look at a college calendar of a player who is developing.

Lynn Williams was our MVP in the W-League a number of years ago, and to see her have the year she had last year (NWSL MVP) and now with the national team – I don’t say that that was the W-League that caused that, but I think that’s another level in the development of the female soccer player, where you’re pulling more competitive players together in an environment that’s a higher competitive level than college is going to be, with rules that are in sing and in line with the professional game. And in environments that get you closer to a professional environment. Not just off the field, but on the field, you see things a different way, you’re treated in a different way. That’s what we were trying to do with the W-League, is build an environment that is in line with a professional environment. So, yes, I think there’s certainly a need to address that group, and how we do that is something also that I hope to build as I look at year six through 10 in a league setting.

We can’t just look at the teams and say, ‘you need to do A, B, or C to raise the standard.’ We need to do A, B, C to raise our standard from a league office standpoint.

Does the experience of working in the W-League, in particular, translate to this new job?

I think it all does. I’m going to pull from all of those experiences and relationships over that time to help shape how we want to do this, and the path we want to [take]. 2017, we’re in the middle of January at this point, so we need to get our schedule out there and we need to get the pieces in place with the championship and where that’s going to be hosted this year. We need to get a couple of the final pieces in place publicly for 2017. We’ll execute it and we’ll execute it to the best of our ability. We’re going to do it well this year, but I want to look ahead, too, at years six through 10. What does that look like for the league? At this point, I don’t know that we’re looking at year 10. Who sees what that looks like? Who is planning on what that looks like? What do we want it to look like? I don’t know if that conversation is had; I don’t know if that vision is out there.

But every year from this point forward is going to be a historic year, because it’s another year that no women’s league has made it to. We can’t be content with that; we can’t be status quo. Just because we made it to year five, we just keep doing what we did last year or the year before that. We have to have a vision, too, as a league, of where we want to be and what our goals are going to be. To achieve that is going to be very important to how I approach things.

For you personally, where do you see this career opportunity going? Where do you want to take this?

I’m committed to women’s soccer. I’m committed to NWSL. Right now, I have a great deal of excitement coming here. Walking in and seeing the five people and going, ‘OK, this is where we’re at.’ I just want to be a part of building from here. I just think there’s such interest in women’s soccer and excitement about the game, excitement about the players. From a media side, there is. Just a general fan interest there is; from a player side. On all levels and in all aspects, there is interest to make this work and there’s support from U.S. Soccer, from the owners, people in the industry to make this work.

As each year passes and we continue to lead that way, I just want to make sure that we’re going to be a standard-bearer and start to get into a progressive, leadership way in the way we do things so that outside of the United States – we are talking about, globally, being the women’s league that every player wants to be a part of. We’re in a situation that we can do that. We can bring the best players in the world and we can have the best players in the United States and continue to have a path for players to continue playing at a professional level.

The last thing I want to ask you is about marquee events. You came in at the time of one of only two marquee events for the league right now – the draft and the championship. Jeff has talked about an all-star game, and wanting to host a prospective Club World Cup. Does the league need more of these events to draw in the casual fan?

That’s something that I want to get caught up pretty quickly on what the conversation has been, about anything beyond our draft and our championship, whether it’s all-star game, combine, Club World Cup. I want to get caught up on where those are. I’d like to be a part of that conversation and see us to more from that area, because I think they are both mutually beneficial to player and league as far as the publicity and being able to showcase the great players that we have in this league. It’s an opportunity to have more stories, and I’m all about the story. But the story is so important, and I think we need to find more ways to allow stories to happen and find more ways to tell the story afterwards. Having events like that are opportunities that we can take advantage of. 

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Jeff Kassouf is the editor of FourFourTwo USA. Follow him on Twitter @JeffKassouf.