Not only has the United States Soccer Federation formally ended its development academy, it is also shuttering most of its youth national teams until at least 2021 because of the financial problems caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports.
The decision impacts nine national teams on both the men’s and women’s sides. Only the under-17 and U-20 programs will continue for the women, as will the men’s U-17, U-20 and U-23 teams. The men’s U-23 squad was scheduled to compete in CONCACAF’s Olympic qualifying tournament last month in Guadalajara, Mexico before the event was postponed indefinitely because of the ongoing health crisis. The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo have since been moved to 2021.
FIFA organizes World Cups at the U-17 and U-20 levels for both men and women, although the 2020 U-17 women’s World Cup in India, scheduled for November, has also been postponed.
The nine youth teams that will immediately cease operations are the U-15 and U-16 boys and girls, U-18 and U-19 women and men, and the U-23 women’s squad. The plan is for those programs to return sometime in 2021, according to a federation source.
Additionally, The Athletic reported Wednesday that Chicago-based U.S. Soccer is laying off some of its staff, which had consisted of about 175 full-time employees. Most of those impacted worked within the development academy, which was comprised of 164 clubs across the country and cost the USSF more than $12 million annually to operate. Other non-full-time staff members, including paid interns, were also let go. A small number of staffers were furloughed.
In all, total staff was reduced by about 15 percent, according to a federation source who added that no youth national team coaches lost their jobs as part of the cuts. Most of the teams that were cut didn’t have coaches to begin with; there were vacancies at the U-15, U-16 and U-18 levels on the women’s side, and at the U-16 through U-19 levels for the men.
Soccer America reported late Wednesday that a pair of top USSF executives, chief administrative officer Brian Remedi and chief talent and inclusion officer Tonya Wallach, had been let go as well. A source indicated that those decisions were not made because of the financial crunch that has seen the federation lose $25 million so far this year, but rather as organizational changes that are part of new CEO Will Wilson’s vision for the future of U.S. Soccer.
Chief legal officer Lydia Wahlke was retained despite being placed on administrative leave last month in the wake of federation lawyers’ sexist argument against its four-time World Cup champion women’s national team. That public relations nightmare led directly to the resignation of then-president Carlos Cordeiro. Cordeiro was replaced by vice president Cindy Parlow Cone, a former USWNT midfielder who helped her country win the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
U.S. Soccer has been embroiled for more than a year in a high-profile legal dispute with the USWNT, which is seeking close to $67 million in damages in a federal equal pay lawsuit. Wilson and Parlow Cone would like to reach a settlement with the women before the case goes to trial. Any such deal would likely still run well into eight figures.
The USSF was expected to be in the red this year as part of a five-year spending and investment plan. However, the loss of revenue due to the pandemic quickly left the federation in a perilous financial position. U.S. Soccer will save more than $36 million over the next three years just from closing the development academy, which has produced a number of senior national team players since it was launched in 2007. It wasn’t immediately clear how much shuttering the nine national teams for the rest of this year would save.
“Upon officially joining the organization just over two weeks ago, it became quickly apparent that the status quo was not sustainable for the economic viability of the federation,” the letter read. “After extensive discussion, we concluded that we needed to act quickly and decisively in order to not put the federation in financial peril in the coming years.
“That is why we recently announced a number of incredibly difficult decisions,” it continued, “Including discontinuing the development academy program for both the girls and boys, reducing our youth national team programming and taking the painful step of reducing staff that has worked so incredibly hard for U.S. Soccer.”
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