(Cover photo: Louisville City Football Club President Amanda Duffy overlooks field prep at Louisville Slugger Field, home of Louisville’s pro soccer team. Credit: Louisville City/Chris Humphries)
By Jason Ence
When Amanda Duffy was hired by Louisville City Football Club in October 2014 as its vice president of operations, many who knew of her were excited by the hire. Her history with the United Soccer League (USL), especially within its women’s organization, was well documented and her appointment was seen as somewhat of a coup for the club.
Just over a year later, Duffy is now the first and only female president of a club in the history of the league. While it is a terrific accomplishment, those who have worked with her or have followed her career were not surprised in the least.
After working with the USL in multiple capacities for seven years, she was hired by Djorn Buchholz, the original general manager of Louisville City FC, to join the developing franchise. However, after the resignation of Buchholz in December of 2014, Duffy took over as the new general manager.
Under her guidance, the club rose to prominence in its first season in the league. It finished second not only in the league standings, but also placed only behind Sacramento in attendance for the year.
For the ownership of the club, the decision to promote Duffy to president this past November was an easy one.
“She really deserved to carry the title of president,” according to Wayne Estopinal, the club’s principal owner. “The board of directors felt very comfortable with the job that Amanda has done.”
The U.S. sports industry is often viewed as a “boy’s club”, with a small number of women in positions of prominence and exposure. While being one of the few females to have the level of responsibility she now carries, Duffy has shown throughout her life that she can compete with the guys and be comfortable doing so.
Growing up in eastern North Carolina, she stated there weren’t a whole lot of club teams to play for—and absolutely none for girls.
“My first seven years playing soccer was on boys’ teams,” Duffy said.
A girls’ team was finally created and she played soccer with them through high school before heading to East Carolina University (ECU) to play from 1998-2002. She left her mark on the Pirates’ program as the first women’s soccer player to be elected to the ECU Athletics Hall of Fame (2012), setting numerous records including being the record holder for the most points (83) and the most goals (33) in school history. She is also second all time in assists (17).
Outside of ECU, Duffy was a two-time, First Team All Conference USA player. She led the conference in goals (14), points (32), and shots (63) in 2001.
She stayed at ECU to get her master’s degree, and during that time she worked as a graduate assistant with the women’s team. Concurrently, she began to play with the Carolina Courage, a team in the pro-am Women’s United Soccer Association League.
One of the requirements for Duffy’s master’s degree was to complete an internship. She was trying to decide if coaching or administration would be her future in soccer, so it was important to make sure she gained experience in both fields.
“Having been a grad assistant, I went to the USL to try to get the ‘other side’ of it,” said Duffy.
She still wanted to pursue a professional career, and after her internship concluded, she packed her bags and moved to Sweden for a season.
“It was such an invaluable experience,” said Duffy, “to be able to have that opportunity and go to Sweden, live there for eight months, see the soccer culture in Europe and what that means, and coming back to the U.S., I knew I wanted to get back to the USL and work in the sport.”
Duffy then reached out to Tim Holt, an executive with the USL who not only would serve as the league President from 2009-2015, but is considered one of the top soccer executives in the nation. Now as the vice president of development for Orlando City Soccer Club of Major League Soccer (MLS), Holt was so impressed with Duffy during her time as an intern that he created a part-time position just to get her back into the organization.
He saw the asset that she was to the league, and is thrilled to see how high she has risen.
“Amanda is the consummate professional and highly respected by the league and team executives within the USL,” said Holt. “In a largely male-dominated profession, she has earned all of her opportunities through a great work ethic and communication abilities.”
Over the next seven years, Duffy would work in a variety of roles within the USL structure. Oftentimes, she found herself thrust into situations where the organization was going through periods of change and reorganization. For example, in 2009, she was moved to an interim director role of USL 1/USL 2 (the USL’s previous two divisions before the merger following the 2014 season) when the director left about 30 days before the season. She continued her advancement within the organization and, in 2010, was promoted to senior director of the USL W-League (women’s league), a role she would serve in over the next four years until she joined Louisville City.
“I was on the men’s side in a tumultuous period of time for minor league soccer in the U.S., but learned a tremendous amount,” said Duffy.
Duffy’s experience during that time helped her as she took over a female professional league that lacked the resources and recognition of the men’s leagues. Also, numerous relationships Duffy established while working with the men’s leagues put her in a position to succeed with the W-League.
“I was so prepared and better for women’s soccer at that point because I had the experience I had on the men’s side. Everyone trusted what we were doing (on the women’s side).”
Duffy felt like she was presented with opportunities that gave her the right amount of development for each new position she attained. You have to look no further than her first season with Louisville City for proof of that. Despite taking over less than four months prior to the start of the regular season after the resignation of Buchholz, Duffy dove right into the position and overcame an immense amount of challenges.
“Things were nearly at ground zero,” she claimed.
Not only did she succeed in getting the franchise ready in time for its first match, but she impressed almost everyone involved with the club.
“Amanda stepped into a very dynamic situation,” Estopinal said, “and did an exceptional job getting all the operations in top shape.”
Estopinal added that when Buchholz resigned, there was really no doubt in handing her the general manager position.
“Amanda had already demonstrated her capabilities prior to Buchholz departing,” said Estopinal. “Once the decision was made to make the change, the board felt her skills fit what the club needed, and promoted her.”
It wasn’t just those in Louisville who were impressed, although many expected her to be successful as soon as she took over.
“Her role in leading Louisville City to a successful inaugural season is no surprise to those who have worked with her over the years,” added Holt.
Stay tuned for Pt. 2 of “Amanda Duffy: Louisville City FC Pres Building on First-Year Success”!