Ryan Mooney, a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Soccer Federation who most recently held the lofty title of “chief soccer officer,” is leaving the governing body to help run a new sports business venture formed by Union minority owner Richie Graham.
The venture, called Playmakers Management Group, has been formed to consolidate a group of sports-related projects Graham works with under the umbrella of the private equity investment firm where he has made his money. Those projects include a sports medicine entity that has treated players from the NBA, NFL and international sports (including tennis star Andy Murray); and a soon-to-launch marketing agency that aims to connect brands with American soccer entities as interest grows in the sport.
Other notable employees in the venture include former Adidas soccer executive John Parker (who helped found the American Outlaws chapter in his native Atlanta) and former Under Armour global creative director Mark Gonzalez.
Playmakers will also be a vehicle for Graham’s investment in the Union, and the team’s youth academy and high school in Wayne that Graham has helped bankroll since its inception.
“A lot of my own interest and passion in player development is about pushing American soccer forward and pushing the Philadelphia Union forward, and can we create a reputation as the Ajax of North America?” he said, referring to the Dutch club whose renowned youth academy produced superstars such as Johan Cruyff and Dennis Bergkamp. “That’s a lofty goal, but I really believe deeply in our talent pool in this country, and I believe that we can be a future powerhouse in the sport of soccer. We just need to be smart about developing the talent.”
(And for the record, he added a moment later that the Union’s “strategy is never about exclusively homegrown player development. It’s always going to be how you create a roster where you complement what you’re able to build with what you buy.”)
Mooney’s high rank at U.S. Soccer wasn’t just ceremonial. He played a big role in the hiring of U.S. men’s national team general manager Earnie Stewart and head coach Gregg Berhalter, and was involved in the ongoing search for a women’s national team GM. Previously, he worked on expanding the Federation’s grassroots-level coaching license program, and he helped launch some sports science initiatives.
“A lot of the work that we’ve done at the Federation, understandably, is very macro, very high-level, very removed from that end individual - whether it be a coach, a parent, an athlete, a player, etc.” said Mooney, who has known Graham for a decade. "This is really a chance to be closer to that end result, and help influence, with hopefully some significance, the market of Philadelphia - what that means for soccer there, and what it means ultimately for our efforts whether they be national or international beyond that point.
Mooney’s new job will include some involvement with the Union, though he won’t officially be in their hierarchy. He’ll be around, though, to offer advice and connections to sporting director Ernst Tanner, manager Jim Curtin and academy director Tommy Wilson.
“For me, it’s about bringing some expertise and insight around process, around programs, looking at how I can complement and supplement what they’re willing to do,” Mooney said. “I have the chance to support a lot of talented people already in place, and bring with me my experiences, whether those be Federation-specific - understanding of the club landscape here in the U.S. - or globally, and how that translates to what the Union are looking to accomplish on the soccer side.”