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FIFA vice president: International games could be off until 2021

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International soccer might not be played until 2021 due to coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions and the need to give club competitions the chance to resume, a FIFA vice president said Monday.

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Victor Montagliani, a Canadian who is president of the governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean, has been heading a FIFA working group formulating plans to deal with the implications of the world’s biggest sport being largely shut down since last month.

FIFA already has called off matches between countries that were due to be played in March and June. Montagliani, CONCACAF’s president, believes the September, October and November windows for national team matches could be scrapped.

“I personally think that might be a bit of a challenge, not so much because of just the health issues around the world and the various degrees of preparedness, but also committing to international travel as soon as we come back,” Montagliani said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think that domestic football is a priority. September is still in the books, but I would garner to say that I’m not sure it’s there on solid ground the way things are trending right now.”

The return of fans into packed stadiums could be dependent on a vaccine for the COVID-19 disease being ready — and that might not be until 2021.

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“If we get the green light to play a football match. I highly doubt that first football match will be with fans. I just can’t see that. I think that would be taken a massive risk,” he said. “I’m pretty sure it’ll be a phased in approach, just like the rest of society is going to be is then in terms of us trying to get back to normal here.”

A full resumption of soccer in 2020 might not be possible in parts of the world hardest hit by the pandemic, including Europe and North America.

“If you take that across international boundaries, that’s a significant issue,” Montagliani said. “And so, yes absolutely, there’s always that possibility.”

CONCACAF’s hexagonal that determines the region’s three direct qualifiers is to start in the fall with each nation playing two games each in September, October and November. The United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras and either El Salvador or Canada will compete.

Scheduling will be discussed further by a working group featuring the six confederations.

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“I’m fairly confident the March window in 2021 will be fine,” Montagliani said. “The priority is to help our national leagues . then look at our events.”

The qualifying format for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar might have to be curtailed with the time frame tightening to play matches.

“We’re likely going to be having to seriously look at reformatting some of our events,” Montagliani said. “We’re committed to our final four (in the Nations League). But we have other events that we have to probably look at reformatting, whether it’s some of our youth competitions, even our World Cup qualifying, where we’re going to have to, in the balance of probabilities, look at how that would work in a situation where the calendar there is now less than what we expected it to be.”

CONCACAF postpones Nations League finals, Gold Cup qualification

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CONCACAF announced on Friday that the 2019-20 Nations League finals and the opening rounds of 2021 Gold Cup qualification have been postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Nations League finals — featuring the U.S. men’s national team, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras — were previously scheduled to take place in Houston and Dallas in early June. CONCACAF says the semifinals and final will be rescheduled for a later date.

The seconds round of Gold Cup qualifying was previously scheduled to be made up in June — following their postponement in March, with four two-leg ties featuring largely Caribbean and Central American nations. Those, too, will be rescheduled for a later date.

Given the ongoing public health situation, and following consultation with FIFA regarding the international football calendar, we have made the decision to suspend the CONCACAF Nations League finals, which was scheduled for June 4-7, 2020 in the Houston and Dallas areas.

The event, which includes the Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and USA men’s national teams, will be rescheduled to take place at a later date in venues to be determined. This will be confirmed following further discussions with FIFA regarding the remaining international windows in the football calendar, and will obviously be subject to public health authorities deeming it safe for professional sports events to resume.

Will Wilson named new U.S. Soccer CEO

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U.S. Soccer announced on Monday that it has hired Will Wilson to serve as the federation’s new Chief Executive Officer, replacing Dan Flynn who stepped down from the position last September.

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Wilson spent the last eight years working for sports agency Wasserman, where he was the co-head of the agency’s American football division. The group represents more than 100 NFL clients. More information on Wilson’s background, including a stint with Soccer United Marketing (SUM) which operates behind the scenes with the U.S. federation and Major League Soccer — from U.S. Soccer’s press release:

“We are thrilled Will is joining U.S. Soccer as our CEO,” said U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone.  “He brings an unrivaled set of experience and expertise to soccer in America. His global perspective, background in marketing and growing sporting events and extensive experience in the sports business will be invaluable in growing soccer at all levels. Soccer is the world’s game and Will is the perfect person to help us grow it to America’s game.”

Wilson’s vision helped launch Wasserman’s NFL representation practice with the signing of Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, whose 2016 contract extension was then the largest in league history. The division has grown to represent more than 100 NFL players with senior agents located across the country, one of the most comprehensive in the sport. As an NFLPA Certified Contract Advisor, he has a deep understanding of labor issues as well as working within the constructs of a Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Prior to Wasserman, Wilson served as Executive Vice President of International Business & Special Events for Major League Soccer (MLS) and Soccer United Marketing (SUM) from 2008-12. Fluent in Spanish, he oversaw the League’s international game business.

“I’m very excited to be joining U.S Soccer,” said Wilson. “I have always admired the Federation from afar and have long felt that the U.S. Soccer crest is one of the best brands in the business. There is nothing like harnessing our nation’s support behind our Women’s and Men’s National Teams, and I see significant upside in our ability to work with our Membership to grow participation levels, increase our commercial business and drive our ability to compete on the field at the highest level.”

Wilson appears to be thoroughly qualified for the position as USSF CEO, given his vast experience from various angles of the sports world. Having someone who is well-versed in the business of sports, rather than business in general, should serve the federation well with a number of important issues await him just on the horizon.

PSV extends 19-year-old USMNT prospect Ledezma’s contract

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U.S. men’s national team prospect Richie Ledezma saw his stay with PSV Eindhoven extended by an additional two years when the Eredivisie club exercised an option in the 19-year-old midfielder’s contract on Monday.

[ MORE: How are players staying fit amid coronavirus outbreak? ]

Ledezma, who came through the Real Salt Lake academy before signing with PSV in December of 2018, has been a standout performer for the club’s second team, PSV Jong, this season and some believe he is closing in on graduating to the first team in the months ahead.

While he is eligible for both the United States and Mexico, Ledezma was set to join the U.S. Under-23s for Olympic qualifying later this month before the competition was postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Representing the U.S. at an official competition, such as the Olympics, would remove Ledezma’s option for a one-time allegiance switch at a later date.

Cindy Parlow Cone becomes U.S. Soccer president at critical juncture

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New U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone’s first challenge will be to confront the fallout over the federation’s widely condemned legal stance in the gender discrimination lawsuit filed by the women’s national team.

The first woman president in the 107-year history of the governing body will also oversee the appointment of a new chief executive and early preparations for the 2026 World Cup.

A former national team midfielder who became the federation’s vice president last year, Parlow Cone took on her new role Thursday when President Carlos Cordeiro abruptly stepped down.

Cordeiro was facing a growing outcry from players, board members, supporters and sponsors over assertions made in court documents filed this week. USSF lawyers suggested the women’s team was inferior because the players had fewer responsibilities and less physical skill than male national team counterparts.

Former teammates rallied in support of Parlow Cone, who has the unenviable task of damage control.

“I have known Cindy Parlow Cone for over two decades as both a teammate and friend. She has always led with integrity and a commitment to others. I have no doubt that she will dedicate herself to making our game better for all,” Mia Hamm said on social media.

Fellow teammate Julie Foudy wrote: “I played with Cindy for many years. I know Cindy. She understands ALL the players are going through having lived it. And she is one hell of a human. Give her a chance to succeed. Please.”

Now 41, Parlow Cone scored 75 goals in 158 appearances for the U.S. from 1995 to 2006, winning the 1999 World Cup and two Olympic gold medals with the team. She retired because of post-concussion syndrome.

She was coach of the Portland Thorns during the National Women’s Soccer League’s inaugural season in 2013, leading the team to the league’s first title before stepping down to spend time with her family.

She was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2018, and was voted in as USSF vice president in 2019.

Parlow Cone will serve as president until the federation’s annual general meeting next February. An election will be held then to complete Cordeiro’s term, which runs until the regular election for a four-year term in 2022.

Parlow Cone takes on the presidency at a critical juncture. USSF is currently conducting a search for a new CEO to replace Dan Flynn, who retired last September. Brian Remedi is currently serving as chief administrative officer in addition to chief stakeholder officer.

The federation is also in the midst of early preparations for the 2026 men’s World Cup with Canada and Mexico. An expanded field of 48 teams will play in 16 cities across the three countries.

But her most pressing issue is to contain the furor over the USSF’s legal stance in documents filed Monday in federal court in Los Angeles. The documents were filed in connection to the gender discrimination lawsuit filed by women’s national team players last year.

The players say they have not been paid equally to the men’s national team and asked for more than $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . A trial is scheduled for May 5.

Sponsors including The Coca-Cola Co., Anheuser Busch Cos. Inc., The Procter & Gamble Co. and Volkswagen Group issued statements in support of the women’s team. MLS Commissioner Don Garber, a USSF board member, said he was “shocked and angry” over the arguments and Parlow Cone herself denounced the legal stance on Twitter.

National team players silently protested by wearing their jerseys inside out in warmups before a match against Japan on Wednesday night in Texas. The move obscured the U.S. Soccer crest but still revealed the team’s four stars for its Women’s World Cup championships.

Cordeiro apologized for the stance, saying: “I did not have the opportunity to fully review the filing in its entirety before it was submitted, and I take responsibility for not doing so. Had I done so, I would have objected to the language.” But it was too late.

In her only public statement since becoming president, Parlow Cone thanked Cordeiro for his service to soccer. Cordeiro, formerly the organization’s vice president, was elected president after Sunil Gulati resigned because the men’s team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“The passion that has come to the surface in the past two days is what inspires me to look forward, to work hard towards mending relationships and moving the game forward for all,” she said in a statement issued by the federation.

Former U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, a vocal critic of U.S. Soccer, said she hoped the change at the top leads to change within the organization.

“This blatant disrespect and sexist attitude toward the women’s team is nothing new. It didn’t start with Carlos and won’t end with his resignation,” Solo said. “It’s been in place for decades, was perpetuated under Sunil Gulati and was tolerated by so many within the organization. For meaningful change to happen, it has to be institutional. Carlos cannot just be a scapegoat for U.S. Soccer’s PR strategy.”