Story by Kevin Kernen | Courtesy Photos
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted before Amanda Duffy accepted the position of managing director of operations with U.S. Soccer and National Women’s Soccer League. Duffy is a rockstar in her field, and our community was fortunate to have her for as long as we did. –Angie Fenton, Extol Sports editor in chief.]
UNLESS you have been living under a rock the past couple years, you’ve probably at least heard of the burgeoning local sports franchise that is Louisville City Football Club. The team started playing back in 2015, and has quickly sewn itself into the tapestry of Louisville sports. At the helm of that organization is their president, Amanda Duffy. The Jacksonville, N.C., native grew up playing multiple sports, before she decided soccer was what she wanted to pursue. We sat down to talk about her journey from college to an illustrious career on the field to an impressive resume on the organizational side of the sport.
Kevin Kernen: You played a lot of sports growing up, and I know you attended East Carolina, is that where you knew you wanted to pursue soccer?
Amanda Duffy: I played all sports growing up; in college, I just played soccer. I was there for, actually, five years. I tore my ACL in my junior year and got a medical redshirt. I took my full five years of my undergrad and stayed two years after that as a graduate assistant for grad school.
Kernen: What did you major in during your time there?
Duffy: Exercise and sports science as an undergrad, and sports management for my master’s degree.
Kernen: So you knew this was what you wanted to do from early on.
Duffy: I did, I knew it was going to be in sports. Whether it was the coaching route, or whether it was corporate sports or college administration, I knew it was going to be somewhere in that. I just didn’t know exactly what route I was going to go down.
Kernen: Obviously, you have some coaching experience, being a graduate assistant at East Carolina. Tell me a little about your career on the front-office side of the sport.
Duffy: In order to finish my master’s, I had to intern at some organization. I chose at that time to go the the USL, the United Soccer League, which is the league we (Louisville City FC) compete in. They’re headquartered in Tampa, and I went down there for about six months and had a wonderful experience that introduced me to the administrative and business side of the sport that I hadn’t really been exposed to, having only been a player up until this point.
Kernen: Speaking of being a player, where was your playing career at that time?
Duffy: I was playing in the W League, the highest level of women’s soccer at the time, and working at the USL in Tampa getting my first taste of administrative experience. After that internship was done, I continued playing in the W League, and in the winter of 2006, I tried out and made the roster for a team in Sweden. I was on trial with them throughout their preseason and after I got a contract, I came back to the states and packed my stuff and moved to Sweden for a year. After that season, I came back and I knew that I was kind of done playing and was ready to move on to a career off of the field. At this point I was a good year and a half out of my master’s program, three and a half out of undergrad, and playing in Sweden checked a really big box for me as an athlete and as a player. When I got back home I told myself “I’m 26 years old, I’m ready to take that next step.”
Kernen:What did the next step mean for you?
Duffy: Fortunately, the USL was going through a restructuring process and was expanding its front office staff and new positions were opening up. It just so happened that when I gave the then-Vice President Tim Hull, who is now with San Antonio (also in the USL) a call, that it was the perfect timing for me to come over to make the next step. I came back to Tampa in 2007, and it was just a succession of an entry level administrative role to the director of operations. I was with them for three seasons until an opportunity came up on the women’s side, and I transitioned into becoming the senior director of the W League. It was a nice segue into developing my passion and interest for creating opportunities for women’s soccer, and that was exciting for me. I was with them until 2014, when I came here, which was my first experience on the team side.
Kernen: Was it difficult for you to work in that kind of capacity for the first time?
Duffy: This was my first experience outside the league, and that experience served me well. In the situation we had here, we had to put together a lot in a short period of time, and I was fortunate to know (things like) the USL operations manual, and while it’s had some tweaks and changes, I was part of writing it. So, I know it inside and out, and it was easy for me to know what had to get done so we weren’t getting fined and things like that. It was a lot that we did, and that experience helped me tremendously in getting started here in Louisville.
Kernen: I can tell that it’s important to you to get women involved and excited about the sport. Have you found that the sports management landscape is somewhat of a boys club? Is it still a little close-minded?
Duffy: I don’t think it’s close-minded, but it’s still an industry that is dominated by men. Even at the leadership level it’s male dominated: it’s male ownership, male executives, male coaches. I think it’s going to take time, although I think we have seen tremendous growth and strides with more women becoming involved, wanting to stay involved with the sport they’ve played, and there’s an element of players wanting to give back to the next generation of players that are coming through. I think it’s great to see these strong women in leadership positions to have the voice and show that there is not a ceiling, that there’s opportunity and possibility. Hopefully, it gives others the confidence to work towards what they have on their path.
Kernen: The team really hit the ground running once it was established here in Louisville. They’ve experienced a lot of success in making the conference finals in their first two years. What were some of the biggest factors that contributed to the groundwork of their success?
Duffy: I think we had a couple things in our favor: This franchise transferred from Orlando City (after they were awarded an MLS franchise), and they had experienced a lot of success. Just having that frame of mind was important to approaching this. Our head coach, James O’Connor, came from Orlando City and was part of some championship teams there in Orlando. He had a rich playing career over in England before coming to the United States. Having the right philosophy is important, whether it comes to training, taking care of your body, mental toughness, nutrition, our coach knows and lived that during his playing career, where winning was the only option. In the first few months when I was here, he was in the back of this office watching tape. It’s a very thorough and systematic approach for him, and it’s not about just what you see on the field, it’s a character approach for him. The guys who were brought in are great individuals and people. I think fans have really taken to these players.
Kernen: Finally, on a more personal note, how do you manage a work-life balance?
Duffy: (Chuckles) I laugh at the ‘work-life balance.’ I’ve had several conversations where I question work-life balance and what that balance is. The most important thing is that I love what I do, and I have the opportunity to work in this sport, and its growing so much and so fast. I love that I’m part of a business that is and continue to be as impactful as it has been in this community, and to the people that support what we are doing and what we are trying to be. I enjoy it and I don’t think it takes away from the life-side if I spend 75 or 80 percent of my time on this business. It’s all my passion and my work, and I love being a part of this.
As of press time, the USL hadn’t released the schedule for next season, but Louisville City’s schedule will feature preseason friendlies throughout March, likely against local competition before the traditional USL kickoff on the last week of March, running through late August or early September, depending on if the team qualifies for the playoffs. Next season’s schedule will be punctuated by fixtures against regional rivals FC Cincinnati and Saint Louis FC. Louisville City will try to build on their success from last season and earn a third straight trip to the playoffs.