The American Outlaws remain committed to pushing the U.S. Soccer Federation to make the changes necessary to advance soccer in this country and make it more accessible and affordable to everyone. As part of that commitment, we have asked both candidates for USSF President a series of questions so that our members can get a better view of each’s vision for their time in office and the USSF going forward.
Name: Cindy Parlow Cone
Soccer Experience (player, coach, executive, etc.):
Cindy Parlow Cone is the first female President of the U.S. Soccer Federation. She is only the second sitting National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee to hold the position and the first U.S. Soccer President to have played for a senior U.S. National Team. Cone was elected Vice President of U.S. Soccer in February 2019 and was elevated to President on March 12, 2020 upon the former president’s resignation.
As President, Cone has led the Federation through the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, brought in an entirely new leadership and legal team, overseen the signing of the largest sponsorship deal in U.S. Soccer history, led the organization through a major governance restructuring, settled contentious litigation with the Women’s National Team and significantly increased the Federation’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Cone has also worked hand-in-hand with National Team players to restore a culture of trust and understanding between players and administrators as part of ongoing efforts to renegotiate collective bargaining agreements with the Men’s and Women’s National Teams and resolve lingering litigation with the Women’s National Team.
An athlete first and foremost, Cone was a two-time Olympic Gold medalist and FIFA World Cup champion for the U.S. Women’s National Team. She is eighth on the USWNT’s all-time goals list, having played in 158 games and scored 75 goals for the USWNT. Her seven career hattricks are also second all-time, and she boasts 35 career assists. In 1998, she won U.S. Soccer’s inaugural Young Female Player of the Year Award.
Cone was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2018. She was a four-time All-American at the University of North Carolina (UNC), where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1999. On the field at UNC, she scored 68 goals and 53 assists in 103 games, contributed to three NCAA titles and was the consensus college soccer player of the year two years in a row.
Cone is also a title-winning coach at the grassroots, collegiate and professional levels and holds a USSF “A” coaching license. Cone’s illustrious coaching career includes winning four NCAA titles as an assistant coach at UNC and being the first head coach to win a National Women’s Soccer League championship, guiding Portland Thorns FC to the title in 2013. She has been coaching at the youth level for many years, and currently serves as the Girls’ Director for NCFC Youth in the Durham-Chapel Hill area.
Over the past 20 years, Cone has led and served on numerous U.S. Soccer Federation Committees. Cone is also on the board for the non-profit Goals for Girls, an organization that uses soccer as an avenue to teach leadership skills to at-risk girls both here in the U.S. and abroad.
What leadership experience and leadership style makes you the best person to be USSF President?
I’m a coach. Leading the Federation isn’t all that different from leading any other team: you bring the right people with the right talents together, you give them the tools and the confidence they need to succeed and you lead by example. A large part of team-building is bringing people together with different backgrounds and views and really listening to them so that we can make the best decisions possible. This is why I have focused so much on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB). I know that if we are going to be as great as we think U.S. Soccer and soccer in the U.S. can be, then we have to be leaders in DEIB.
I build relationships through trust, respect, integrity and empowerment. As evidenced by the Federation’s strengthened relationships with partners and sponsors during my tenure as President so far, my team-building style has allowed me to build bridges across various stakeholders and find ways to work together that benefit everyone.
I want my team to succeed and I don’t care about taking credit. I just care about progress and end results – that’s why I want to continue moving the Federation forward. That’s how I see my role on the field, and that’s how I see my role as President.
If you are re-elected, what two immediate, tangible changes would you prioritize?
First of all, I hope to bring the full power of our membership together to vastly improve access to the game for young people from all walks of life. I fundraised to complete an analysis of why underrepresented youth are not choosing soccer, their barriers to accessing soccer and how U.S. Soccer can remove those obstacles. I look forward to publishing the findings of that study so we can all work together to improve the accessibility and inclusivity of our game. My team and I have already begun fundraising to ensure next steps can be taken immediately upon the study’s completion.
Second of all, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of working quickly and decisively with all of our members, partners, sponsors and staff to build out a robust plan to capitalize on World Cup 2026. My team has already built out a framework for this so that we make sure that the World Cup will have a positive impact in all 50 states. I am committed to working with FIFA – as well as the vitally important host city markets when they are confirmed – to make sure that hosting helps grow the game across North America and that U.S. Soccer’s commercial rights and event strategies are optimized and structured to meet the tremendous demand. It will take innovative leadership to make the most of the amazing opportunity ahead, meet the moment and use it to exponentially grow the game.
How will your presidency incorporate the views of fans and include them in the governance of U.S. Soccer?
Fans and supporters of our national teams, professional leagues, college teams and beyond are critical to the growth and success of our sport in the United States. As a former player, I certainly understand the value of the fans. Having to play matches without fans during COVID really highlighted the vital role the fans play both at the matches and beyond.
Having the fans join our membership was a big step in the right direction. I know this COVID engagement has been challenging, but we need full engagement of the fan council with all of our members. I am committed to listening to and working with the fans to accomplish this. Soccer is for everyone – and I know I have more to do to listen to everyone who loves our sport.
What changes will you make to youth development in this country? Can you provide a timeline of the changes that you envision?
I plan to work with our members to develop a “principles of competition” for the elite level of soccer to stop the in-fighting among our youth organizations and shift our focus and energy to what is important: the growth of the game and ensuring each kid can learn and grow through soccer.
I am specifically focused on growing the U10 and younger age groups at the recreational level and developing recreational pathways for kids. Many kids playing soccer believe they either need to be moving up the soccer pyramid or move out of the soccer pyramid. We need to do a better job of supporting and providing a pathway for kids who just want to play and are not concerned about moving up the pyramid to more elite levels. To help with this, U.S. Soccer will develop free coaching education resources for the beginning coaches to help ensure their success in providing a fun, safe environment for kids to learn and grow. And, we will work with our members to help them create the pathways for the recreational player.
Another immediate goal of mine is to develop a digital resource library for our members. This would include recourses like templates for programming, coaching resources, education on disability soccer organizations, a search engine for locating programming and more.
Serious discussions about all of the above have already begun. The principles of competition formal discussions will begin in April. The rest is already in development and will hopefully be completed by the end of the year.
What will USSF do under your leadership to further reach out to marginalized communities to make them feel included in the governance of this federation and an important part of the focus of the game in America?
We must work together to grow the game at every level and make it accessible for all. It is so important that everyone in our membership and beyond understands their value in the Federation and has their voice heard.
Recognizing the vital role that U.S. Soccer’s members play in the growth of soccer across the country, Innovate to Grow is fully funded for 2022, and is available to any U.S. Soccer members who wish to apply for funding to support their efforts to grow the game in their area. I hope to strengthen the Innovate to Grow program in a number of ways, including making members of various councils part of the selection process going forward. While U.S. Soccer staff will continue to administer the program, input on priorities and the final grant awardees will come from the membership.
Additionally, I fundraised to complete an analysis of why underrepresented youth are not choosing soccer, their barriers to accessing soccer and how U.S. Soccer can remove those obstacles and I look forward to seeing the findings of that study. I have already begun fundraising to ensure next steps can be taken immediately upon the study’s completion.
In what ways will coaching in the United States change under your leadership?
The most important thing to me is that coaches, administrators and leaders at every level of the game provide a safe, fun, supportive environment for growing and learning through soccer. If kids and adults are not safe to play our game, nothing else matters. We will add child development education to our youth licenses as well as provide resources to parents and players about what to expect from a good coach. I will continue to prioritize this above all else.
The current pricing structure for many U.S. Soccer games makes it difficult for the emerging fan, the diehard fan, and families to access National Team games regularly. What will you do to address ticket affordability and increase fan access to games?
I agree we need to find ways to make attendance at our national team games more accessible – on several fronts. This includes cultivating relationships with new fans who may one day be lifelong supporters as well as improving the game day experience for dedicated supporters who have been behind our teams for many years. This, of course, has to be balanced with our revenue needs in funding not only our national teams, but many of other programs at all levels of the game. To that end, I’ve already asked members of our events team to look at the possibility of a lower priced ticket category that would be available in limited quantities. We’ll have more details on this possibility and some other initiatives in the weeks ahead after their analysis is completed.
What will you do to bring a swift resolution to the WNT lawsuit as well as the collective bargaining negotiations between the federation and both senior national teams? (NOTE: This questionnaire was sent before the agreement between the USSF and the WNT players was announced Feb. 22, 2022.)
As you’re no doubt aware, we’re thrilled that the litigation with our USWNT has been resolved and resulted in a win for everyone. I’m so proud of the history made by this agreement and so excited to move forward with the incredible leaders who play and have played for our USWNT to grow the game together to the benefit of our entire membership.
We have been negotiating with both our senior national teams round the clock and remain staunchly committed to getting deals done that equalize FIFA World Cup Prize Money and chart a positive path forward for both teams and the Federation as a whole. I am grateful that players and their representatives are working with us to get a deal done and so we can move forward and focus on the game. The Federation will continue to meet with both teams and their representatives separately or together any time anywhere to ensure we sign new CBAs in the very near future.
We’ve seen some harrowing tales coming from brave NWSL players over the past year that have provided detail to just some of the abuse that they have had to endure, along with allegations that people in power didn’t give their accounts the attention they deserved. What will you do to ensure this never happens again and ensure the safety of women’s soccer players across this country?
I fully share the players’ concerns – and frankly, their anger and frustration – about all of the recent allegations to come out of the NWSL. Ensuring that soccer players at all levels in this country can participate in soccer in a safe environment is of the utmost importance to me personally and to the Federation.
That’s why we hired former U.S. Attorney and Deputy Attorney General of the United States Sally Yates to lead an independent investigation into these allegations. She and her team have been given full autonomy and access to all the necessary resources they need to follow the facts and evidence wherever they lead. We are committed to full transparency and will share findings of the investigation publicly at the appropriate time.
How can you help make higher caliber coaching and competition available for those that cannot afford the high price of elite travel soccer programs?
Much of this work has to happen at the local level and we support many initiatives across the country to these ends. It’s also clear to me that we need to collectively look at the landscape of youth soccer regarding travel, elite programs and related issues. I know we can do things more efficiently not only from a cost point of view, but also from development perspective.
As I mentioned, I plan to work with our members to develop a “principles of competition” for the elite level of soccer to stop the in-fighting among our youth organizations and shift our focus and energy to what is important: the growth of the game and ensuring each kid can learn and grow through soccer.
And finally, as I’ve also mentioned, we are digging deep and commissioned a study to find out more about the barriers to playing soccer, including cost, so we can find ways to eliminate those barriers and make the game more accessible to all.