Loyola Magazine

Former Greyhounds Soccer Player Serves as Chief of Staff to the Commissioner for Major League Soccer

Nina Tinari, ’02, reflects on leading a purposeful life—and the global impact of sports
Nina Tinari

Former South African leader Nelson Mandela said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, and it has the power to unite people that little else does.”

Those words resonated with Nina Tinari, ’02, and, in fact, still echo today in her role as the chief of staff to the Commissioner of Major League Soccer (MLS).

“Sport remains this societal phenomenon that crosses over a range of issues,” says Tinari, a former Greyhounds soccer and lacrosse player.

“There is such a global impact in sports that transcends boundaries, brings people together across cultures, languages, and backgrounds—which is what I love about working in professional sports, soccer specifically, as it’s played all around the world.”

Nina Tinari walking and talking in a soccer stadium
Photo courtesy of Nina Tinari, ’02

This may seem difficult to accomplish—but not impossible for someone as determined as Tinari. She displayed her tenacity long before earning a significant role at MLS. Tinari was recruited to play both soccer and lacrosse at Loyola. When she came to Loyola, she originally signed to play lacrosse. Greyhounds coach Joe Mallia convinced her to play both.

After her first year at Loyola, she opted to concentrate solely on soccer, and her competitiveness was a hallmark during her collegiate career. Her personality was also an excellent match for the school, especially with her eagerness to invest in other people.

“Loyola was a perfect fit for her,” said Mallia, the winningest coach in Loyola women’s soccer history. “She’s a people person and cares for people. That comes out in every facet of what she does, whether it be her personal life or in work relationships. And that’s what Loyola is all about.”

After graduating from Loyola with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, Tinari served six-and-a-half years in former Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell’s administration, working her way up to special assistant to the governor. During Rendell’s second term, she focused on the effort to bring a Major League Soccer team to Philadelphia. Tinari helped to develop a financing plan and other key elements that led to the Philadelphia Union’s debut in 2008—an experience that would help open a professional door more than a decade later.

Tinari later joined a lobbying firm as its director of government relations and eventually started her own consulting firm. But sports were still at the center of her mind—and her mission. One of her early forays back into athletics came when Rendell appointed her to the Philadelphia Sports Congress (now known as PHL Sports). There would be more to come.

“When Nina started talking years ago about really wanting to find her way into the sports sector, you could tell it was going to happen—or bust,” Mallia said. “I think that’s a testament to her personality. She kept working her tail off, kept believing, and kept striving to get to where she is now, and I don’t think she’s done by any means. It just came through her perseverance.”

Her consulting work included time with the Kansas City Current, a National Women’s Soccer League club that debuted in 2021 and has drawn attention for building the first stadium in the world constructed specifically for a women’s soccer team.

As part of her responsibilities with Kansas City, Tinari attended a Sportico conference in New York, where she reconnected with longtime MLS Commissioner Don Garber. That led to a move to MLS in February 2023, and she was named Garber’s chief of staff.

In this role, Tinari assists the commissioner on a wide range of strategic initiatives, provides advice, helps with problem-solving while anticipating challenges, and works on special projects leading up to World Cup 2026.

“Every day is different, but with the same goal in mind—for MLS to be one of the top soccer leagues in the world, and to be part of the global conversation,” Tinari says.

“I also believe we have a responsibility as human beings to leave the world a better place than how we found it.”

Some things are constant. Tinari credits her parents for instilling strong values and praises Mallia for his impact both on and off the pitch. She says he helped her to understand the art of resilience and the importance of believing in oneself and in something larger than oneself.

“When looking back at my trajectory, I can see that my time at Loyola University Maryland as a student-athlete was formative,” Tinari says.

“I’ve learned that everything you do every day will have an impact in the future. Loyola is a place where academic excellence is important, but leading a purposeful life is paramount.”