If you’ve ever watched a broadcast of US women’s national team game, odds are good you’ve heard the voice of one Julie Foudy, former USWNT player and current ESPN commentator and FIFA agitator. She’s been very publicly vocal about the need to get more women in the ranks of US Soccer when she’s not doing color for a game, which recently included covering the U17 Women’s World Cup. She’s currently working with Allstate in a mentorship program for high schoolers and will be one of four celebrity coaches for a team of young players in the Allstate All-America Cup during MLS All-star week. Foudy will be facing off against former teammate Brandi Chastain. Foudy started our interview with some light banter for Chastain (“We are going to beat her team.”) before diving into the rift currently developing in American soccer between high school and USSF Development Academy play.
“I hate that they have to choose,” said Foudy. “I think they should be allowed to play in high school. I think there’s a very different element to high school that you don’t get in club level. You’re having to be a leader on the team. You’re having to play in front of your peers. You’re playing in front of the community.”
She also has concerns about youth soccer at the national team level, particularly after both the U17 and the U20 WNTs left their World Cups in group this year. “It’s not just this World Cup either,” Foudy pointed out, noting that both age groups have a record of underperforming. “It causes you to go, what’s going on here? We have more girls in this country playing than probably the rest of the world combined and more funding and support than clearly a lot of these countries. Why are we struggling? And I get that it’s a great sign that these countries are starting to promote and fund their programs better on the girls’ side but we still should be at least competitive in all these different levels.”
“I think that [US Soccer] have for too long approached the women’s game with the mentality, of you just keep winning,” Foudy said.
That’s why two upcoming USSF hires are going to be of critical importance, as the federation is looking for both a general manager and a youth technical director. She had several crucial questions for that TD position in particular. “I’m not day to day with youth soccer, but are we not picking the right style of player? For so long we’ve honored the physical, the fast, the athletic speed and raw athleticism of so many players; versus where you see so many countries that are good today, the Spains of the world which are doing so well, the Koreans, is a player who can play. We must have those players. Why aren’t we identifying them? Why aren’t we finding the creative types who are playing?”
As for general manager, US Soccer has already said that whoever they hire, theoretically after this current winter, will not jump in immediately, considering Jill Ellis is already well into her preparations with the WNT for the World Cup.
Foudy’s concerns for GM at the moment are more on the USSF side - will the federation devote the same resources to the position as they did to Earnie Stewart? Will the USWNT GM earn the same as Stewart? Foudy pointed out, “Because you’re not going to attract the right people unless you put in the resources behind it for the women’s side as well. I don’t know the answer to that yet but it’s something I’m going to hold them to the fire on for sure.”
Foudy said she “tried to convince Mia [Hamm] to do it” but then laughed that Hamm wasn’t biting on the offer. In all seriousness, there are some barriers in the search that might be more amplified for women, such as the requirement for the GM to move to Chicago. Foudy pointed out that in general, women may find it harder to move their families for their careers, and that she’s trying to convince USSF there should some “flexibility” involved. She added Kate Markgraf’s name to the conversation as a serious candidate, though, citing her relatively close location already in Milwaukee and her experience at the collegiate, pro, and international levels.
What Foudy really wants is not just this one position to be staffed by a knowledgeable woman, but for USSF to really do the work to bring more women into the fold throughout the organization. “I honestly don’t think US Soccer’s done a good job with that at all. Whether it be coaching, whether it be administrative. And I don’t think they’ve done a great job of getting women in decision-making positions with US Soccer which I’ve been very vocal about for many years,” she said. “I hope this is something that is top of mind for them where for 30 years I’ve been dealing with US Soccer, I’ve been dealing with a man in a decision-making position.”
Foudy pointed to the recent free USSF C-license coaching course put on for NWSL players, hosted by the Utah Royals, as just one type of initiative the federation should have been pursuing for years. “I’ve heard many tales of women saying, I was one of 400 coaches there and I was the only woman. So I’m staying in the dorm on my own, could you just do a coaching course just for women that addresses some of those issues to cost, to timing, to I’m one of 400 [men]?” Foudy said.
Foudy has her very avowed opinions on many soccer matters, but she’s said repeatedly that a position at USSF is not for her. Her name came up several times during the USSF presidential campaign, but being a volunteer position, it’s not one that’s financially viable for Foudy and her family. As for the GM role? “I’m not interested in living in Chicago,” she said. “I honestly love what I do with ESPN and they provide me a ton of flexibility and I’m covering interesting things and interesting people and all this great stuff, so it would have to be really compelling at this point in my career to step away from what I’m doing.”
Foudy is excited to see more and more women coming through her neck of the woods, the commentating booth, and not just on the women’s side of the game either. With people like Aly Wagner and Kelly Smith continuing to establish reputations as knowledgeable analysts during the men’s World Cup this past summer and Kate Markgraf calling games at the men’s Euros in 2016, Foudy says the shift towards more women covering the men’s game, across all sports, has already begun. “It shouldn’t come as a cultural shock anymore,” Foudy said.
The next big soccer event on the calendar is obviously the Women’s World Cup in France. Foudy said one of the biggest keys to preparing for the tournament was keeping the players healthy - a concern that was amplified as US Soccer announced a 10-game pre-WWC friendly schedule. But she liked what she saw from the team in Concacaf qualifiers, crediting them with bite and a little bit of swagger.
Whatever happens in the leadup to the World Cup, you can expect to hear Foudy’s familiar voice guiding us through the ups and downs - at least for the games airing on ESPN. Hopefully her voice will also bring more accountability and transparency from US Soccer and from FIFA. It’s just one voice, but it’s certainly been a loud one, and loud is something the women’s game can always use.