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Can Cindy Parlow Cone earn back the trust of the USWNT?

Cindy Parlow Cone is now acting president of USSF, but does that effectively change things between the fed and the team?

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Belgium v United States Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Late last night, Carlos Cordeiro announced abruptly that he will resign as the president of the United States Soccer Federation, effective immediately. That leaves vice president Cindy Parlow Cone as acting president until the next annual general meeting in February. According to USSF, at that time there will be a special election for president to fulfill the remaining year of Cordeiro’s original four-year term, followed by a regular election in 2022 for a new president as normally scheduled.

“I want to thank Carlos for his many years of hard work and dedication on behalf of U.S. Soccer,” said Parlow Cone in US Soccer’s official press release. “He is a good man with a good heart and his significant work to help bring the 2026 World Cup to the United States will have a positive impact for generations. 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.”

Parlow Cone now has a little under a year in the position. There are a couple of options here: pursue the lawsuit but keep it as legally bland and on-topic as possible, try to settle out of court, or just sit on her hands and ride out the next 11 months as president. At this point, Parlow Cone simply sitting on her hands and waiting for this to be someone else’s problem seems untenable, and highly unlikely. After the announcement, Parlow Cone immediately received the endorsement of her former teammates, including Mia Hamm.

Angela Hucles also told The Athletic that Parlow Cone has “great perspective that could be very valuable at this time.”

Now, there’s some cause here to be skeptical. Parlow Cone only spoke up after the furor had reached a peak and many of USSF’s big sponsors had publicly disagreed with the federation’s tactics. But we don’t know what was going on behind the scenes - whether Parlow Cone objected in private but was overruled, if she felt she couldn’t say anything due to not having a certain level of support, or if she simply had no idea it was happening. None of these things particularly gives you confidence that she can step into the gap and start wrenching USSF towards a better course. But it is a change, and her appearing to be completely disconnected from the case could benefit her when it comes time to talk to the USWNT.

There’s other issues Parlow Cone might have to address as well, like finding a CEO and addressing deeper levels of misogyny. The latter is going to be much harder, given that Cordeiro may not have singlehandedly approved of what the federation’s lawyers were doing, given that USSF’s board of directors has “all governance, supervisory, and administrative authority of the Federation.” According to the bylaws, the president’s responsibilities are to preside at National Council and board meetings, appoint or replace members of committees subject to approval of the board, submit annual reports on the state of the Federation, and serve as the federation’s official representative to other federations and in Concacaf and FIFA. The board consists of the president, vice president, and immediate past president; representatives from the Adult Council, Youth Council, Professional Council, and Athletes; three independent directors elected by the National Council; one at-large representative; and the secretary general. So the president of US Soccer is not the final and supreme arbiter of what the federation does. Where was the hand of the board in all of this?

You’ll remember that in August of 2019, the USWNT directly addressed not just Cordeiro, but the board of directors as well in a statement after the team’s mediation with the federation broke down. Spokesperson Molly Levinson provided a letter the players sent to the board of directors dated August 12 outlining the history of unequal treatment and asking them again to settle without a trial. To this extent, we can only speculate how much Cordeiro was responsible, and how much he was a scapegoat for a board that was just as culpable as he was in mistreating the WNT.

So that’s what Parlow Cone has to deal with at the moment. How much political support does she have internally, you wonder? It certainly doesn’t hurt to publicly have Mia Hamm announce you have her support - if there is one player emeritus who could shut USSF up, it could be Hamm. And possibly, Parlow Cone at least has the support of the board’s athlete representatives, Carlos Bocanegra, Lori Lindsey, and Chris Ahrens - or you hope she would. The rest of the board leans heavily male, although Pro Council member Don Garber released a public statement repudiating the gross legal tactics and said “I intend to immediately address this issue with the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors.”

It was abundantly clear that Cordeiro had to go; regardless of his personal level of responsibility, he was the point at which all frustration with the federation was consolidated, and with him at the helm, there was never going to be any progress in resuming friendly relations between leadership and labor. Not just the WNT either - with the MNT soon to enter their own CBA negotiations, do you think they loooked at this and wondered, if the federation can treat a team that is this widely popular and is bringing in this much revenue and attention this badly, what’s in store for us? The USNSTPA, which represents the MNT, released their own statement in support of the women, reminding everyone that the men went through their own unfair labor practice charges with the fed in order to get recognized as a union in the 90s, and that both men and women’s teams have been struggling with the federation for years over wages and working conditions.

Now with CPC at the helm and the board of directors sharply on notice due to public sponsor statements, there’s a chance to start fresh. Maybe things don’t have to inevitably end in an expensive lawsuit; maybe for once, management can come to labor and negotiate things in good faith, for the betterment of everyone. USSF’s bylaws state that the purposes of the federation include “to promote, govern, coordinate, and administer the growth and development of soccer in all its recognized forms in the United States for all persons of all ages and abilities.” There’s no better way to develop soccer than to lead the way in fairly compensating your players.