Active in U.S. Soccer Federation affairs for years, she was, in grilling presidential candidates two years ago, “almost a force of nature,” one hopeful said.
Now, as the new president of the governing body following Carlos Cordeiro’s abrupt resignation Thursday night, Parlow Cone faces her most daunting challenge: steering the USSF through tumultuous times amid a high-profile lawsuit involving the women’s national team players, as well as several other administrative and fiscal headaches.
Reelected last month as vice president, she was first in line to succeed Cordeiro, who served two years. She is the first woman to oversee the 107-year-old organization.
The USSF will conduct a special election next February to determine who sees out Cordeiro’s term, then will conduct the regularly scheduled election in 2022 for a four-year term.
This week, Parlow Cone, 41, was critical of the federation’s legal filings in the women’s national team case; the language was widely condemned as misogynistic and demeaning to female players of all ages.
Following Cordeiro’s resignation, she said in a written statement, “The passion that has come to the surface in the past two days is what inspires me to look forward, to work hard towards mending relationships and moving the game forward for all.”
Parlow Cone was not available for interviews Friday but is expected to take questions from reporters early next week.
Her appointment was well received by former teammates, such as superstar Mia Hamm, who wrote on Twitter, “I have known Cindy Parlow Cone for over two decades as both a teammate and friend. She has always led with integrity and a commitment to others. I have no doubt that she will dedicate herself to making our game better for all.”
Anson Dorrance, the longtime coach at the University of North Carolina, where he guided Parlow Cone and later hired her as a part-time assistant, was happy to hear of her promotion.
“The timing for a woman to be running U.S. Soccer couldn’t be better,” he said in an interview. “And to have a strong and powerful woman like Cindy step in also couldn’t be better for U.S. Soccer and the long-term development of the game in the United States.”
Parlow Cone is best known for her scoring exploits for the national team between 1995 and 2006, posting 75 goals in 158 appearances. Her career was cut short by post-concussion syndrome.
At 5 feet 11, she was a towering presence in the attack and — as part of a unit that included, among others, Hamm, Michelle Akers and Kristine Lilly — the Americans won the 1996 and 2004 Olympic tournaments and the 1999 World Cup.
Professionally, she played for the Atlanta Beat in the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-03). She was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2018.
Dorrance believes Parlow Cone’s leadership qualities will serve the federation well, saying she was “among an extraordinary group of women” who elevated the program to global superiority and inspired millions of young people.
“So excited for Cindy but also for U.S. Soccer, and I’m not just talking about the women’s side,” Dorrance said. “She will be a great leader on the men’s side, as well. You’re certainly disappointed in the reasons she is in the position [following Cordeiro’s fall], but we can celebrate from all sorts of different perspectives. This couldn’t have happened any better for our game and this incredibly important organization."
Dorrance credits Parlow Cone with running UNC practices in 2012, when he was spending time with his ailing wife. That was the last time the Tar Heels won the NCAA championship.
“I had no issue telling the world she was my secret weapon,” he said.
When the National Women’s Soccer League launched in 2013, the Portland Thorns hired her as their head coach. They won the championship. She then stepped down for family reasons.
In recent years, the Memphis native has been working for North Carolina FC in the Raleigh-Durham area as director of girls’ youth programs. (The USSF’s elected positions are unpaid.)
In USSF political circles, Parlow Cone was a consultant in 2018 to the athletes’ council, whose support of Cordeiro in an eight-person field was instrumental to his election.
Candidate Steve Gans, a Boston-based attorney, did not win Cone’s support. But on Friday he said “she was incredibly impressive. She came with a list of questions based on her research of me and was enormously challenging. She was almost a force of nature.”
A year later, Parlow Cone was elected vice president. Last month, she easily won reelection.
Although she is well regarded in the soccer community, there is skepticism about whether someone already working in the federation can change things. And there are questions of her role in the mishandling of the women’s lawsuit.
“I would be reluctant to welcome anyone from the inside to be promoted to a higher position, but she is definitely an exception to that rule,” said Kyle Martino, a former MLS midfielder and current Premier League analyst for NBC Sports, who sought the USSF presidency two years ago.
“It’s hard to put the blame on any one person because the failure is systemic. … It’s not enough for Cindy and others to leave; I’d rather see them fight to create the federation I’ve heard they are fighting for but has fallen on deaf ears.
“She is incredibly bright. She has a lot of integrity. And she is taking the reins of a very difficult ship to right.”