National Writer: Charles Boehm

US Soccer president, CEO provide updates on labor talks, youth national teams return to play

U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone and CEO Will Wilson provided updates on several national-team topics in a conference call with media on Tuesday evening, as the United States’ teams prepare for weighty occasions on their respective calendars.

The US women’s national team are in the final stages of preparation in their hunt for Olympic gold in Tokyo. The men’s national team are weeks away from opening 2022 World Cup qualifying. And the youth national team programs hope to return to organized activities soon in the wake of a lengthy hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the USWNT still pursuing their pay-equity campaign and the USMNT working under a collective-bargaining agreement that expired in 2018, labor negotiations took center stage on Tuesday.

“We believe the success of our senior national teams, the men and the women, is critical for our overall mission to grow the game in the US. And obviously with these deals we are making every reasonable effort to reach a deal,” said Cone, a highly decorated USWNT star in her playing days. “As a nonprofit, every dollar that we bring in is going back into the game, so it is a balance, what to pay the national teams vs. investing back in the game.

“We as a federation will do what's right by the players of today – and invest in the elite athletes of tomorrow to ensure they have the same, if not more opportunities to succeed, while also providing a fun and safe environment for everyone who just wants to play our game.”

Wilson declined to share much detail about the state of talks with USMNT and their union, but expressed optimism.

“In recent weeks over the last month we’ve made a lot of progress with the men’s national team and are on a good path towards getting an agreement done. I think that’s all I’m going to elaborate on that front in terms of the negotiations and where we are,” he said. “I will say that they have been operating under an expired CBA for about two and a half years and we will be, in the final analysis, also providing back pay and retroactive pay as well … I think we’re on a good path.”

A major sticking point for the USWNT – who star in “LFG,” an HBO documentary about their equal-pay drive that premieres later this month – has been the huge disparity in FIFA’s prize money for men’s and women’s World Cup winners.

In what Cone called “a massive and frankly unfair difference,” 2018 champions France received $38 million compared to the United States’ $4 million payout for hoisting their fourth WWC trophy a year later. Cone said the WNT players are asking the federation to make up that difference.

Cone said the federation wants to “find a creative solution” to resolve the matter, and is lobbying FIFA’s leaders and membership to close this gap by stepping up its investment in the women’s game.

“Everyone needs to realize that we're one of 211 federations that make up FIFA. And it's a top-down, bottom-up approach that we need to take,” she said. “First of all, we need to help the other federations and the countries actually see the value in the women's game and value, what it can bring and what it can do for their country and soccer, football in their country. And then the top-down approach is trying to push FIFA and help them see the value in the game and investing in the women's and girls side of the game at the same level as the men’s and boys side of the game.

“I think FIFA and everyone will get the benefit of that – not just on the field, not just in their bank account, but also in society.”

Cone also expressed hope that COVID mitigation protocols can allow the 14 youth national team programs to resume their usual camps and schedule matches in the coming months after more than a year of inactivity.

“In regards to the youth camps, obviously we want to get our [age] years back onto the field as soon as possible,” she said. “We have been doing regional camps so that we can have touch points with the players, as well as doing some virtual. But in terms of having the full national team camps, we're hopeful to do that as soon as possible. We've been working with our chief medical officer Dr George Chiampas on that.”