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The Awful Optics of Carlos Cordeiro’s Attempt to Reclaim U.S. Soccer’s Presidency

Two years after resigning over lawsuit language that denigrated women's national team players, he is attempting to win back the job.

The options for the U.S. Soccer Federation and its voting members have come into full focus: either stay the course, or revert.

U.S. Soccer confirmed Monday that incumbent Cindy Parlow Cone and former holder-of-office Carlos Cordeiro are the only two candidates running for the unpaid position of federation president at the annual general meeting in Atlanta on March 5, four years after eight individuals (Cordeiro, Kathy Carter, Eric Wynalda, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo, Steve Gans, Michael Winograd, Paul Caligiuri) sought the role and secured the necessary nominations to be able to run.

The circumstances then were significantly different. It was an inflection point and a time for change. The men's national team had just failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, while the women's national team was a couple of years into its period of contention with the federation over alleged discrimination and inequality—the same topics at the heart of the legal disputes and widely condemned documentation that wound up costing Cordeiro the role a couple of years later.

Cordeiro resigned from the presidency in disgrace in March 2020, claiming "full responsibility" for the offensive, sexist and misogynistic legal filings that denigrated the very same women's players he trumpets as champions and is trying to win back over as part of his candidacy. Time doesn't make up for an argument filed on his watch that belittled women's players and claimed their ability and skill were lesser than their male counterparts and thus validated their being paid less, though, and there's an unsettling element to his attempt to reclaim office.

As evidenced by his success in a crowded field in 2018, Cordeiro is savvy at navigating the waters of soccer federation politics, and he has stayed close to the game in his current roles within Concacaf and FIFA. He wouldn't be running if he didn't think he had enough backing to win. If the general public voted on U.S. Soccer president, it's easy to see how Cordeiro's candidacy would be a flop. He is representative of a pretty awful stain on the federation's reputation. But what many fail to grasp is that U.S. Soccer is about way more than just its senior national teams. Those are the revenue-generating products and the aspects of the federation that draw the most eyeballs, but the membership is vast and covers all aspects of the sport in the country. And as it relates to the election, the off-the-radar contingent of that vast membership represents a good chunk of the voting populous, and any candidate only needs a simple majority of it to take his or her side. 

Carlos Cordeiro is running for U.S. Soccer president again

Cordeiro, who required nomination letters on official letterhead from at least three defined organization members and/or one of three athlete members of the board of directors (according to U.S. Soccer, they are Chris Ahrens, Nelson Akwari, Nicole Barnhart, Sean Boyle, Lori Lindsey, Oguchi Onyewu, Danielle Slaton), says that from speaking to some of that membership, "I’ve heard your desire for a new approach." That comment alleges that not all are thrilled with Parlow Cone's leadership, the entirety of which has taken place through the pandemic and circumstances that haven't exactly been ideal, as she noted in her announcement to run for reelection. Nevertheless, if there is unrest in enough corners of the vote, then there's an opening to be seized.

Yet much of what Cordeiro has pledged if reelected is aligned with what Parlow Cone is already seeking: investing in all members, inclusive governance, hosting men's and women's World Cups and ensuring equal pay are his campaign's four core pillars. He also erred in his initial campaign announcement by claiming that U.S. Soccer withdrew from bidding on hosting the 2027 Women's World Cup (bidding hasn't begun yet, and Parlow Cone did not say outright that the U.S. would not be in the mix). So what is really new here, aside from dredging up a dark period for the federation at a time when all are trying to move forward?

Among his goals is securing that elusive equal pay deal for the women's and men's national teams and solving the problem that went nuclear on his watch, but in doing so he comes across as the stock trader who wants to help you recover your money after leading you to a major loss. The notion might be genuine, but is this really the time for a second chance? Or is the damage irreparable? "To find a solution, we need to be bold. Moreover, given what happened two years ago, I feel that I have a personal responsibility to help resolve this issue," Cordeiro wrote.

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No matter how apologetic and sincere Cordeiro is now or was at the time of his resignation—Parlow Cone even called him "a good man with a good heart" upon taking the reins following his exit—"full responsibility" should not come with an expiration date. In his campaign announcement, Cordeiro once again attempted to explain his actions—or inactions, as they may be—and role in the legal filings, which Megan Rapinoe said last week represented "caveman levels of misogyny" in her reaction to his potential candidacy. 

"On a personal level, stepping down as president—a job I loved—was deeply humbling," Cordeiro wrote. "I had put in place multiple layers of oversight to ensure that the litigation with the women’s national team was conducted in keeping with the values of our federation. In hindsight, I realize that a matter of this importance deserved much more personal oversight from me so that the federation’s legal strategy and filings showed our women’s players the respect and dignity they deserve. 

"When those layers of oversight failed, it resulted in the inexcusable and offensive legal filing that caused so much pain, especially for our incredible women’s players. Had I seen that language, I would have objected and never allowed it to be submitted as written. Given the severity of what happened, words of apology were clearly not enough. As the president of our federation, I felt it was important to take responsibility. I believe that resigning was in the best interests of U.S. Soccer at that moment, and we are all indebted to Cindy Parlow Cone for stepping up to serve at a challenging time."

Evidently, Cordeiro believes he has accrued time served after nearly two years and is ready to get back in the game. Whether U.S. Soccer's sponsors (Budweiser, Visa, Coca-Cola, Volkswagen and Deloitte openly condemned the federation's legal tactics under Cordeiro's watch) agree will be a significant aspect of all of this given the U.S.'s role in cohosting the 2026 World Cup—a role that Cordeiro, it should be acknowledged, helped secure—and given that the federation's TV rights are up at the end of the year. The number of stakeholders in play shouldn't go unnoticed.

It was surely no coincidence that on Tuesday, after Cordeiro's intentions had become public and official, Parlow Cone wrote an open letter to fans that gave a status update on collective bargaining agreement talks with the men's and women's national teams, put a wrap on 2021 and looked ahead to '22. While she surely is focused on continuing to settle ongoing litigation and putting an end to the CBA and equal pay loose ends, it also isn't that difficult to point out the major flaw with her opponent and what his reelection would mean from a front-facing standpoint for the organization. When given the opportunity to comment on Cordeiro's candidacy on Tuesday, Parlow Cone instead kept the focus on herself.

"I truly feel that I'm the right person to continue to lead U.S. Soccer at this time," she said. "I think we need to continue to look forward not backward. We have a lot of stability and momentum moving right now. I'm all in, and continue to pour my heart and soul into U.S. Soccer for the next number of years. Obviously, we have faced some tremendous challenges. And I think I've led the organization with integrity and honesty. And I took on this role, and I'm running for election because of my love of the game and my belief in the future of the game, and I believe in U.S. Soccer."

It shouldn't be forgotten that she is still finishing what would have been the end of Cordeiro's four-year term had he not been compelled to resign given the events of March 2020. It's a stark reminder of why she's in the top seat as the incumbent to begin with and why he is not. The optics on Cordeiro's run are pretty bad. Ultimately and tangibly, whether the majority of the federation's members agree or is willing to overlook that is all that matters.

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