Carrie Taylor was Landon Donovan's first choice to be his assistant coach
They are leading USL side San Diego Loyal in their inaugural season
FIFA.com chatted exclusively with Taylor and Senior Advisor Shannon MacMillan
Carrie Taylor was fired from her job as a director of a youth club in a San Diego area Starbucks coffee shop on a Sunday. The very next day she found herself on a couch casually striking up conversation with Landon Donovan - yes, that Landon Donovan.
Taylor was on a committee to help bring a Major League Soccer team to the city of San Diego in March 2017, and it turns out so was Donovan. While ultimately that bid failed, that unlikely meeting ended up changing Taylor’s life.
When Donovan set out to assemble the first coaching staff in the history of San Diego Loyal, he didn’t go down the predictable route of choosing one of his many former team-mates or coaches; he asked Taylor. Their experience working on the San Diego MLS bid together brought about trust and they formed a genuine friendship. “He’s like a brother to me.”
Taylor is the first female coach in all of professional men’s soccer in the United States, and she is an integral part in the beginnings of 2020 United Soccer League (second tier of the US club pyramid) expansion side San Diego Loyal.
“I want to be seen as a coach, and not necessarily a female coach,” Taylor told FIFA.com. “I understand it’s new and it’s been starting to happen in other professional sports, so I’m proud of our organisation for being forward thinking. Landon is very forward thinking and I’m grateful for this opportunity.
"This is a destination job for me. I hope that it allows others in positions to hire people to at least take a longer look at resumes of people that aren’t males - just take a look and make a decision on what suits your organisation. Men have always been able to coach women, so why can’t women coach men?
"If Landon is willing to be a pioneer in hiring a female coach, that’s awesome, so maybe some other coaches out there will follow suit.
“I have to prove my worth as a coach and make sure I’m up to the task, and I think I am. I’ve been giving all I can to making the team be the best it can be.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Taylor is spending most of her time communicating with the players, sending individually-tailored videos for them to study to try to keep everyone’s minds busy. “We’re just trying to make sure the fellas are ok.”
She brings an array of knowledge and expertise to the club, originating from her time playing soccer in college at the University of Michigan in the early 90s when the players had to take care of everything, from travel to scheduling and to other logistics.
"I enjoy the build-up to a game; being able to analyse and get a group of people together to actually execute a game plan and that feeling of ‘oh my gosh, we did it! We defend the way we needed to defend or we counter-pressed the way we needed to counter-press' - just seeing that come to life is awesome.
"I’ve played team sports all my life, so seeing the camaraderie and seeing a group of people excel together is what I love most about coaching. I want to win and I’m a super competitive person, but even in a tie or a loss, if the team has given its all and they’ve tried to do what we wanted them to, even that’s a success."
Setting an example
Taylor is one of six women on the club's technical staff, and she is joined by former USA national team forward Shannon MacMillan (above left), who wears a variety of hats at the club, working as a senior adviser to Donovan and his staff, making connections with youth clubs in the area and working on the broadcast team.
"We're taking this pause (COVID-19 pandemic) as a good thing to look back at everything we've done to this point and look at where we can be better," MacMillan told FIFA.com. "Our culture is built on not being too big to do the small things. It's about embracing opportunities; it's not a right by any means, it's a privilege to play and you have to work hard. You always have to be open to grow and learn. It's about teamwork and doing the little things the right way."
MacMillan is another example of someone bringing an invaluable level of knowledge and experience to a club that is taking its first steps into the world. She was a highly successful member of the USA women's national team for 12 years, scoring 60 goals in 176 caps and she was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2016.
"It's just a matter of time (for a woman to be the head coach of a men's top division side). As more clubs embrace the mindset of organising a solid team based on people who have experience and knowledge, but also are able to teach, share and inspire, I think it is potentially a matter of time.
"I want to make sure it's done the right way and that it's not a token opportunity that goes sideways and then no one will ever think to do it again. It's got to be well supported, which I definitely feel within the Loyal. Hopefully that's something I get to see.
"When I'm around the guys (players), they're so open to hearing what I have to say. They've been incredibly respectful and I think that goes to the culture that's been built from the start."
One thing is very clear after speaking with Taylor and MacMillan: this is just the beginning of their story with the San Diego Loyal.
Photos courtesy of San Diego Loyal