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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.

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.

Jill Ellis content to get off USWNT ‘roller coaster’

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PASADENA, Calif. — Jill Ellis likened her tenure in charge of the U.S. women’s national team to an amusement park ride. She also compared it to a tumultuous ride on a five-year wave.

The most successful head coach in program history seems quite content to get off this merry-go-round on her own terms.

Ellis was upbeat Friday when she joined her players at the Rose Bowl for their first workout ahead of a five-game exhibition Victory Tour designed to bring the World Cup winners to their legions of domestic fans. The tour got a slight damper Tuesday when Ellis announced she will step down at its conclusion.

Before her team’s first game since her decision, the only two-time Women’s World Cup-winning coach expressed pride in her work and optimism for the future without her, starting with the Tokyo Olympics next year.

But more than anything else, Ellis exuded calm about her decision to walk away on top.

“When I took the job … it was the beginning of a cycle, and now I feel like this is the end of a cycle,” Ellis said. “I know the Olympics is very close, but that begins another cycle, if that makes sense. I think the timing is now. … I mean, five and a half years is kind of a long time in this job, which has been great and such a privilege. But I didn’t give much consideration to coaching next year.”

Ellis likely could have stayed on through Tokyo, but decided to give a head start to her successor. She had a few words of advice for whoever steps into her large shoes.

“It’s a roller coaster. Put your seatbelt on,” Ellis said with a grin. “Enjoy the ride, because you’re going to expect highs and lows. It’s the wave analogy. It’s the trough and the crest. You can’t have a beautiful ocean without both of those. You can’t have this journey without all the highs and lows.”

The 52-year-old Ellis lost exactly seven of her 127 games since May 2014, winning eight tournaments and half of the nation’s four World Cup titles. When her team raised the trophy last month in France, the Americans reaffirmed their status as the world’s dominant program.

“Well, I’m selfishly sad,” World Cup hero Rose Lavelle said. “I’ve really enjoyed having her as a coach. I feel like I’ve grown so much the past three years, and I’m sad, but I’m happy she went out on top and now has some time with her family to enjoy.”

No coach can match Ellis’ international accomplishments, yet she still faced near-constant scrutiny for her tactics, lineup decisions and substitution patterns – even from former and current players for a team that never lost a game at two World Cups.

Megan Rapinoe said she “wasn’t super surprised” by Ellis’ decision.

“It’s obviously a very difficult job to have, and to be able to go out on top is obviously a nice way to go,” the Golden Ball winner added.

Christen Press praised Ellis for her ability to create a structured training environment similar to the stability of a men’s club team – a difficult feat given the unstable, traveling nature of national teams.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that any program in any sport would have this level of meticulous detail and control,” Press said. “I think Jill was able to do that because she was in the system before she was the head coach. We’re taking everything that we do on the road, so every single training facility is different. When you have a meeting is different. What you’re eating is different. It’s the head coach’s job to oversee that, and it was such a seamless thing for us. We could really focus.”

After this tour ends Oct. 6 in Chicago, Ellis will spend at least the next year working for U.S. Soccer as an ambassador. That hasn’t stopped widespread speculation about her long-term plans, but Ellis isn’t sharing in it.

“I haven’t given any thought to my future, I really haven’t,” Ellis said. “I just felt the timing was right. The timing is right for whoever the new coach is. The timing was right for me on a personal level with my family. I’m going to still be working in a capacity for a while for U.S. Soccer, so I haven’t even thought about coaching another team at this point. “

The U.S. women are opening the tour with the team’s fifth-ever game at the famed Rose Bowl, where they won the World Cup in 1999 on Brandi Chastain’s penalty shot. A statue of Chastain celebrating her goal was dedicated outside the stadium last month.

Rapinoe and Alex Morgan won’t play in the tour opener at the Rose Bowl while they recover from minor injuries.

USMNT players’ union back USWNT in equal pay battle

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The US National Soccer Team Players Association (UNSTPA) have released a statement backing the USWNT in their equal pay battle with the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Following USSF president Carlos Cordeiro releasing a statement which included claims that the USWNT cost U.S. Soccer $27 million over the last 11 years and that they paid the women’s team more than the men during that period, the men’s national team have once again reiterated their support for the USWNT.

“The federation downplays contributions to the sport when it suits them,” said the UNSTPA. “This is more of the same from a federation that is constantly in disputes and litigation and focuses on increasing revenue and profits without any idea how to use that money to grow the sport. One way to increase profit unfairly is to refuse to pay national team players a fair share of the revenue they generate.”

The UNSTPA, the labor organization for the current and former members of the USMNT, went on to pick apart Cordeiro’s comments regarding labor negotiations as their current CBA agreement expired at the end of 2018 and they are yet to hear from him.

“The women’s national team players deserve equal pay and are right to pursue a legal remedy from the courts or Congress. The Federation correctly points to the different payment systems with USWNT players on contracts, but we do not believe that justifies discrediting the work they do or the real value of their profound impact on the American sports landscape. The only solution Mr. Cordeiro proposes is for fans to buy more tickets and watch more games on television.

“He conceals the fact that the money will not go to USWNT players when sponsors pay the Federation to support the USWNT, fans buy tickets to USWNT games at ever-increasing ticket prices, and television companies pay more when more fans watch USWNT games. That is neither fair nor equitable. We are also surprised Mr. Cordeiro is writing about labor issues since he has yet to contact the USNSTPA since taking office. As you may know, our CBA expired at the end of 2018 and we are currently waiting on a response from US Soccer to our proposal that would pay the men a fair share of all of the revenue they generate and would provide equal pay to the USMNT and USWNT players.”

USWNT dominate FIFA’s best player, coach award nominees

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The two-time reigning World Cup champions understandably lead the way in terms of nominees for FIFA’s top awards.

Four USWNT players have been nominated to be crowned the best women’s player on the planet over the past 12 months, while Jill Ellis (who announced yesterday she will depart in October) has been nominated for the best coach in the female game.

Julie Ertz, Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle and Alex Morgan are the four nominees from the USWNT, as the list of 12 nominees takes into account performances from 25 May 2018 to 7 July 2019. Rapinoe was named the best player at the 2019 World Cup, while Lavelle was named the third best overall as the U.S. secured back-to-back titles under Ellis.

Ellis is the favorite to win the Coach of the Year award in the women’s game, while Phil Neville of England is also a leading contender along with Reynald Pedros of Lyon among the 10 nominees. NC Courage head coach Paul Riley is also nominated, and he is one of the leading contenders to replace Ellis as the new USWNT head coach.

Ada Hegerberg, who won the award last year, is once again nominated despite her ongoing dispute with the Norwegian FA which saw the Lyon star miss out on the World Cup, while Norway’s Caroline Graham Hansen is included, with England’s Lucy Bronze (who was named the second best player at the 2019 World Cup) and Ellen White, Australia’s Sam Kerr, plus Dutch star Vivianne Miedema and French duo Wendi Renard and Amandine Henry.

Rapinoe is the favorite given her superb displays at the 2019 World Cup, but the likes of Hegerberg, Renard and Bronze will be right up there as they’ve been stars for the all conquering Lyon in the club game.

Below is the list of the nominees for the player and coach of the year award, which will be announced at FIFA’s ceremony in Milan on Sept. 23.

FIFA Best Player of the Year nominees

Lucy Bronze – Lyon and England
Julie Ertz – Chicago Red Stars and USWNT
Caroline Graham Hansen – Wolfsburg (now Barcelona) and Norway
Ada Hegerberg – Lyon and Norway
Amandine Henry – Lyon and France
Sam Kerr – Chicago Red Stars and Australia
Rose Lavelle – Washington Spirit and USWNT
Vivianne Miedema – Arsenal and Netherlands
Alex Morgan – Orlando Pride and USWNT
Megan Rapinoe – Seattle Reigns and USWNT
Wendie Renard – Lyon and France
Ellen White – Manchester City and England

FIFA Best Coach of the Year nominees

Melina Bertolini – Italy
Jill Ellis – USA
Peter Gerhardsson – Sweden
Futoshi Ikeda – Japan U20
Antonia Is – Spain U17
Joe Montemurro – Arsenal
Phil Neville – England
Reynald Pedros – Lyon
Paul Riley – NC Courage
Sarina Wiegman – Netherlands