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Luke DeCock: US Soccer is a mess. The path to fixing its equal pay issues runs through North Carolina.

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) — By Luke DeCock The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

March 24-- RALEIGH, N.C.-The path to power in American soccer goes through the North Carolina Triangle, apparently.

US Soccer announced Monday that it was hiring Will Wilson, Andrew Luck's Raleigh-based former agent, as its new CEO and secretary general after a prolonged search.

The person who pulled the trigger on the hire is US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, the former UNC star and the director of girls soccer for NCFC Youth, where Wilson also serves on the board of directors.

"We've been working closely together-but socially distanced-since we're both here in North Carolina," Cone said on a teleconference Tuesday.

On top of that, North Carolina FC owner Stephen Malik has apparently rejoined US Soccer's board of directors, a position he held as recently as 2019, although there's been no formal announcement of that from Soccer House in Chicago.

It's a worldwide sport, but it can be a very small world. The people who will have to fix the mess US Soccer has become, most notably after an incredibly misogynistic approach to the Women's National Team's equal pay and gender discrimination lawsuit, happen to come from this particular corner of it.

Cone, 41, was elevated to the presidency earlier this month when her predecessor, Carlos Cordeiro, stepped down amid the outroar over the legal filing. Pushing through and finalizing the hiring of Wilson, the end of a process that took almost a year and had to restart from scratch at one point, is her first big decision among many ahead.

"I didn't plan to find myself in this position," Cone said.

Wilson, 52, comes to US Soccer from Wasserman Media Group, where he built an NFL representation practice starting in 2012 with his nephew, Luck. That group was based out of Wasserman's Raleigh offices on Six Forks Road, the epicenter of the Triangle's quiet position of power in the sports world.

Those are the old offices of OnSport, the sports marketing company that Wasserman bought in 2007 and has alumni that include its founder, Gary Davidson, now the deputy commissioner of MLS; Sarah Hirshfeld, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee; and Malcolm Turner, who was briefly the athletic director at Vanderbilt. Dean Jordan, the consultant who saw the ACC Network to fruition, is still there.

"You've got some really talented people who are involved in a lot of stuff working out of our office," Jordan said. "The guy who basically put together the College Football Playoff is on the 10th floor. Andrew Luck's agent is on the 10th floor. You don't expect that kind of thing."

Jordan works across the hall from Wilson, who may have become best known as Luck's agent but has a deep background in the soccer world, having worked for both Major League Soccer and Soccer Unlimited Marketing, the powerful marketing arm of MLS and US Soccer. He's bilingual with a graduate degree from a Mexican university.

"He certainly came from the world of soccer," Jordan said. "He understands what he's getting into, that's for sure. It's not as if soccer's a foreign business to him. He understands that world."

It's a world in turmoil at the moment, not only because of the worldwide disruption of the coronavirus. US Soccer has been grappling with leadership issues and an ongoing debate over how much influence MLS should have for years. All of which was brought to a head by the self-inflicted wounds of the USWNT lawsuit, in which US Soccer argued that it took less "skill" to play for the women's team, among other offensive assertions.

That cost Cordeiro his job, unexpectedly elevated Cone into her new position and left the best women's team in the world seething with justified rage. Cone and Wilson talked Tuesday that there was as much work ahead mending relations with the elite women's players as there was settling the lawsuit.

"There are other issues as well," Wilson said. "But trust that we are focused on them and willing and able to work toward solutions and move forward."

If there is an answer to all of this, to any of this, it will come from here.

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