US Soccer under fire as Fifa comes to town

As world football leaders gather in Miami for the Fifa Council meetings, the United States Soccer Federation finds itself under fire from multiple fronts, with six active legal actions and pressure to reform from within.

Last week 28 members of the US Women’s National Team (USWNT), the reigning Women’s World Cup champions, sued US Soccer alleging gender discrimination in various areas of national team functions including pay. The women’s team had previously filed a complaint to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Committee in 2016.

In their collective action complaint, the USWNT cite the words of now-US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, made when he was running for election last year: “Women’s teams should be respected and valued as much as our men’s teams, but our female players have not been treated equally,”

Meanwhile the NASL, which served as a second division within US Soccer’s closed structure from 2011 to 2017, has sued the federation alleging antitrust violations. The NASL lost its division two sanctioning during the 2017 season and has claimed US Soccer has favored the top-tier Major League Soccer in its governance – criticising in particular the agreement under which US Soccer’s commercial rights are handled by Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm of MLS.

When running for the presidency, Cordeiro pledged to root out perceived conflicts between US Soccer and SUM, saying: “The unique ownership of SUM creates conflicts that need to be addressed.”

In late 2018, the US Soccer Foundation – long the charitable arm of US Soccer – filed a lawsuit against the federation regarding trademarks, following the breakdown of a once-harmonious two decade working relationship between the entities.

On the player development front, US Soccer has been challenged by Seattle area youth club, Crossfire Premier FC about its unwillingness to implement Fifa rules regarding youth development compensation. Crossfire received no solidarity payments or training compensation when its homegrown star DeAndre Yedlin was sold by MLS to Tottenham Hotspur in 2014. Crossfire has filed a formal complaint with Fifa’s dispute resolution chamber regarding the transfer.

Lastly, the federation is facing a claim at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, filed by Kingston Stockade FC and Miami FC, over the its unwillingness to follow Fifa statutes with regards to implementing a system of promotion and relegation within its league system. This case has become a lighting rod domestically as it is often cited that 209 of 211 FIFA member federations comply with the mandate.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has made no public comment on the issues facing US Soccer but the unsettled state of the sport in a country which will co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup is sure to be a concern.