For Kate Markgraf, general manager of the U.S. Women’s National Team and one of six inductees into the National Soccer Hall of Fame this weekend, her 12 years’ experience as a USWNT player still comes in handy as she heads to Frisco, Texas, for Saturday’s induction ceremony.
“I think something that you learn as an athlete is mental toughness, and to not get stressed out — right? — otherwise, how would you ever approach any challenge,” the two-time Olympic gold medalist told reporters earlier this week. “I think like all my teammates before me and the ones that are coming after me, goodness, we know how to compartmentalize, and we know how to just get the job done. So, it’s a huge honor.”
The 46-year-old Markgraf, who hails from Pontiac, Michigan, and was a three-time All-American at Notre Dame, is the last starter of the U.S. women’s 1999 World Cup-winning team to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The former defender appeared in 201 matches for the USWNT, making her one of just 12 American women to record 200 or more caps.
“Honestly as a defender, you’re used to not really being paid attention to unless you’re making a huge catastrophic mistake or you score goals,” said Markgraf, who was voted in under the Veterans category. “…You don’t ever expect to be valued in the way that people value forwards or different ways that people value women. So I never expected this.
“I kept fighting for women to be acknowledged, because the evaluation (in HOF criteria) has always been an issue, and I’m very appreciative for the steps (taken) not just with me, but a year ago and how they changed the voting standards, acknowledging that the way we were voting was actually not the best practice. I’m very excited that the evaluation of performance over years, across disciplines and types of participation in soccer is being evaluated objectively as best as possible.”
Markgraf said she’s also particularly excited to be sharing the spotlight on Saturday with Lauren Cheney Holiday, who made 133 appearances with the USWNT and was part of Team USA’s gold-medal wins at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Rounding out the Class of 2023 are former USWNT coach Jill Ellis (Builder category), former USMNT star Landon Donovan (Player ballot), Steve Zungul (Veteran) and former USWNT keeper Hope Solo, who had deferred her 2022 induction to this year.
“It’s amazing to be inducted with Lauren Cheney Holiday, a player who arguably is probably one of the best athletes that has ever existed on the U.S. Women’s National Team,” said Markgraf, who lives near Holiday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “It’s been a privilege to have her in the community, not only as a human but what her and her husband (NBA star Jrue Holiday) do in every community they live in and then support is just insane. They’re not just good people: They’re good people for the community and incredible athletes that we all can learn from.”
Markgraf’s career kicked off with three state youth titles in Michigan, and she kept the momentum rolling at Notre Dame, where she earned defensive MVP honors at the 1995 NCAA Final Four as the Fighting Irish captured national title. She made her international debut as a substitute in 7-0 win over Argentina on April 26, 1998, and worked her way into the Starting XI. At age 22, she was the least experienced players on the 1999 U.S. World Cup squad, yet she started five of six matches and played all 120 minutes in the final as the Americans secured their second World Cup title. She played in two more World Cups – in 2003 and 2007. The USWNT finished third in both tournaments but rebounded both times with Olympic gold in subsequent years (2004, 2008).
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It was following the 2008 Games in Beijing that Markgraf achieved the personal milestone of scoring her first international goal. After playing 192 caps without a goal, she snapped the streak in a friendly vs. the Republic of Ireland in Illinois on Sept. 20, 2008. With the U.S. leading 1-0, Natasha Kai was fouled inside the box and a penalty kick was awarded. Markgraf’s teammates urged her to take the kick and mobbed her after she buried it in the net.
Markgraf revealed that she had previously declined taking penalty kicks because she knew her midfielder and forward teammates got bonuses from their shoe contracts every time they scored, and she didn’t feel comfortable taking the opportunity away.
“For me, that wasn’t part of my deals,” she explained. “The reason why I always said no is because I wanted to make sure that other people got paid, if they could. So that’s the backstory of that one. But finally, I knew I was pregnant during that entire victory tour. I didn’t know they were twins. But I just was like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna take one because I’m tired of this, like Kate Markgraf has 190-plus whatever caps but no goals.’ I knew I would make it. I was so excited, but what I love about that photo (of the goal) is when I’m jumping up, like, I have twins in my stomach. So technically, there are three people scoring that goal, which is probably a record in itself.”
After retiring from competition, the mother of three went back to school, earning two master’s degrees (in kinesiology and educational psychology) at Wisconsin and also worked as an analyst for ESPN at the 2011 World Cup and for NBC at the 2012 London Olympics. In 2016, she became the first female broadcaster to call a major men’s soccer tournament for ESPN at the European Championship. In August 2019, Markgraf was named to a first-of-its kind post for U.S. Soccer as head of women’s soccer and GM of the USWNT.
“The biggest thing for me is, ‘How do I best execute the reason why I was hired,’ which was to help support the women’s national team during a period of transition, as well as set it up for future success by empowering those that are experts in the field,” she said. “And that is something that I love doing. Building processes and structures for our youth national teams for those systems — that gets me up every single day and excited.
“[It’s] something you have to have a lot of energy and passion for, and that’s something I have an abundance — because someone gave me a chance one time and look what happened. Look where I am now.”
The ceremony will be streamed live on the National Soccer Hall of Fame’s website beginning at 2 p.m. ET.
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