Will Wilson

U.S. Soccer kneeling during anthem
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U.S. Soccer repeals policy requiring players to stand during anthem

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The United States Soccer Federation’s Board of Directors has voted to repeal Policy 604-1, which required players to stand during the national anthem.

The policy was put in place in 2017 after Megan Rapinoe knelt in peaceful protest of police brutality and the oppression of people of color in the United States, inspired by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Rapinoe first knelt with her NWSL team, the Seattle Reign, and the Washington Spirit played the anthem early so she could not kneel before a match. She then knelt in a USWNT kit and the federation put in the policy, which Rapinoe respected.

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The issue of taking a knee has been raised again thanks to widespread protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. A video showed former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, putting his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than 8 1/2 minutes. Chauvin and three other officers were arrested and charged.

Athletes all over the world have spoken out against racism and police brutality since the incident, with the Black Lives Matter movement echoing across the world. Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie, an American, put out an emotional video with some of the biggest names in American soccer saying “Enough is enough” interspersed with violent video of police encounters with black people.

Many Premier League teams and players have been issuing anti-racism statements on a daily basis, and Bundesliga stars such as Jadon Sancho, Marcus Thuram, and Achraf Hakimi worked protests into goal celebrations. At the Werder Bremen v. Wolfsburg match, American players John Brooks and Josh Sargent (pictured above) took a knee with their teams before kickoff.

Major League Soccer announced that it would support players’ rights to kneel during the anthem at matches this season. Crystal Palace defender Patrick van Aanholt said he would be taking a knee when the Premier League returns next week.

The policy was put in place under a different leadership group for U.S. Soccer, and the federation’s statement on the repeal is very clear with CEO Will Wilson (not a board member) and president Cindy Parlow Cone presiding over the operation. A spokesman for U.S. Soccer could not share whether the vote was unanimous as it was conducted in executive session.

The USWNT requested Monday that the USSF repeal the policy.

The USSF board includes Parlow Cone, Carlos Bocanegra, Lori Lindsey, Chris Ahrens, Steve Malik, Don Garber, Richard Moeller, John Motta, Pete Zopfi, Tim Turney, and Mike Cullina.

Here is the full statement:

The U.S. Soccer Federation affirms Black Lives Matter, and we support the fight against racial injustices.

The U.S. Soccer Board of Directors voted yesterday afternoon to repeal Policy 604-1, which required our players to stand during the national anthem. The policy was put in place after Megan Rapinoe kneeled in solidarity with the peaceful protest inspired by Colin Kaepernick, who was protesting police brutality, and the systematic oppression of Black people and people of color in America. It has become clear that this policy was wrong and detracted from the important message of Black Lives Matter.

We have not done enough to listen – especially to our players – to understand and acknowledge the very real and meaningful experiences of Black and other minority communities in our country. We apologize to our players – especially our Black players – staff, fans, and all who support eradicating racism. Sports are a powerful platform for good, and we have not used our platform as effectively as we should have. We can do more on these specific issues and we will.

It should be, and will be going forward, up to our players to determine how they can best use their platforms to fight all forms of racism, discrimination, and inequality. We are here for our players and are ready to support them in elevating their efforts to achieve social justice. We cannot change the past, but we can make a difference in the future. We are committed to this change effort, and we will be implementing supporting actions in the near future.

U.S. Soccer shuts down some youth national teams, announces widespread cuts

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The U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) has announced wide range of cuts amid the current coronavirus pandemic.

New CEO Will Wilson has made some huge decisions just a few weeks into his tenure as the new leading figure of USSF, as the Development Academy program has been cut, while he has also confirmed that youth national teams not involved in any upcoming competitions will be suspended until 2021.

Wilson, the CEO and General Secretary, also revealed a reorganization of senior staff as job cuts have been made, while the majority of USSF staff have been furloughed and added that after arriving at USSF a few weeks ago it “became quickly apparent that the status quo was not sustainable for the economic viability of the federation.”

It is believed key senior members of the board Brian Remedi and Tonya Wallach have both been fired by U.S. Soccer during the reorganization, as Wilson has taken a 50 percent pay cut to help improve the financial health of the governing body.

Here is the statement in full:


I truly hope you, your families and your organization are doing as well as possible during these unprecedented times. The effect COVID-19 has had on our lives is unlike anything any of us have ever experienced. While this is just the second time I have had the opportunity to communicate with you directly, I wish it was with better news. Like most businesses across the country, U.S. Soccer has not been immune to the unanticipated and harsh economic impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Upon officially joining the organization just over two weeks ago, it became quickly apparent that the status quo was not sustainable for the economic viability of the Federation. After extensive discussion, we concluded that we needed to act quickly and decisively in order to not put the Federation in financial peril in the coming years.

Every decision we make is guided by the best interests of all our members, and the millions of players, coaches and referees across the country. We also want to ensure that we do not compromise our efforts to broadly support our members and our National Teams. That is why we recently announced a number of incredibly difficult decisions, including discontinuing the Development Academy program for both the girls and boys, reducing our Youth National Team programming and, taking the painful step of reducing staff that has worked so incredibly hard for U.S. Soccer.

I made these tough, but necessary recommendations to our Board earlier in the week and both they and U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone gave me their support. Please know that these decisions were not taken lightly.

Development academy program

We know that discontinuing our support of the Development Academy will have a significant impact across the elite youth soccer ecosystem. While the timing is difficult, unprecedented times required us to act now, and we are committed to doing as much as we can to assist during these extremely challenging times. It won’t be easy at first, but I’m confident we will find a way through it together.

At U.S. Soccer, we will also be looking at other ways to positively impact youth development moving forward, including an increased emphasis on coaching education, a more comprehensive scouting effort, and working with clubs to maintain and expand the philosophy and standards established through the Development Academies.

Youth national team programming

Since the pandemic hit, we have been scaling back our Youth National Team programming and will continue to do so for the balance of 2020, with the possible exception of those teams involved in actual competitions. Along with Concacaf and FIFA, we will continue to monitor the possible staging of those competitions relative to the changing global COVID-19 landscape.

Staff layoffs, Furloughs and pay cuts

The layoffs and furloughs were another challenging part of these decisions. Like all of you, these are people that have been incredibly dedicated and have contributed endless hours to help soccer grow in this country.  This process also includes a few organizational changes I have made upon coming into my role.  Additionally, I have decided to take a 50 percent pay cut during this period of economic uncertainty.

Finally, I know this has had a profound personal impact on all of us, and I want to express our gratitude to every single one of you for everything that you do each and every day for the good of the game. At the same time, I ask you to join with us in looking towards the future with confidence and optimism. We are stronger together, and if we can stand side-by-side through these tough times there is much we can do to positively impact the sport and take it to new and unimagined heights.

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.

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.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

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.

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.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s Hudson-Odoi “feeling fine and back to his usual self” ]

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.