After her federation reached an agreement with the U.S. women’s national team over a settlement for part of the team’s long-running lawsuit, Cindy Parlow Cone was unequivocal.
“This is a good day,” the U.S. Soccer president told the media. “I hope that everyone sees we are a new U.S. Soccer.”
For the first time in a long time, there is optimism that the long-damaged relationship between U.S. Soccer and its most successful employees can begin to heal. But there is still a long way to go.
The two sides have been embroiled in a messy lawsuit for nearly two years. In March 2019, the USWNT filed their initial complaint, claiming that their federation "paid only lip service to gender equality and continues to practice gender-based discrimination against its champion female employees.”
Tuesday’s settlement over working conditions marked the most significant moment of cooperation between the two sides since the lawsuit was first filed. That it came under Parlow Cone and not her predecessor Carlos Cordeiro is hardly a coincidence.
If the relationship between the USWNT and their federation was damaged when the lawsuit was initially filed, subsequent court depositions served to blow it up altogether.
The filings revealed a cynical and indisputably sexist strategy from U.S. Soccer’s legal team. It wasn’t necessarily that the strategy was legally misguided – Judge Gary Klausner would eventually rule in their favor regarding the USWNT’s wage discrimination charge – but the court of public opinion issued a verdict so damning that Cordeiro had no choice but to resign.
In stepped Parlow Cone, an Olympic gold medalist and World Cup winner with the USWNT, on a caretaker basis. She aimed to highlight her status as a former national team player immediately and, again on Tuesday, she looked to use it as a bridge between the federation and the players.
“As a former USWNT player, I can promise you that I am committed to equality between the USWNT and USMNT,” Parlow Cone said in a statement.
“My goal is, and has always been, to come to a resolution on all equal pay matters and inspire a new era of collaboration, partnership and trust between the USWNT and the federation.”
Clearly, the tone has changed now that Parlow Cone and new CEO Will Wilson are at the helm. But how long will the era of collaboration last?
Crucially, the lawsuit is still not over. Its most substantial charge – that U.S. Soccer pays the USWNT less than the USMNT because of their gender – has not been fully settled. The USWNT plans to appeal Klausner's May ruling and Tuesday’s agreement over working conditions paves the way for them to file that appeal.
Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, the two sides will be back at the negotiating table in the near future. The team’s current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of 2021, and the result of the team's current lawsuit will lay the groundwork for discussions over the next CBA.
Parlow Cone has aimed to position herself as an ally to the USWNT, but her future is unclear. U.S. Soccer will hold a presidential election in February. Even if Parlow Cone wins, her term would only be for one year (the final year of Cordeiro’s scheduled four-year term) and she would be up for reelection again in 2022.
There is also a question of how much lasting damage U.S. Soccer has done over the past two years. There may be new leadership and increased optimism over a shared set of priorities, but players won’t soon forget what their own federation said about them in court.
A new era may be upon U.S. Soccer but the prospect of continued progress is far from a guarantee. Without the right leadership and a shared set of values, the dark days could return quicker than anybody would like.