The former president steps away in the wake of a massive controversy, leaving behind an organization in need of rebuilding
When Carlos Cordeiro stepped into his role as U.S. Soccer president, he found a federation in disarray. He found a U.S. men’s national team program still reeling after missing the 2018 World Cup. He found a U.S. women’s national team program that was pushing forward on the field while preparing for an equal pay fight off of it. He found an organization with little leadership and, in many ways, a broken structure.
And, as Cordeiro now leaves that role, he leaves U.S. Soccer an even bigger mess than the federation he found.
Cordeiro stepped down on Thursday night, putting an end to a tumultuous two-year reign that will be defined by his final days. He oversaw some major decisions and some big moments, headlined by the USWNT’s 2019 World Cup triumph in France, but the controversy and calamity of the final days of his presidency will be his legacy.
This two-year period will be defined by a lack of forward progress in some areas and a complete step back in others. Organizationally, U.S. Soccer is still without a CEO and a chief commercial officer. The former role has been open for a year. The other recently became open as Jay Berhalter stepped down in February amid allegations of a “toxic” workplace culture. There have been forward steps, such as the hiring of Earnie Stewart as sporting director as well as USMNT and USWNT general managers, but, on the whole, U.S. Soccer has been run like an organization way out of its depth.
In terms of on-the-field progress, there hasn’t been much to speak of. In the USWNT’s case, that’s because there’s nowhere to go but down given the team’s consistent domination. For the USMNT, that’s because this is still very much a program in transition, for better or worse.
And, while all that goes on, the federation is supposed to be the standard-bearer for American soccer. It’s supposed to grow the game from the ground up, from the high-level executives right to the youth coaches charged with guiding the next generation. But this administration did little more than divide what was already a fractured soccer nation.
That division began long before this week, but when court documents unveiled the federation’s stance that USWNT players are biologically inferior to their USMNT counterparts, there was no turning back.
In the document, the federation stated that women “do not perform equal work requiring equal skill [and] effort”, while they claimed that the senior men’s team was “materially influenced by the level of certain physical attributes such as speed and strength.”
Outrage poured in immediately, from players to sponsors to fans. U.S. Soccer’s viewpoint degraded and insulted its championship-winning team while sending a message that cannot and will not be forgotten.
Not only did the statement demean and insult the USWNT, but it unwittingly thrust the USMNT into the negative side of an “Us vs. them” debate. It painted everyone involved in a bad light and cast a major shadow over the organization as a whole. Everyone involved comes out looking worse for it. These sexist remarks and misogynistic viewpoints helped nobody, and Cordeiro paid for it with his job.
But it wasn’t just Cordeiro responsible for the statements that cost him the presidency. These were presented as U.S. Soccer’s statements, not Cordeiro’s. The former president claimed he hadn’t even fully read what was in those documents while taking responsibility for his negligence. Cordeiro’s resignation was necessary from a PR point of view, but questions remain on how much will actually change because of it.
“While it is gratifying that there has been such a deafening outcry against USSF’s blatant misogyny, the sexist culture and policies overseen by Carlos Cordeiro have been approved for years by the board of directors of USSF,” said Molly Levinson, spokesperson for the USWNT’s players. “This institution must change.”
So now what? Picking up those pieces falls to Cindy Parlow Cone, a former USWNT star herself, who is now thrust into a new role after previously serving as vice president. She has been thrust into the forefront of an equal pay lawsuit involving the team she used to represent. She has been thrust into a job that requires her to be the face and voice of an organization that still needs so much change.
“I have known Cindy Parlow Cone for over two decades as both a teammate and friend,” said USWNT legend Mia Hamm. “She has always led with integrity and a commitment to others. I have no doubt that she will dedicate herself to making our game better for all.”
Parlow Cone will be in the role for at least 11 months, with U.S. Soccer set to elect a new president in next February’s Annual General Meeting. That election will determine a one-year term to complete Cordeiro’s scheduled tenure. In 2022, U.S. Soccer will then elect a president for a new four-year stint.
But questions still remain on how this will impact the organization long-term. The presidency is still an unpaid position, and who in their right mind would want to leap headfirst into an organization weighed down by lawsuits, bad PR and on-the-field pressure with no money on the line? The federation, by and large, is still run by its board of directors, who haven’t changed in recent days. In many ways, the presidency is the tip of the iceberg.
In terms of what will change, that remains to be seen. It will take time for Parlow Cone to assert herself as president and it will take time to smooth over the mess made by Cordeiro’s tenure. It will take time to regain any amount of the goodwill lost with the recent statements and it will take time to finish off and then rebuild from the equal pay lawsuit.
It’s Parlow Cone’s turn to be that figurehead, and it’s an unforgiving position to step into. It was widely believed that Cordeiro was stepping into the most difficult period on modern American soccer history, but picking up the pieces from his tenure looks like it will be even more difficult.