Don Garber

Carlos Cordeiro
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MLS commissioner, USSF VP, sponsors slam U.S. Soccer’s legal stance

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Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber and U.S. Soccer Federation vice president Cindy Cone criticized the legal stance taken by the USSF toward the women’s national team under president Carlos Cordeiro, who was coming under increasing pressure to resign.

A day after American women protested by wearing their warm-up jerseys inside out during the national anthem to obscure the federation logo, several USSF board members issued extraordinary rebukes that raised questions over whether Cordeiro retains their support.

In legal papers submitted to federal court in Los Angeles as part of the USSF’s defense of a gender discrimination suit by players on the women’s team, the USSF asserted the women have lesser physical abilities and responsibilities than their male counterparts. Several USSF sponsors issued statements backing the players, including The Coca-Cola Co., Anheuser Busch Cos. Inc., The Procter & Gamble Co. and Volkswagen Group.

Cordeiro issued a statement late during Wednesday’s game against Japan apologizing for the arguments presented in the documents and added the federation had retained new legal counsel, a move the men’s national team called “window dressing” and “a sleight of hand.”

Cordeiro’s statement did not assuage Garber, a member of the USSF board of directors and CEO of Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm of both MLS and the USSF.

“I expressed to the president of the federation in no uncertain terms how unacceptable and offensive I found the statements in that filing to be,” Garber said in a statement. “Those statements do not reflect my personal view, nor do they reflect the views of the Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing families. I intend to immediately address this issue with the U.S. Soccer board of directors.”

Players filed the gender discrimination lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles last year, claiming they are paid less than their counterparts on the men’s national team. The women are seeking more than $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a trial is scheduled for May 5.

Cordeiro, a former Goldman Sachs partner, was elected to head the USSF two years ago. He took over from Sunil Gulati, who decided not to run for re-election after the men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Cindy Parlow Cone, a former women’s national team player re-elected as USSF vice president last month, was among those on the USSF board criticizing the federation.

“I am hurt and saddened by the brief USSF filed,” she wrote on Twitter. “This issue means so much to me, but more broadly to all men & women and, more importantly, to little girls & boys who are our future. I disavow the troubling statements and will continue to work to forge a better path forward.”

Chris Ahrens, chair of the USSF Athletes Council and a member of the U.S. team that qualified for the 2012 Paralympic Game, wrote on Twitter he was “deeply troubled, saddened and angry.”

“The Athlete Council has requested a meeting with USSF leadership and members of the legal team to demand better,” he added. “I will continue to advocate for the often forgotten about groups and work for a more inclusive organization.”

Heather O’Reilly, an Athletes Council member who was a 2015 World Cup champion, called for Cordeiro’s resignation on Twitter.

“I am part of the Athlete Council. In 2017, we decided as a group, to vote for Carlos, to take over. There was a lot of promises and hope for change. The current released statements have shown my error in judgment,” she wrote. “I think that Carlos should resign and there should be a lengthy process of reorganization at.”

The assertions by the USSF of male physical superiority and responsibility drew widespread condemnation.

“The comments made by U.S. Soccer do not align with our values, nor our point of view on women’s soccer,” Monica Rustgi, Budweiser’s vice president of marketing, said in a statement. “We champion and admire the athleticism of the women in this sport as we find them to be among the best athletes in the world.”

The player protest before a 3-1 victory in the SheBelieves Cup provided a visual to built-up anger. Players hid the USSF crest on the jerseys but allowed the four stars – one for each World Cup title – to be visible. The players did not smile in the pre-game team photo.

“We wanted to stand together as a team and make a statement on behalf of all women and girls hat the federation`s comments are unacceptable,” the said in the statement issued by spokeswoman Molly Levinson. “We love this sport and this country, and we cannot stand for this misogynistic treatment.”

Just before the match ended, Cordeiro issued an apology.

“The federation’s submissions in court are 100% consistent with the longstanding positions and values of federation leadership,” men’s national team players said in a statement. “The effort to blame the lawyers to appease outraged federation sponsors underlines the lack of accountability and other larger problems at U.S. Soccer. The legal strategy to demean the women’s national team and their accomplishments is consistent with the federation’s overall approach to dealing with national team players.”

Players took to social media to voice their displeasure. Christen Press posted a photo of the unsmiling team, writing: “It is the great honor of my life to play this sport and represent this country. Every woman deserves equal pay and every institution anywhere that doesn’t value women as much as men must change now.”

DaMarcus Beasley, the only American man to play in four World Cups, said he was both annoyed an disappointed.

“Respectfully, this is a terrible stance by US Soccer,” Beasley wrote. “Our women are NOT inferior to men in any sense of the word. The are Olympic gold medalists and World Cup Champions!!! And incredible women!!”

Nashville midfielder Dax McCarty, a past member of the national team, wrote on Twitter the statements were “sexist, misogynistic and tone deaf” and also “horrifying.”

In an interview following the game, Megan Rapinoe, the reigning FIFA Player of the Year, addressed young players.

“You are not lesser just because you are a girl. You are not better just because you are a boy,” she said. “We are all created equal and should all have the equal opportunity to got out and pursue our dreams.”

MLS, Nashville at odds with new mayor over stadium project

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@NashvilleSC
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Major League Soccer and its new Nashville team say Mayor John Cooper refused Thursday to commit to moving ahead with a stadium plan approved under the previous mayor.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber and team officials met with Cooper at the league’s office Thursday in New York City to discuss the team’s stadium project. The soccer officials said they want an answer by Feb. 6.

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MLS and Nashville issued a joint statement, saying the team has worked over the past four months to improve the stadium deal with new proposals to address concerns of the mayor, who took office in late September.

The league said in the statement that Garber made clear that MLS would not have awarded Nashville an expansion team without the city’s commitment to build a soccer stadium at the Nashville Fairgrounds location.

“The Mayor’s continued refusal to proceed is a deep disappointment,” the league and team said in the statement.

Cooper must approve demolition of some old exhibition buildings for construction to begin on the stadium. The team will be working with Cooper’s office over the next week trying to finalize a plan to start that phase.

“We hope for a mutually agreeable solution and expect to have an update regarding the project by February 6,” MLS and Nashville said in the statement.

Nashville is scheduled to begin its debut season Feb. 29, hosting Atlanta at Nissan Stadium, home to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

Nashville chief executive officer Ian Ayre said in August the project would cost at least $50 million more than original estimates and the team would be investing up to $75 million in additional money. The Metro Nashville Council approved a $275 million project in November 2017.

MLS granted Nashville an expansion franchise in December 2017 after the council’s vote.

Sacramento announced as latest MLS expansion city

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Major League Soccer is coming to Sacramento… finally.

[ MLS PLAYOFFS: LA Galaxy beat Minnesota to set up El Trafico ]

After nearly five years of waiting while flashier markets like Miami and Los Angeles scooped expansion bid after expansion bid, Sacramento was awarded an expansion franchise on Monday. Sacramento Republic FC, the existing team in USL Championship, will make the leap to MLS in 2022 in a brand new downtown stadium.

The stadium, which will be situated in the Railyards District as “a centerpiece of a redevelopment project” on the northwest corner of downtown Sacramento, will seat just over 20,000 fans and is expected to cost $300 million

[ MLS PLAYOFFS: Philly storms back from 3-1 down to beat Red Bulls in ET ]

The 20th largest media market in the United States, Sacramento sent a message to the North American soccer community in 2014 when the debut of their USL club saw a capacity crowd of more than 20,000 fans pack Hughes Stadium for the inaugural match of Sacramento Republic FC. Since then, they sold out match after match for Republic FC and established a new standard at the USL level. In the USL, Republic FC has set league records in many business metrics, including season ticket sales and merchandising, and have hosted exhibition matches against top international clubs.

With the addition of the MLS team in Sacramento, 19 clubs have joined MLS since 2005, fulfilling a vision for strategic expansion that has transformed the landscape of professional soccer across North America.  Republic FC will add another major professional sports franchise to the city, joining the National Basketball Association’s Kings. It will be the fourth MLS club in California, following the LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes and LAFC.

Report: MLS, Sacramento on the verge of finalizing expansion deal

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Patience is a virtue, just ask Sacramento Republic.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento representatives and Major League Soccer officials have agreed “to the framework of a deal” that would grant the Californian capital an MLS expansion franchise in 2022, ending years of laborious work to bring top-flight soccer to Sacramento.

The team, which is expected to maintain their name and brand, issued a statement regarding the status of the negotiations shortly after the report surfaced:

“We appreciate the great excitement and anticipation in our community about Sacramento’s bid to join Major League Soccer,” the statement read. “As we have stated all along, we are working tirelessly to finalize an agreement to bring MLS to a city and a fanbase that deserves it. We respect the league’s expansion process and will not be providing any additional comment at this time.”

Since their introduction to the North American soccer landscape in 2014, with record crowds, a clear identity on and off the field and a championship behind them, it was crystal-clear Republic were MLS ready then.

League commissioner, Don Garber, who echoed the thoughts of many, and his pupils, however, never acted on their words, striking deals with Cincinnati, Miami, Nashville, Austin, and St. Louis amidst the clamor of Sacramento joining the league.

With billionaire Ron Burkle, partner Matt Alvarez, and local businessman Kevin Neagle all in the ownership fold since the beginning of the year, Sacramento’s legitimacy has taken a much-needed boost – with talks between the team and the league advancing uninterruptedly since April. Over the past two weeks, the deal has never been closer to the finish line.

The ownership group is required to commit to lavish financial undertakings, with the expansion fee bumped to $200 million recently – all in addition to land purchases, the construction of a 20,000-plus seat stadium in the city’s Railyards, and team-wide operational expenses. There is a “contingency deal in place” for the group to buy 31 acres of land for the $250 million stadium as soon as the expansion is made official.

A green light from the league would make Sacramento the league’s 29th team, and the state’s fourth, joining the likes of LA Galaxy, LAFC and San Jose Earthquakes, who they’ve established a budding rivalry with dating back to the club’s first-ever game in 2014.

“While the deal is not finalized, we are working hard and I’ve never been more confident that we will bring (MLS to Sacramento),” Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who has been an influential contributor to the project, tweeted Friday.

The wait is almost over.

MLS’s new ‘no political display’ policy causes controversy

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Major League Soccer’s new policy that bans political displays at matches is stirring controversy in the Pacific Northwest, where supporters’ culture is often intertwined with politics and social issues.

The Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers have banned signs and flags with the “Iron Front” symbol, which they say has become appropriated by some in the loosely structured antifa movement, at times in the context of violence.

The symbol of three arrows pointing downward and to the left dates back to an anti-Nazi paramilitary organization formed in Germany in the 1930s. Supporters’ groups maintain the symbol represents opposition to fascism and persecution – a human rights issue, not a political stance.

“With the recent rise in targeted attacks against so many groups – LBTGQ+, immigrants, women, religious groups, and more – and the presence of fascists in our stadiums, this symbol represents our firm stance of combating hatred in soccer, our communities, and our world,” the board of directors for Portland’s 107 Independent Supporters Trust said in a statement. The group represents fans of both the Timbers and the NWSL’s Thorns.

The league’s new fan code of conduct, implemented this season, prohibits “using (including on any sign or other visible representation) political, threatening, abusive, insulting, offensive language and/or gestures, which includes racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist or otherwise inappropriate language or behavior.”

MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said the league worked with all its teams to devise the policy.

“I think it was the belief of the league and the clubs that fans are at our games to enjoy the game and that there is a place for third-party political organizations or groups to express their views, but that place isn’t within our stadiums,” Abbott told The Associated Press.

Major League Soccer is the only professional league among the top five in the United States with a code of conduct that expressly bans political signage. Policies for the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB mostly deal with fan conduct, like abusive behavior or language, and intoxication. The NBA prohibits “obscene or indecent messages” on signs.

MLS is also the only league to specifically target racist, homophobic, xenophobic and sexist language or behavior, which was lauded by supporters’ groups.

But some questioned the inclusion of political displays as too vague.

“We, as an organization, feel strongly on ensuring that displays of human rights are not mistaken for political statements. Political engagement is sometimes necessary in securing human rights for all, but that does not make the message of human rights inherently political,” the Independent Supporters Council of North America said in a statement following the release of the policy.

Earlier this season, a fan waving a Trump 2020 flag was removed from Providence Park.

Sounders supporters took issue when the Iron Front symbol was included with mentions of far-right groups Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys in a letter from team management that explained the ban.

“Messages, banners, flags or any other symbols that represent an association to a political group will not be allowed in CenturyLink Field. This includes, but is not limited to, Antifa, Iron Front, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer,” the letter from team management said.

The Sounders later apologized for equating the groups. Taylor Graham, Sounders vice president of business operations and marketing, spoke to reporters following practice last week, saying: “We first and foremost want to put our hand up and say, `That’s not fair, and we apologize for those words,’ putting them in that context.”

But the link to antifa has spurred some to take action. Last weekend a group of a dozen activists confronted fans taking part in the traditional March to the Match. The group also tried to get into a pregame party at a nearby bar but was turned away by bouncers.

There was one scuffle but no arrests were made.

The incident came on the same weekend as the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. In Philadelphia, Union captain Alejandro Bedoya rushed to the sideline after a goal and shouted into an on-field microphone: “Hey Congress, do something now! End gun violence! Let’s go!”

While Bedoya’s statement was clearly political, MLS did not take any disciplinary action. Bedoya was voted the league’s Player of the Week even though he was not included on the ballot.

“The Major League Soccer family joins everyone in grieving for the loss of lives in Texas and Ohio, and we understand that our players and staff have strong and passionate views on this issue,” the league said in a statement.

Abbott said he believes the new policy makes clear that the MLS does not equate different political or ideological groups. He also pointed to the league’s Soccer for All initiative.

“We unequivocally condemn groups that engage in hateful actions and speech. Through our commitment to Soccer for All, it is very clear where the league stands on supporting diversity and inclusion,” he said. “We also recognize the importance of these values to our fans, but we don’t believe our venues are the appropriate place for signage that promotes any kind of third-party political organization or group, regardless of whether we agree with the tenets of that organization.”