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Markgraf hired as USWNT GM; Stewart promoted

Former USWNT defender Kate Markgraf joins ESPN FC to react to Jill Ellis' decision to step down as U.S. coach after winning her second World Cup.

The U.S. Soccer Federation announced a pair of appointments on Monday, naming Kate Markgraf to be the first general manager of the U.S. women's national team, while also promoting Earnie Stewart to be the federation's first sporting director.

"This is a great day for the Federation and for soccer in America," said U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro in a statement. "In Earnie Stewart and Kate Markgraf, we're keeping our commitment to ensure that soccer operations are run by soccer experts. With Earnie as Sporting Director and Kate as the first General Manager of our Women's National Team, we have the leaders in place to align our technical approach, develop the next generation of players and win championships."

One of Markgraf's first tasks will be to find a replacement for Jill Ellis, who is resigning as manager of the U.S. women's national team after the team's ongoing Victory Tour following its successful run to the 2019 Women's World Cup title.

The USSF stated that Markgraf's role would be larger than that of her counterpart on the men's national team side. It will include influencing the development of women's soccer within the federation and serving as the external liaison to all stakeholders.

The process by which Markgraf was hired was led by USSF vice president Cindy Parlow Cone, and was later approved by the federation's board of directors.

"This new role presents some big challenges, but all are exciting, important to the future of the game and certainly energizing," Markgraf said. "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."

On a conference call with reporters, Markgraf was asked if it is a priority to name a female coach to replace Ellis.

"I would, of course, like to hire a woman if all things are being equal, but in the end it will come down to the best candidate regardless of gender,'' she said.

Markgraf earned 201 caps for the U.S. team during a 12-year international career, helping the U.S. win the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup as well as gold medals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. A co-captain for the USWNT, she also played professionally both domestically and abroad, including in the WUSA for the Boston Breakers and the WPS with the Chicago Red Stars.

After retiring from professional soccer, Markgraf returned to school, earning master's degrees in both kinesiology and educational psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She also worked as a television analyst for ESPN and NBC Sports.

Stewart, who had been working for the USSF as GM of the U.S. men's national team, was promoted into a new role for the USSF. He'll oversee the federation's entire sports performance department, including the men's and women's senior and youth national team programs. The ultimate aim is to align the overall technical approach and ensure greater communication and sharing of best practices within federation programs. In his new role, Stewart will report directly to the CEO, and will also oversee all other sports performance departments, including talent identification, high performance and analytics. He will also be charged with finding his replacement as GM of the U.S. men's national team.

"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."

Stewart has 30 years of experience as a player and in technical roles for clubs in the Netherlands and United States. Stewart spent 18 seasons in the Netherlands and earned 101 caps as a midfielder for the U.S. men's national team. He was voted the U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year in 2001 and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2011.

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