Carlos Cordeiro

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Promoter suing U.S. Soccer for refusal to sanction league matches in U.S.

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NEW YORK (AP) A promoter filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation over the governing body’s refusal to sanction international league matches in the United States, a case similar in some aspects to an action launched last spring in New York state court.

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The new suit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan by Relevent Sports, a company owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Relevent is now represented by Jeffrey Kessler, the lawyer retained by members of the U.S. women’s national team in their wage and gender discrimination lawsuit against the USSF.

Relevent sued in New York Supreme Court after the USSF refused to sanction a league match between Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida. The USSF cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

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During a hearing in May before Justice W. Franc Perry, a lawyer for the USSF argued the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration. Relevent sent the judge a letter on Aug. 5 saying it intended to discontinue the case, but the action is still pending.

In the new suit, Relevant said that when it proposed moving a Spanish La Liga match last season between Barcelona and Girona, USSF President Carlos Cordeiro told it to first obtain approval from UEFA and the Royal Spanish Football Federation. The Spanish federation refused to grant permission.

Relevent also said Cordeiro refused to discuss the possibility of moving last year’s Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and River Plate to Miami Gardens. The second leg was moved from Argentina because of security concerns and was played in Madrid.

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Relevent accused the USSF of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act and of tortious interference. It called Switzerland-based FIFA and Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of Major League Soccer, non-party co-conspirators. Relevent also said it had paid $20.5 million to the USSF to sanction exhibition games in the U.S. from 2013-18 and anticipated paying the USSF $2.4 million this year.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni, who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama.

Asked for comment, the USSF cited its April statement that FIFA rules to do allow it to sanction foreign league matches in the U.S.

Mediation talks between U.S. Soccer, USWNT break down

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According to reports by The New York Times and Yahoo Sports, attempted mediation between the U.S. Women’s National Team and U.S. Soccer have broken down and the two sides will head to federal court.

The players on the women’s team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit back in March, and it appears that lawsuit will continue to progress. The two sides met in New York City for two days according to the reports, but New York Times assistant sports editor Andrew Das says those talks “went nowhere.”

“We entered this week’s mediation with representatives of U.S.S.F. full of hope,” said plaintiff spokeswoman Molly Levinson in a statement. “Today we must conclude these meetings sorely disappointed in the federation’s determination to perpetuate fundamentally discriminatory workplace conditions and behavior. It is clear that U.S.S.F., including its board of directors and President Carlos Cordeiro, fully intend to continue to compensate women players less than men. They will not succeed.”

The Wall Street Journal reported back in June that the two sides intended to hash out their differences outside of the courtroom.

U.S. Soccer released its own side of the situation, accusing the players’ counsel of unproductive intentions. “Instead of allowing mediation to proceed in a considerate manner, plaintiffs’ counsel took an aggressive and ultimately unproductive approach that follows months of presenting misleading information to the public in an effort to perpetuate confusion.

“We always know there is more we can do. We value our players and have continually shown that by providing them with compensation and support that exceeds any other women’s team in the world. Despite inflammatory statements from their spokesperson, which are intended to paint our actions inaccurately and unfairly, we are undaunted in our efforts to continue discussions in good faith.”

In late July, U.S. Soccer president Cordeiro released an open letter that he hoped would help back his side’s stance on the current wage gap. That letter did not go down well, and some attacked the accuracy or relevance of the numbers presented. Reports also claimed that internally, U.S. Soccer looked to hire lobbyists for a political push, fearing backlash from political candidates who hoped to capitalize on the high-profile battle and use it to further a platform around equal pay.

This is not the first time the two sides looked to meet and settle things out of court. Before the Women’s World Cup this summer, the players reportedly looked to meet with Cordeiro and informally come to some kind of agreement, but the U.S. Soccer president insisted all 28 players named in the lawsuit be present, an impossible request given the broad reach of those players and the preparations for the World Cup.

U.S. Soccer promotes Stewart, hires alum Markgraf as USWNT GM

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The United States Soccer Federation is staying on brand and promoting from within.

USMNT general manager and program legend Earnie Stewart has been elevated to sporting director for the entire federation, and 201-times capped USWNT defender Kate Markgraf has been named general manager for the women’s program.

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“This is a great day for the Federation and for soccer in America,” said U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro in a press release. “In Earnie Stewart and Kate Markgraf, we’re keeping our commitment to ensure that soccer operations are run by soccer experts.”

“With Earnie as sporting director and Kate as the first general manager of our women’s national team, we have the leaders in place to align our technical approach, develop the next generation of players and win championships.”

That means that Stewart, 50, will be in charge of hiring his replacement.

Like most things with U.S. Soccer, both of these hires need to come with tempered response and not be held against the hires themselves.

Stewart was a force for the USMNT as a player and his post-playing career has been impressive, with stints as technical directors for NAC Breda and AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie before taking a similar post with the Philadelphia Union.

Markgraf’s resume is less traditional for the post. According to U.S. Soccer, her post-playing career has included acquiring two graduate degrees, working as a broadcast analyst — including with NBC Sports — and volunteered with four D-I women’s programs in the NCAA. Most intriguing, however, is how her academic research will play into her philosophy on developing the women’s program.

She holds two graduate degrees: a Master’s in Kinesiology and a Master’s in Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research on elite athletes and the influence of Grit, a psychological metric predictive of success in elite domains, was the first of its kind and was published, with her as the co-author with her advisor, in the top Sport Psychology Academic Journal, the Journal of American Sport Psychology.

Again, two resumes worthy of acclaim, but how far did U.S. Soccer go in the interview process. That will be the key question for president Carlos Cordeiro when he joins Stewart and Markgraf on a conference call with the media at 5 p.m. ET Monday as the USSF has made some good resume hires for Stewart’s last post and the USMNT head coaching position, only to see the process scrutinized for only looking within the family. That’s also plagued the delayed hunt for a new CEO, which has inspired fan and employee protestation at the idea of elevating the USMNT head coach’s brother to the top of the organization.

USMNT players’ union back USWNT in equal pay battle

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The US National Soccer Team Players Association (UNSTPA) have released a statement backing the USWNT in their equal pay battle with the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Following USSF president Carlos Cordeiro releasing a statement which included claims that the USWNT cost U.S. Soccer $27 million over the last 11 years and that they paid the women’s team more than the men during that period, the men’s national team have once again reiterated their support for the USWNT.

“The federation downplays contributions to the sport when it suits them,” said the UNSTPA. “This is more of the same from a federation that is constantly in disputes and litigation and focuses on increasing revenue and profits without any idea how to use that money to grow the sport. One way to increase profit unfairly is to refuse to pay national team players a fair share of the revenue they generate.”

The UNSTPA, the labor organization for the current and former members of the USMNT, went on to pick apart Cordeiro’s comments regarding labor negotiations as their current CBA agreement expired at the end of 2018 and they are yet to hear from him.

“The women’s national team players deserve equal pay and are right to pursue a legal remedy from the courts or Congress. The Federation correctly points to the different payment systems with USWNT players on contracts, but we do not believe that justifies discrediting the work they do or the real value of their profound impact on the American sports landscape. The only solution Mr. Cordeiro proposes is for fans to buy more tickets and watch more games on television.

“He conceals the fact that the money will not go to USWNT players when sponsors pay the Federation to support the USWNT, fans buy tickets to USWNT games at ever-increasing ticket prices, and television companies pay more when more fans watch USWNT games. That is neither fair nor equitable. We are also surprised Mr. Cordeiro is writing about labor issues since he has yet to contact the USNSTPA since taking office. As you may know, our CBA expired at the end of 2018 and we are currently waiting on a response from US Soccer to our proposal that would pay the men a fair share of all of the revenue they generate and would provide equal pay to the USMNT and USWNT players.”

Report: ‘Toxic’ environment inside U.S. Soccer sees employees rage

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According to a report by the New York Times, current and former U.S. Soccer employees have been anonymously posting scathing reviews of the organization on a networking website called Glassdoor, describing what the NYT report calls a “terrible and toxic place to work.”

The New York Times found the posts and conducted its own investigation, confirming that they accurately reflect feelings inside the organization. They anonymously interviewed current and former employees who described “a culture of fear and intimidation” that has “morale at an all-time low.”

NYT reporter Andrew Das led the investigation and uncovered what he describes as a “behind-the-scenes revolt” that is active and ongoing, with posts flowing onto the networking site even as the U.S. women compete in the Women’s World Cup. The posts began in May, Das reports, and there have been seven new writeups since the start of the event in France.

The Times report details the grumblings within the organization that has become frustrated with a hierarchy dominated by a few longtime executives who have consolidated power and do not delegate tasks to those within.

“Pay is absolutely abysmal. The hiring process is a joke,” wrote one review titled “Dream Job, Nightmare Organization.” “Talented people are getting crushed by this organization left and right, mainly because of being overworked, underpaid, and treated incredibly poorly by the upper management. This results in a lot of current employees doing one or two other jobs in addition to their own, with no pay increase, no overtime, no time off, no title change, and no recognition.”

“Stop taking advantage of people’s love for the game,” the post continued. “Just because we love soccer so much doesn’t give you the right to overwork us to the point where you make us hate it. This was my dream job.”

In a phone interview with the New York Times, an employee called the posts “a cry for help” and said they were motivated by the coming change in leadership with CEO Dan Flynn set to retire and his second-in-command Jay Berhalter – the brother of national team coach Gregg Berhalter – the favorite to take over.

“Nothing will change unless the leadership changes,” the post reads. “Bring in an outside CEO. Please, just stop it with the nepotism. There are still so many hard-working, talented people in the organization that deserve so much better than this. U.S. Soccer has so much potential to be a fantastic organization, but change needs to happen.”

“Executives are more interested in what benefits them rather than ‘making soccer the preeminent sport in America’,” another post reads.

Das writes that he reached out to U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro who said they are aware of the posts but would not comment.