U.S. Soccer

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USWNT lawsuit goes to trial May 5

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LOS ANGELES (AP) A judge has set a May 5 trial date for the gender discrimination lawsuit filed by the women’s national team against U.S. Soccer.

District Judge R. Gary Klausner assigned the date at a hearing Monday in Los Angeles, which came less than a week after mediation between the two sides broke down.

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The players sued U.S. Soccer in March, alleging institutionalized gender discrimination that includes inequitable compensation when compared with their counterparts on the men’s national team.

The federation claims that compensation for each team is the result of separate collective bargaining agreements, and that the pay structures are different as a result.

The sides had agreed to mediate the dispute after this summer’s World Cup in France. The U.S. beat the Netherlands in July for its second straight title, and fourth overall.

The players and U.S. Soccer had requested a trial date after the Tokyo Olympics, which start July 25.

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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.

Orange County SC signs 14-year-old to pro deal

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Freddy Adu no longer holds the distinction, or pressure, of being the youngest signing in American soccer history.

That’s because on Monday, USL side Orange County SC signed 14-year-old Francis Jacobs to a professional contract. Jacobs, according to a press release from the club, had interest “from multiple European clubs,” but turned down a move abroad to stay close to home in Southern California. Per USL, Jacobs is eligible to play matches through the rest of the season. It’s unclear whether this type of contract allows Jacobs to keep his NCAA eligibility, should he potentially need to develop in college down the road.

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“Francis is a special Orange County talent and has shown a maturity on the field way beyond his years,” Orange County SC general manager Oliver Wyss said in a statement. “He is the perfect model of player to develop in our pathway to professional program that we have established here in Orange County. The entire organization is committed to providing him with guidance, training and support as he begins the first step in what we believe will be a long professional soccer career. Our training environment will allow him to learn every day from our experienced technical staff and play alongside top pro players, some of which have played on the highest international level in Mexico and Europe. Francis has a bright future ahead and we are proud to have him and his family as part of Orange County SC.”

Jacobs, though still young, has been called up by the U.S. Soccer to take part in training camps with the U.S. Under-14 Boys National Team. He’s been described as a midfielder, but of course, at that age, he can end up playing anywhere.

Hopefully for Jacobs, this isn’t too much too soon. As Freddy Adu has learned over the course of his career, he bought into his own hype and didn’t work hard enough in training, or work hard enough for his teammates. He was capable of a moment of brilliance, but too often it was nowhere to be found.

For Jacobs however, this could be a chance to take his game to a new level. Playing with and against professionals each week calls for a player’s best, and hopefully over time, as he matures into an adult, he can rise to the challenge.

This isn’t a totally unprecedented move for the USL club. One of Orange County SC’s goalkeepers, 17-year-old Aaron Cervantes, signed ahead of last season and now has become the No. 1 for the team in July. He’s started each of his team’s last five games, helping keep two clean sheets.

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.

U.S. Soccer: We paid USWNT more than men from 2010-18

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U.S. Soccer says the players on the World Cup champion women’s national team were paid more than their male counterparts from 2010 through 2018.

According to a letter released Monday by U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro, the federation has paid out $34.1 million in salary and game bonuses to the women as opposed to $26.4 million paid to the men. Those figures do not include benefits received only by the women, like health care.

[MORE: Latest USWNT News]

The federation released the figures as it moves toward mediating a federal lawsuit in which players for the women’s team accused U.S. Soccer of “institutionalized gender discrimination” that includes inequitable compensation when compared to players on the men’s team.

Comparing compensation between the two teams is difficult because the pay structure is based on different collective bargaining agreements. For example, players for the women’s team have a base salary while the men are paid based on matches and performance.

“In the weeks ahead, we’ll focus on preparing for mediation and resolving this matter in the best interests of the WNT and U.S. Soccer. I want you to know that U.S. Soccer is committed to doing right by our players, and I’ve been encouraged by the public comments from players expressing their desire for a cooperative approach. I remain optimistic that we can find common ground,” Cordeiro wrote. “Together, I believe we can get this done.”

Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the players in matters involving the lawsuit, called the letter “a sad attempt by USSF to quell the overwhelming tide of support the USWNT has received from everyone from fans to sponsors to the United States Congress.

“The USSF has repeatedly admitted that it does not pay the women equally and that it does not believe the women even deserve to be paid equally,” Levinson said. “This is why they use words like “fair and equitable,” not equal in describing pay.”

Cordeiro said the federation recently conducted an extensive analysis of its finances over the past 10 years, seeking to clear up what he called confusion based on the pay structures for both teams.

U.S. Soccer said it pays the women’s national team players a base salary of $100,000 per year, and an additional $67,500 to $72,500 per player as a salary for playing in the National Women’s Soccer League. The women also have health care benefits and a retirement plan.

Conversely, players on the men’s national team are paid by training camp call-ups, game appearances and through performance bonuses. The federation says the men have the ability to earn higher bonuses that the women. The collective bargaining agreements are not made public, and U.S. Soccer did not provide details about the men’s bonus structure.

USSF also says the men’s team generates more revenue. The women’s team generated $101.3 million over the course of 238 games between 2009 and 2019 while the men generated $185.7 over 191 games, according to the federation.

The analysis did not include prize money for tournaments like the World Cup, because those funds are determined by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, and not U.S. Soccer.

The letter comes amid increasing pressure on U.S. Soccer in the wake of the women’s victory at the World Cup earlier this month. After the United States defeated the Netherlands in Lyon, France, to win a second straight title, the crowd at the stadium chanted “Equal Pay! Equal Pay!”

During the World Cup, more than 50 members of Congress also sent a letter to U.S. Soccer “to express our disappointment of the inequities in pay, publicity, and investment that the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) has continued to face.” Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia introduced a bill that would withhold federal funding that would go toward hosting the 2026 men’s World Cup until the issue was resolved.

Cordeiro said in the letter that the federation decided to focus on winning the World Cup rather than debate the lawsuit.

“Now that the Women’s World Cup is behind us, a common understanding of key facts will also help advance our shared work to grow women’s soccer in America as well as the larger national discussion about equality,” he wrote.

Levinson maintains the figures provided by U.S. Soccer are misleading.

“The USSF fact sheet is not a “clarification.” It is a ruse. Here is what they cannot deny. For every game a man plays on the MNT he makes a higher base salary payment than a woman on the WNT. For every comparable win or tie, his bonus is higher. That is the very definition of gender discrimination,” Levinson said in a statement. “For the USSF to believe otherwise, is disheartening but it only increases our determination to obtain true equal pay.”