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As US Soccer and Nike reach historic deal, Cindy Parlow Cone eyes equal pay resolution

(Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

For the nearly 20 months Cindy Parlow Cone has been president of U.S. Soccer, the sport has been heading toward multiple inflection points. While the U.S. men’s national team tries to qualify for the 2022 World Cup and find stability before playing host to the 2026 tournament, the women’s national team has been in an ongoing and very public legal battle with the federation over equal pay.

All of that is hanging over negotiations with the men’s and women’s player associations for new collective bargaining agreements. For the USWNT, that deadline is approaching quickly, with their current CBA set to expire at the end of the year.

As those proceedings unfold, Wednesday provided a jolt of positivity.

U.S. Soccer announced it has reached a long-term agreement with Nike to extend its partnership that began in 1995. The deal, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023 once the current contract ends, marks the largest commercial agreement in U.S. Soccer history and one of the largest investments in soccer globally. While specific terms were not provided, a pillar of the partnership is the growth of the women’s game, an issue that is dear to Parlow Cone’s heart.

“They’re just top class in marketing and they’re a global brand, and their values and vision just align perfectly with ours here at U.S. Soccer,” Parlow Cone told Just Women’s Sports.

“The men’s game has continued to grow at a steady pace, but I feel like the women’s game is poised for exponential growth, and with that, commercial growth for the organizations as well as the players themselves. I think we’re at a point in time where we can quite literally invest in the women’s game to help change the world for the better.”

Parlow Cone played for the USWNT from 1995-2006, winning two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup with the 1999 team that helped change the trajectory of women’s soccer in the U.S.

Now 43 and years removed from the sideline, she believes her history with the program has allowed her to connect with the players in a way previous administrations might not have been able to. Carlos Cordeiro, Parlow Cone’s predecessor, resigned in March, 2020 amid intense scrutiny over U.S. Soccer’s handling of the USWNT equal pay lawsuit. In court filings, the federation argued that women “do not perform equal work” based on the physical differences between men and women.

“They know that I’m not a politician … and I get where they’re coming from,” Parlow Cone said. “And I understand that, in the end, we’re on the same team. Everyone at U.S. soccer wants the women to continue to be the best in the world and to win every day. So I think there’s a solution there, and I’m hopeful that we can come to it sooner rather than later.”

On Sept. 10, Parlow Cone penned an open letter to the unions of the men’s and women’s national teams asking them to reach an agreement that would allow the USWNT to earn the same FIFA World Cup prize money as the USMNT. Currently, the financial discrepancy between the men’s and women’s World Cups is gaping: FIFA awarded $400 million to the 32 teams at the 2018 men’s World Cup and $30 million to the 24 teams at the 2019 women’s tournament.

“We want to find a way to equalize the World Cup prize money, and we can get creative on how that happens,” Parlow Cone said. “But until FIFA actually equalizes their own prize money, I would love for the men’s team and the women’s team to come together with U.S. Soccer to find a solution.”

Since releasing her letter, Parlow Cone said the men’s and women’s teams haven’t had discussions together with U.S. Soccer. At the time, the USWNT Players Association criticized the federation’s plan to make equal contract proposals to the USWNT and USMNT, calling it one of their “PR stunts” as tensions escalated on social media.

“We continue to have discussions with both teams in parallel,” Parlow Cone said. “Our goal is still to come to one agreement, but the only way that can happen is if we all get into the same room together.”

Parlow Cone said she is hopeful that U.S. Soccer will reach new CBAs with the teams and solve the USWNT litigation outside of court by the end of the year, even as the holidays threaten to slow down negotiations.

“My ideal vision is for FIFA to equalize not only the World Cup prize money, but to equalize their investment in the women’s and girls’ game,” she said. “It’s a broader vision for me than just solving the litigation — although I would love to just solve the litigation, too. But until FIFA equalizes it, it’s up to us. And by us, I mean U.S. Soccer, the women’s team and the men’s team coming together to find a solution.”

Hannah Withiam is the Managing Editor at Just Women’s Sports. She previously served as an editor at The Athletic and a reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @HannahWithiam.

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

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