NEW YORK – While the U.S. men’s national team is fighting to get back to the World Cup, a behind-the-scenes scuffle is taking place for American soccer's leadership.
Carlos Cordeiro is trying to oust Cindy Parlow Cone, who took over as U.S. Soccer Federation president in March 2020 when Cordeiro quit amid the fallout from legal filings that claimed women’s national team players had less physical ability and responsibility than male counterparts. The USSF National Council meets on March 5 to vote on a four-year term.
“Members from across the federation have been coming to me with concerns about the direction of U.S. Soccer and asked me to run, I think in a nutshell, feeling ignored, neglected, marginalized,” Cordeiro said during an interview with The Associated Press.
The filings said the women were “ignoring the materially higher level of speed and strength required to perform the job of an MNT player.” Cordeiro said he did not read them in advance.
“When I took over, there was a toxic environment to U.S. Soccer,” Cone said during a separate interview with the AP. “The players were angry at us. The sponsors were angry at us, threatening to leave.”
The USSF Athletes Council gets one-third of the votes, and the Youth, Adult and Pro Councils receive 20% each, with the remaining delegates 6.7%.
Alan Rothenberg, USSF president from 1990-98, backs Cone.
“She’s doing a great job, plus I just can’t understand how Carlos after everything that he botched had the audacity to come back,” Rothenberg said. “When he resigned, besides players being outraged — and don’t think that will change; I think the outrage will be even greater now — sponsors spoke out, which is pretty rare."
Bob Contiguglia, USSF president from 1998-2006, backs Cordeiro, citing Cordeiro’s business background and ties to FIFA and CONCACAF, the governing body of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
"Cindy is a wonderful person, but I’m not sure she has the tools to work at that high level,” Contiguglia said. “I don’t think Carlos is misognyistic. .... I think that the women’s team and women in general are promoting (that) to get an image, to get an edge on their lawsuit.”
Serious issues abound in an organization that reported just under $65 million in revenue for the year ending March 31, down from $138 million in the previous fiscal year, before the pandemic.
The men’s national team has been playing under a labor contract that expired in December 2018, and the deal for the women’s national team runs out March 31. Women's team players sued under the Equal Pay Act, reaching a settlement on working conditions.
The USSF hired former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in October to investigate allegations of abusive behavior and sexual misconduct in women’s professional soccer.
And while the federation is nearing a new broadcast rights deal for home games it controls, road matches among its high-profile men’s World Cup qualifiers were allowed by CONCACAF to air with only narrow U.S. distribution.
CEO Will Wilson was hired by the USSF board in 2020 and runs the organization. The president has influence but no final say.
Cordeiro, 65, was a Goldman Sachs partner during a career at the company from 1990-2016 and joined the USSF board as an independent director in 2007. After the U.S. men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, then-president Sunil Gulati decided not to run for a fourth four-year term, and Cordeiro emerged from an eight-candidate field to win in Febuary 2018, supported by the Athletes Council on the first two ballots, then on the third by Major League Soccer, the National Women’s Soccer League and the United Soccer League.
Cone, 43, was a midfielder who scored 75 goals in 158 international appearances from 1995-2006. She coached the Portland Thorns in 2013 and since 2018 has been youth director for North Carolina FC in Cary. She was voted a one-year term as USSF vice president in February 2019, then reelected to a four-year term.
On the night of March 12, 2020, she was on a USSF board conference call when someone on the line said Cordeiro announced his resignation by tweet. Cone was unopposed last winter for an additional year.
The Miami-based Cordeiro remained on the USSF board as past president until resigning in September, when he was hired by FIFA as an unpaid senior adviser on global strategy and governance.
Both candidates favor reaching similar labor contracts with the men and women that would cover the key issue of FIFA’s World Cup prize money, the basis for American player bonuses. FIFA paid $400 million for the men’s tournament in 2018 and $38 million for the women in 2019. The separate unions have no obligation to bargain jointly.
"U.S. Soccer will not enter into a new CBA unless the World Cup prize money is equalized,” Cone said.
Cordeiro vowed to acquire new commercial revenue to equalize the bonus structure.
Both say they will have no role in choosing venues for national team games and both defer to staff on coaching hires.
A bylaw amendment to be considered at the annual general meeting would convert the president’s job from an unpaid position to a job with a $125,000 annual salary.
"Is this organization, which is basically member-driven by volunteers, ready to accept that?” Cordeiro said. “What is the role of the president vs. the role of the CEO? There hasn’t been enough discussion.”
Cordeiro said the U.S. should host another Women’s World Cup, stage an expanded Club World Cup and also bid for indoor and beach tournaments.
“It will generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the federation,” he said. “This would give us an ability to invest at all levels of soccer, that pyramid, especially the base, the grassroots.”
Cordeiro also favors a discussion of FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s proposal to increase the frequency of the World Cup to every two years.
“Especially in Latin America and Africa and Asia, they are desperately looking to grow,” Cordeiro said. “And it’s FIFA’s responsibility ultimately to help them grow and to narrow the gap with the better to do.”
Cone is “concerned about the demands on the players," increasing fixture congestion for men and women and hurting growth of U.S. professional leagues, “especially on the women's side of the game.”
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