Over the past two years we’ve had the chance to talk with both players and agents about the NWSL draft, but it’s always important to note that the draft isn’t the only pathway to soccer here in the United States. The USL-W is growing quickly, up to over 50 teams now, as it seeks to take a prominent role in developing and showcasing rising soccer talent. Next year, the pre-professional USL-W will be joined by the newly minted USL Super League, a women’s professional soccer league. It’s creation potentially allows a more direct path to professional soccer from the USL-W, and hopefully, ample opportunities for players to find careers in professional soccer.
We talked with Jenn Pettigrew Tuesta, General Manager of USL-W club Paisley Athletic, about her pathway to a job in soccer and what goes into building a team at the USL level.
You were a former goalkeeper for the club, how did that turn into a general manager role?
I have been involved with Paisley from its inception (2021). From day one, I bought into the club’s mission to create opportunities for female athletes, especially since these opportunities did not exist when I graduated college in 2013. I had the option of trying to make it in the ~1 year old NWSL, right after the WPS had just folded; however, it wasn’t financially possible for me and I decided to enter Corporate America. I want the next generation to have more choices and opportunities to play. I offered to wear multiple hats while actively playing in order to help the club grow. I have a BS in Sport Management and Marketing, so in 2023 when I decided to take a step back from playing, the natural transition was into a business side role.
What are your main roles as general manager?
We’re a small but mighty operation at the moment, so I am continuing to wear many hats. I work closely with both our Head Coach, U23 Head Coach and Director of Operations, to ensure things run smoothly. My main role is identifying and recruiting players to build a competitive roster. I am the club’s point of contact with the league. I am responsible for registering players and making sure our roster is compliant. I manage our social media channels and assist with game day preparations, ticket sales and sponsorships. The role is fairly dynamic and ever-changing, so I try to make myself available wherever needed.
It seems the goal for the club is to not only provide an alternative pathway to professional soccer, but to also provide other avenues to success for women in soccer. How does your role impact each of those goals?
The club as a whole is looking to advance women’s soccer both on and off the field. This has led to our youth club (Kearny Thistle United/Paisley Academy) working to get players coaching jobs and supporting their continuing coaching education. My role is developing and will continue to help players with networking, life after soccer and professional career opportunities.
Paisley players vary in age and experience, what typically brings them to the club?
I think the female-forward mission really attracts players to our club. We were founded in 2021 to create opportunities for female athletes, which we’ve continued to do each year. The club started with one team competing in UWS League 2, and has now expanded to include a first team competing in USL-W, a U23 team, and an entire Academy pathway from U13-U19. For the first team, players come to the club because we foster a culture of respect and inclusivity. Additionally, our first team is free to play on, so there’s no financial burden for players. We’re a women’s club, not a men’s club that put a logo on a jersey and decided to enter a women’s team into competitions.
Is it difficult to construct a competitive roster? Is there a lot of roster turnover? What are a few challenges that stand out for USL clubs.
Yes, it’s definitely difficult to construct a competitive roster. Luckily, there hasn’t been a ton of turnover over the past two seasons, but there’s always injuries and retirements to deal with. One major challenge includes being a newer club in a soccer hotbed (Northern, NJ/NYC). It can be challenging to compete with clubs who have had pre-professional teams for a while now; however, we look to differentiate ourselves based on our mission and the fact that we’re really building something special. I think once players are able to meet with myself and the staff, and learn more about why we’re really in this – to create opportunities for female athletes – that it really starts to sell itself.
Is collegiate scouting involved in the acquisition of players? Is it mostly ID camps? Referrals from other players? How do you field a roster?
Yes, collegiate scouting is heavily involved in player acquisition. I have followed the NCAA college game since I’ve graduated, and you can always catch me watching games beginning in August. We’ve developed a network of coaches that we reach out to for referrals and introductions, which I only see expanding. Player referrals are big for us as well. We’re always looking for players who believe in our mission and want to be a part of something bigger, i.e. inspire the next generation. My professional career is in executive recruiting, so there are definitely some similarities when it comes to recruiting players for our club. Rounding out the recruiting process are our Player Interest Form (located on website) and ID Sessions.
What’s the goal for Paisley? What’s the ideal picture look like in 5 years?
The goal is to continue to create and provide opportunities for female athletes at all levels. We have a first team in USL-W that will be looking to be in playoff contention next season. Our U23 team is currently having an excellent season in their EDP league and our youth club continues to grow and offer more competitive options for girls. Obviously, we’d love for this to eventually be a year round operation at all levels. The talent and demand are certainly there. We do hope to eventually get to the point where we’re a member of the USL Super League.
Are you looking forward to the USL Super League establishing next year? Will that change anything for Paisley?
Yes, incredibly excited about the development of the Super League. I wish it was around when I graduated from college because it’s an ideal environment for so many players who want to continue to play domestically. The USL Super League is our ideal next step for Paisley, so it’s official launch will help us get closer to that goal.