Haley Carter, Orlando Pride’s new general manager and vice-president of soccer operations, is not afraid to address the culture shift needed in the NWSL, including at her club. “There are consistencies we should see across the board: it needs to be safe, it needs to be inclusive and at this level it needs to be a winning culture too,” she says. “I’m very serious about player advocacy, player safety and creating an inclusive safe culture.”
Carter’s CV is extensive and with the sport in the US undergoing reforms after the NWSL abuse scandal she comes in with the ambition of making Orlando somewhere “players want to be” as well as an NWSL championship-winning side.
A former US marine officer, Carter spent three seasons as a goalkeeper with Houston Dash. After her retirement from football, she coached at multiple levels, including as an assistant coach for the Afghanistan women’s team, goalkeeper coach for the Antigua and Barbuda women’s team and has been a consultant on scouting and recruitment for Houston.
After meeting the staff and players and getting to know the set-up at Orlando, Carter is excited for the future. “Some of the athletes here were playing when I was playing and others I’ve known from their time in Houston. We have an excellent, extremely talented group of individuals on our technical staff, our support staff, our medical staff, the team themselves, and I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot here.”
Despite Orlando’s poor league form in recent years, with the team finishing 10th of 12 teams last season, eighth of 10 in 2021 and eighth of nine in 2020, Carter says: “The goal is always to win the NWSL championship.
“This team, this roster, the staff, every single person that’s here, has a role to play; they each bring a unique skill set and talent. The work that was done to put the roster together as we head into pre-season, the work that was done to make the hires that were made in the off-season, from a staff standpoint, all of these things are falling into place.
“It’s critical to us that every single individual who’s part of the club – athletes and non-athletes alike – commits to the belief we can and we will win an NWSL championship. It’s that simple. There will be intermittent goals throughout the season – it’s a long season and a lot can happen – but everybody on day one going into the season is committing to the belief we can and we will win NWSL championships.”
Critical to success on the pitch is creating the right culture off it. “Now I’m on the management side of things, as opposed to the player advocacy side or the labour side of things, but those things are not mutually exclusive,” says Carter, who recently graduated from the University of Houston Law Centre. “We’re in the people business in professional sports, our capital assets are human beings, so how we treat them is what generates club success,. Any impact to player experience is an impact to the performance environment.
“These shouldn’t be two opposing viewpoints [management and player]. They really need to be in lockstep with one another. How we treat players is critical to our success as management and as a club. I try to take a holistic approach. That’s a really big priority. Ensuring we’re creating a safe environment, not just for our players, but for our staff as well, for everybody who comes in.”
Part of that involves looking after players’ long-term ambitions. “We have to recognise that every player who comes to Orlando at some point is going to leave Orlando. That’s the reality of the game.
“Ensuring their time in Orlando is positive and they leave knowing we were invested in them, we cared about them, we treated them with respect and we’re invested in whatever the future for them looks like is important.
“I told the team we spend more years, most of us, unless you’re Erin McLeod and you play until you’re 40, not being professional athletes than we do being a professional athlete. . Helping the players understand my priority for them and the club’s priority for them is to ensure they’re developing not just as athletes, but also as people is just as important as the developmental goals we have for them on the pitch.”
The bigger picture matters too. With Boston, Utah and San Francisco poised to pay record $50m (£40.7m) franchise fees to join the NWSL, the opportunity to grow the game is exciting.
“I’m a significant fan of expansion because we’re also expanding the player pool,” says Carter. “More athletes are going to get the opportunity to play in the NWSL, which is fantastic. One of the things that attracted me to Orlando Pride is that the ownership is very serious about making everything in the league better.
“Bringing these teams in is forcing everybody to be more serious about their culture and driving improvements so the league is a destination players want to play in.”