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U.S. Soccer Federation chief legal officer Lydia Wahlke quits

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CHICAGO — Lydia Wahlke has resigned as chief legal officer of the U.S. Soccer Federation, two months after she was placed on administrative leave.

The federation announced her departure in a note to staff Thursday and said she will be a consultant through Sept. 15.

Wahlke was put on leave after USSF president Carlos Cordeiro resigned March 12 and was replaced by former national team player Cindy Parlow Cone, who had been vice president. Parlow Cone said the USSF legal process will be reviewed.

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The shakeup occurred after the law firm representing the USSF in a lawsuit by women’s national team players filed papers in federal court claiming the women’s team didn’t have the physical abilities or the same responsibilities as the men’s team. That sparked a furor that included an on-field protest by players wearing their warm-up jerseys inside out to hide the USSF crest. The federation then changed its law firm in the case.

Parlow Cone says she hopes to settle the suit by players, who asked for more than $66 million in damages.

“It should be clear that while Carlos Cordeiro did not review or approve of the offensive language in the filing, by personally resigning he decided to put the best interest of U.S. Soccer first,” Parlow Cone said in a statement.

A judge did not allow the players’ claim of discriminatory wages to go to trial, a decision players have asked for permission to appeal. Their claim of discriminatory working conditions remains scheduled for trial starting Sept. 15.

U.S. Soccer Federation, Foundation reach agreement after lawsuit

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The U.S. Soccer Federation and the U.S. Soccer Foundation look to have put their struggles behind them for now.

The foundation was suing the federation after the latter asked the former to stop using its name and logo. The not-for-profit foundation was started in 1994 with the funds leftover after the United States hosted the World Cup.

The parties issued a joint statement on Friday, agreeing to a settlement.

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From USSoccer.com:

We have come to an agreement that we believe is in the best interest for the sport in the United States. As we move forward, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the U.S. Soccer Foundation will work together to provide access and opportunities for all soccer players across the country, particularly those in low-income communities and others in need.

Being sued by, essentially, its own foundation was one of myriad terrible looks for a stuck-in-the-mud U.S. Soccer Federation over the past couple of years.

New leadership has found a much-needed victory in settling the suit as the federation battles a precarious financial situation made worse by another in-family lawsuit from the USWNT. It’s already canceled the development academy, giving MLS a front-row seat in the youth soccer arena.

Hopefully they’ll work with the foundation to truly take care of the underserved soccer community, away from the pay-to-play model.

USWNT file motion to appeal in equal pay fight

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The United States women’s national team has filed a motion in a bid to move along a judgment in their unequal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, and to delay the trial currently set for June 16.

The motion comes one week after the suit was dismissed by a judge in a blow for the USWNT.

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A judge favored the federation in a summary judgment, saying that the USWNT’s claim that they were being paid less than the USMNT was insufficient to warrant a trial.

The USMNT has backed its peers on the women’s side, and presidential candidate Joe Biden has also placed himself in their corner.

Here is a statement from Molly Levinson, spokesperson for the USWNT players in their lawsuit:

“Equal pay means paying women players the same rate for winning a game as men get paid. The argument that women are paid enough if they make close to the same amount as men while winning more than twice as often is not equal pay. The argument that maternity leave is some sort of substitute for paying women players the same rate for winning as men is not valid, nor fair, nor equal. The argument that women gave up a right to equal pay by accepting the best collective bargaining agreement possible in response to the Federation’s refusal to put equal pay on the table is not a legitimate reason for continuing to discriminate against them. Today, we are filing a motion to allow us to appeal immediately the district court’s decision so that the Ninth Circuit will be able to review these claims.”

We’ve written several times that a settlement to get this out of the news is an ideal move for the federation, who may be feeling a court victory is likely. New CEO Will Wilson inherited mess and could use good news in a big way but the fed is also reportedly struggling for cash.

MLS launches ‘elite competition’ in wake of U.S. Soccer academy cuts

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Major League Soccer has announced a new league for boys academies, hours after U.S. Soccer announced its decision to eliminate its Development Academies for boys and girls due to financial worries brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pivotally, MLS is latching onto an opportunity by inviting both MLS Academies and non-MLS Academies affected by the USSF’s decision.

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“The competition will include league season matches and both regional and national tournaments with international teams,” reads a press release. “It will also expand coaching education and improve the approach to player identification to ensure top players have the opportunity to participate in a high-level development environment.”

MLS Academies further taking the lead in youth soccer would be a new and interesting step as the clubs are challenged by a growing Elite Clubs National League.

Soccer Wars, Pt. III: The Youth Movement.

Youth soccer has become big, big business and MLS has proved adept at increasing the value of its franchises. Putting this under its wing is a savvy, opportunistic decision.

The league could opt to focus on the U-16 and U-18 divisions in order to maximize what it can do with the youth player assets.

It will also be interesting to see if MLS plans to include members leagues in its “Homegrown” pool, and a source tells me that the new competition is news to at least some MLS academies. Clearly early days.

U.S. Soccer terminates Development Academy for boys and girls

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Tuesday’s report is now confirmed: The U.S. Soccer Federation has terminated its Development Academy after 13 years, calling it “a difficult financial decision.”

The federation says the decision is an effect of the coronavirus pandemic, which has “resulted in a financial situation that does not allow for the continuation of the Development Academy program into the future.”

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It affects both the boys and girls sides of the aisle. So what does that mean for the future?

From USSoccer.com:

We know you will have a lot of questions about what this means for the future of your club, and we recognize those concerns.  While we do not have all the answers on what the future will look like across the youth soccer landscape, as the governing body of the sport in the United States we are committed to doing as much as we can to assist during these extremely challenging times.

In the immediate future, we will continue to engage all stakeholders across the youth soccer landscape. At the same time, we will also look to increase our efforts on coaching education as well as being engaged and active in the identification and scouting of youth players across the country for all our National Teams.

It reads like a strictly financial decision in which the federation could not justify keeping staff on the payroll with the DA season canceled for the summer and the Fall restart still in question.

The letter was signed by USSF CEO Will Wilson, sporting director Earnie Stewart, and fed president Cindy Parlow Cone.

Two of three have extensive background in the current youth climate (and Stewart certainly knows plenty).

Parlow Cone was director of coaching for NCFC Youth before ascending to USSF president. Wilson served on the board of directors for North Carolina FC along with USSF board member Steve Malik, who owns the USL side NCFC and NWSL side NC Courage, so there’s youth soccer experience at the DA and ECNL levels amongst others.

An interesting side note is that the rival Elite Clubs National League announced the addition of NCFC Youth before the federation released its statement. The boys side of the ECNL has been building in recent years and the girls side is already considered superior to the DA.

Major League Soccer academies are likely to form their own league, while others will race to join other professional leagues. Surely there will be start-ups as well, and hopefully U.S. Soccer will take steps to lower the sometimes exorbitant costs of putting a young player on a top soccer team.