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New U.S. Soccer leadership: Settling USWNT’s lawsuit a priority

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NEW YORK — The newly installed president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Soccer Federation used their first news conference to state that settling a lawsuit filed by women’s national team players is a top priority.

“A lot of damage has been done, and I think we are going to have to rebuild that trust and rebuild the relationship. It is not going to happen overnight,” President Cindy Parlow Cone said Tuesday. “It’s going to take a lot of effort and time and energy from the U.S. Soccer side to rebuild that trust, not only with our U.S. women’s national team players, but with our fans and everyone engaged in the sport.”

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Players claim 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 in federal court in Los Angeles.

“The solution here is clear, simple, and unequivocal: equal pay,” responded Molly Levinson, spokeswomen for the players.

In legal papers filed this month ahead of the trial, the USSF claimed 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 outcry led to the resignation of USSF President Carlos Cordeiro and caused the federation to change its lead law firm.

Chief legal officer Lydia Wahlke has been placed on administrative leave, which was first reported Tuesday by ESPN. Parlow Cone said an outside firm has been retained to review USSF decision-making that led to the briefs “to see where that process broke down.” She hopes to schedule settlement talks.

“I don’t think a trial is good for either party or for soccer,” Parlow Cone said.

A 41-year-old World Cup and Olympic champion, Parlow Cone had been the USSF vice president before Cordeiro quit on March 12.

“The comments and the language in the last filing,” Parlow Cone said, “I think not only hurt our relationship with our women’s national team, but hurt women and girls in general, and as a former national player, they were personally hurtful to me.”

Will Wilson, a former MLS executive and the uncle of retired NFL quarterback Andrew Luck, was hired as chief executive officer Monday to replace Dan Flynn, who retired in September. The 52-year-old Wilson had been co-head of the NFL division of the Wasserman Media Group, which represents players.

“The wording, the comments in the filing were quite frankly shocking and very, very disappointing to me,” Wilson said.

Parlow Cone said she is part of the USSF’s board special litigation committee along with youth council representative Tim Turney and independent director Patti Hart. She said the committee was never given a chance to review the filings before they were submitted to the court.

“There was a fundamental error in our processes,” Parlow Cone said.

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She drew a distinction between this month’s filing and previous legal arguments by the federation.

“I think it’s one thing to argue that men and women play in different tournaments and play against different teams, and it’s altogether a different statement to say that therefore the women carry less responsibility or have less ability,” Parlow Cone said.

She said it was too soon to decide whether she would run next February to complete the final year of Cordeiro’s term. Parlow Cone also said the USSF is open to having the women and men negotiate together for a common labor deal, but that decision is up to the two unions under federal labor law.

Wilson, who said he received a multiyear contract, said it was not clear whether the postponement of the Olympics would cause Nike and other sponsors to decrease payments to the USSF this year. He is likely to take a role in organizing the 2026 World Cup, which the U.S. will co-host with Mexico and Canada.

In addition, the USSF faces antitrust suits by the promoter Relient seeking to allow foreign leagues to play in the U.S. and by the lower level North American Soccer League, which stopped play after 2017 and wanted a promotion-relegation system.

The U.S. men’s national team has been without a collective bargaining agreement since December 2018. Some federation staff complained about working conditions under Flynn and his No. 2, chief commercial and strategy officer Jay Berhalter – the brother of men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter. Jay Berhalter left the USSF last month when it became clear he would not succeed Flynn.

“Yes, there are issues. That’s obvious,” Wilson said. “But for me it was the fact that we had to address those and find resolutions, attack the culture and really create a place that people want to be and want to work.”

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner called off a March 30 hearing to decide summary judgment motions by each side and will issue his rulings based on the written submissions.

Tokyo Olympics postponed until 2021

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The Tokyo Olympics have been postponed until 2021, the IOC and the Tokyo Olympic Organizers have announced.

A joint-statement revealed that for the first-time in Olympic history the games will be delayed to another year as the games were due to take place this summer with the opening ceremony on July 24.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe the games have been rescheduled for an unspecified date in 2021 which will be no later than the summer.

“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the [World Health Organization] today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,” according to a joint statement from the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee. “The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present. Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”

From a soccer perspective, the USWNT had already qualified for the Olympic soccer tournament as the four-time Gold medalists were aiming to build from the success of their 2019 World Cup win.

The USMNT haven’t qualified for the Olympic since Beijing in 2008 and Jason Kreis’ talented youngsters were heavily favored to get through CONCACAF Olympic qualifying which was due to take place in Mexico this month but was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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.

Marsch: New U.S. Soccer leadership needs to unify

Jesse Marsch
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Lost a bit in the coronavirus suspensions in soccer were comments from Red Bull Salzburg coach Jesse Marsch regarding U.S. Soccer’s recent controversial law filings against the women’s national team.

Then-U.S. Soccer president Cordeiro issued an apology after a court filing disparaged female athletes and called the World Cup champions an inferior squad to the men’s national team.

USWNT star Megan Rapinoe was among those who didn’t buy the apology and Cordeiro resigned on March 12.

Marsch was asked his thoughts during a recent interview during a recent interview with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, and he did not hold back.

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At times it read like a stump speech, so Marsch made sure to note that this wasn’t about how the USMNT was being run by Gregg Berhalter, and that it isn’t about adesire to hold the job.

He just wants to know, like many of us, what the heck is going on?

“Where are the leaders in our federation?” he asked. “Where are the leaders in our sport? How can we, especially after failing to make the [men’s] World Cup, now allow this to happen? I mean, I am a coach, but more so I’m a fan of U.S. Soccer. And believe me, this has nothing to do with Gregg Berhalter. This has nothing to do with my desire to be the national team coach. This is a bigger question of: Who are our leaders and who is going to take the federation from here? And who can we trust to actually now help the sport in our country become what we all want it to be?”

Marsch mentioned that he wants to see the USSF unite its divided parties, from players and staff to fans and coaches.

“The only chance we have to really tap into our potential is if everybody believes in a common purpose and everybody works together.”

You can read his entire interview with SI here, which also touches on protegee Tyler Adams.

NWSL season delayed; training moratorium extended

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The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is delaying the start of the regular season because of the coronavirus.

[ MORE: Cordeiro resigns

The league announced Friday that it is imposing a moratorium on training through April 5, following the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of that, the season will not start as planned on April 18.

The NWSL has not announced when the season might start. The league had already canceled its preseason matches.

“We are considering all possible implications for the preseason and regular season schedules while prioritizing the health and safety of our players, staff and fans,” the league said in a statement.

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The nine-team league is embarking on its eighth season. Reign FC was scheduled to play the Washington Spirit at Audi Field in the season opener on CBS, the league’s new broadcast partner.

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