Carlos Cordeiro

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Judge grants USWNT class status in discrimination lawsuit

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The U.S. women’s national team has been granted class status in its lawsuit against U.S. Soccer that alleges gender discrimination in compensation and working conditions.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner’s ruling Friday in Los Angeles expands the case beyond the 28 players who originally brought the lawsuit to include all players who had been called up to camp or played in a game over a multiyear period. U.S. Soccer had opposed the move to certify the class.

[READ: Lloyd leads USWNT, Andonovski to first win]

Twenty-eight players, including stars Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, were part of the original suit filed against U.S. Soccer in March alleging institutionalized gender discrimination that includes inequitable compensation between the men’s and women’s teams. A May 5 trial date has been set in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

The federation has maintained that compensation for each team is the result of separate collective bargaining agreements, and that the pay structures are different as a result. Men’s team players are paid largely by appearance and performance, while the contract for the women’s team includes provisions for health care and other benefits, as well as salaries in the National Women’s Soccer League.

The players disputed U.S. Soccer’s claims that some of them made more than their male counterparts, maintaining that if men had been as successful as the women’s team, they would have earned far more. The U.S. women won back-to-back World Cup titles in 2015 and 2019. The men failed to make the field for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Judge Klausner did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit but acknowledged the players’ claims that they were paid less on a per-game basis than the men and did not enjoy the same working conditions.

“The failure to provide the (women’s National Team) with equal working conditions is a real (not abstract) injury which affects each Plaintiff in a personal and individual way,” the judge ruled “Plaintiffs also have offered sufficient proof of this injury. Indeed, Plaintiffs have submitted declarations establishing that WNT players were subject to discriminatory working conditions.”

Molly Levinson, who speaks for the players in matters of the lawsuit, applauded the ruling.

“This is a historic step forward in the struggle to achieve equal pay. We are so pleased that the Court has recognized USSF’s ongoing discrimination against women players – rejecting USSF’s tired arguments that women must work twice as hard and accept lesser working conditions to get paid the same as men. We are calling on (U.S. Soccer President) Carlos Cordeiro to lead USSF and demand an end to the unlawful discrimination against women now,” Levinson said.

U.S. Soccer had “no specific comment” on the ruling.

Andonovski named new USWNT coach

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The ninth head coach in the history of the United States women’s national team is Vlatko Andonovski.

The reigning NWSL Coach of the Year, his second time winning the award, Andonovski leaves his post leading Megan Rapinoe, Allie Long, and the Seattle Reign.

[ MORE: Dest commits to USMNT ]

The move is the first big one under general manager Kate Markgraf, who described why Andonovski was the man for the job.

“Vlatko was the best fit with his experience with elite players, how he sees the game, how he coaches the game and manages players, and his overall personality and ability to take on a job of this magnitude. I know all the players and staff are excited to begin this new chapter in Women’s National Team history with him and start the important work towards qualifying for the Olympics.”

Andonovski will run the USWNT through their paces for Nov. 7 and 10 friendlies against Sweden and Costa Rica, and it will be interesting to see how he navigates the process of choosing a roster of his preference considering the last one won the World Cup.

The USWNT program has become one of massive player power. Andonovski’s alliance with Rapinoe should serve him well, but remember how quickly things deteriorated for Tom Sermanni as he attempted to run the team after Pia Sundhage.

The establishment of Markgraf’s position should give any manager a longer leash, but it’s worth noting that the reins of the best team on Earth carry more responsibility than most.

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.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up against Uruguay? ]

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.”

[ MORE: U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn to retire this month ]

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.

[ MORE: Barcelona preparing lifetime contract for Lionel Messi ]

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.

[ MORE: PL Player Power Rankings ]

“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.