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Soccer Holdings hires James O'Connor to develop Academy, NWSL

By LouCity, 01/13/20, 9:58AM EST

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MONDAY, JAN. 13, 2019 – As Soccer Holdings continues its expansion in Louisville with the development of an NWSL franchise, USL League 2 team and Academy programs, the club made a key hire Monday, bringing in James O’Connor as the new Executive Vice President of Development.

“We are excited to welcome James into our front office,” Soccer Holdings President Brad Estes said. “Hack and his staff are doing a phenomenal job leading our USL Championship team. We know James will be equally effective in developing the plan for our Academy and in building our NWSL side.”

As Executive Vice President of Development, O’Connor will focus on building the structure around LouCity’s new Academy including its USL League 2 team while building the NWSL franchise from the ground up into a top-level club.  The former coach at Louisville City from 2015-2018 and coach at Orlando City in 2018-2019, O’Connor brings a wealth of experience in soccer at all levels.

“I’d like to thank John Neace, Brad Estes, and the ownership group for giving me this great opportunity,” O’Connor said. “It is a wonderful time to be rejoining this class organization. We have an opportunity to build our Academy to develop the next generation of local talent. We are also welcoming some of the best women’s soccer stars in the world to Louisville in 2021. We have a lot of work to do, and I can’t wait to get started.”

O’Connor was crucial in the development of Louisville City when the club began in 2015, identifying and bringing in talented players while helping develop the professional soccer culture in the city. He will be taking on a similar task in launching the NWSL and Academy programs. Under O’Connor’s guidance, the club won its first USL Championship Title in 2017, knocking off the Swope Park Rangers in a historic match at Louisville Slugger Field.

Moving back to Louisville after his time at Orlando City, O’Connor will not be involved in the men’s team but will establish a new club – the city’s NWSL side which will begin play in 2021. O’Connor will not be coaching the new NWSL team but will develop the organizational structure around the new team and will identify, evaluate and hire the staff members who will launch the club next year.

In addition to working to put in place the foundation of the NWSL franchise, O’Connor will work with Director of Youth Development Mario Sanchez and Louisville City Head Coach and Sporting Director John Hackworth on growing the Academy and development program. O’Connor will be developing the structure supporting the Academy to aid Sanchez’s work on the pitch so that the men’s and women’s Academy system can properly prepare players to compete for Hackworth’s team and the future NWSL team.  

“It is an extraordinarily fortunate opportunity that James and his family have chosen to return to our club,” Hackworth said. “His impact previously speaks for itself, but the future growth of our organization needs his unique and unprecedented skill set.  On a personal level, I am excited to collaborate with James as we develop our club.”

The Dublin, Ireland, native played for the Irish Under-21s while beginning his career with Stoke City from 1996-2003. He was part of West Bromwich Albion from 2003-2005, playing on loan at Burnley from 2004-05 before becoming part of Burnley’s club from 2005-2008. After three seasons at Sheffield Wednesday, O’Connor moved to Orlando City in the MLS, working as a player-coach for Orlando City during his final season.

Louisville City began as an affiliate of Orlando City, and when Orlando City sold their rights to their USL Pro team to Soccer Holdings in Louisville, O’Connor was tabbed to become Louisville City’s first head coach.

“James’ character is a great fit for us, and he will be a tremendous leader as we exponentially grow our organization,” Estes said.

O’Connor will begin work with Soccer Holdings immediately and his family has already moved back to Louisville.

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