Anson Dorrance on Cindy Parlow Cone's elevation to U.S. Soccer president and the reconstruction of a 'gutted organization'

Anson Dorrance, the first American coach to win a soccer world championship, has guided the University of North Carolina to 21 NCAA Division I championships. Cindy Parlow Cone, who recently became the President of the U.S. Soccer Federation, played under Dorrance at UNC in 1995-98 and was part of three of those championships.

SOCCER AMERICA: What do you recall about Cindy Parlow Cone coming to play for Tar Heels?

ANSON DORRANCE: We recruited her out of Tennessee. She left high school early to join us at UNC.

After we won the [1991] World Cup, I got invited to a lot places to speak, run clinics and even sell books. I was in Tennessee for a bookstore signing to sell one of the books I wrote. The people who picked me up at the airport and also drove me back were the Parlows.

Cindy has always been quiet. After my book signing thing, I'm in the minivan with the Parlows as they’re driving me back to the airport. I'm in the second row, and Mr. and Mrs. Parlow are sitting up front. And in the row behind me is Cindy, very, very quiet.

And according to her parents, as soon as they dropped me off, Cindy told them, "I'm going to play for that man one day." Talk about one of those things that goes right to your heart.

SA: Why did she leave high school early to start college?

ANSON DORRANCE: One of the reasons she did that is she wanted to have a shot at the 1996 Olympic roster -- for first women's Olympic soccer tournament. She made it -- was the youngest player on the gold medal team (at age 18).

SA: How did she adjust to the college game at that young age?

ANSON DORRANCE: She jumped into our program and hit the ground running. She became a four-year all-American, so basically she was a college all-American as a high school senior.

SA: What made her so good?

ANSON DORRANCE: Her development was basically her older brothers. She was playing with her older, bigger, stronger brothers. And it was hard to be bigger than Cindy. When she came in, she was 5-foot-11, and this warrior of a woman. And just tough as nails from being knocked around from these older brothers who were big even for men.

She came and she entered our lineup like she was shot out of a cannon. She was an incredible superstar from Day 1 as a young freshman at UNC. She did make that Olympic roster, then was part of the 99er team, which to this day is the iconic champion from when we won our second world championship. Cindy has an incredible legacy in the game.

Cindy Parlow scored in the fifth minute of the USA's 2-0 semifinal win over Brazil en route to the USA's 1999 Women's World Cup title. She also won two Olympic gold medals.

SA: She also served as an assistant coach to you at UNC.

ANSON DORRANCE: The year my wife Melissa almost died I needed a lot of help and I brought Cindy in. Cindy ran a lot of my training sessions at UNC. And when we won that 2012 national championship with Cindy doing most of my training work I had no issue sharing that with the world. Portland hired her after that season. And she ended up being the head coach of the NWSL team that won the league that year.

Because I loved working with her so much at UNC, I was in the process of extending her a full-time job as her assistant. She was such an extraordinary coach. Portland stole her away from me.

But she only did it for a year and came back because she loved every about Chapel Hill and their life here. She’s now a youth coach for NCFC (North Carolina FC Youth), sort of the local dynasty in youth soccer.

As she shared in her Hall of Fame induction speech in 2018, Anson Dorrance told Cindy Parlow Cone, when she was an 18-year-old college sophomore, that she should coach because she'd be a great at it. "I remember walking away from that meeting saying, that guy has no idea what he's talking about," said Parlow Cone, who has been coaching since retiring from her playing career.

SA: What was your reaction when you heard U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro resigned and Cindy moved up from vice president to replace him?

ANSON DORRANCE: I was overjoyed just because of the timing of this. Now's the time to have a woman in that position for all the reasons you fully understand.

She's been handed a very difficult situation. Her position right now is virtually impossible if you think about it. Because she's not only tasked with resolving lawsuits, but also mending relationships, restoring faith not just with the U.S. women's national team, but with members, fans, and sponsors. Also, with the public.

She has to do this and guide us through a gutted organization that requires a complete reconstruction. If you think about it, Mike, she has to completely reconstruct this organization. And she's got to figure out a way to attract good people who don't want to enter a toxic environment.

Her challenge is incredibly overwhelming. This would be an overwhelming job for a guy who made seven figures with 30 years of experience in this job. And yet she's just an extraordinary person who loves the game and loves coaching her youth teams in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Now she's got the weight of the United States soccer platform basically thrown on top of her.

(Editor's note: USSF President is an unpaid position.)

SA: In my opinion, some of U.S. Soccer’s recent moves indicate that its leaders are out of touch with grassroots soccer in this country. Cindy is actually in the grassroots while she’s doing this.

ANSON DORRANCE: You're absolutely spot on. She is from the grassroots. From all these different perspectives, this is a rare opportunity. Obviously the challenges are overwhelming.

Can we get an extraordinary individual to jump in and take Dan Flynn's place? Can we get a similarly extraordinary individual to jump in where Jay Berhalter was working. Can we find another VP to replace her, with her energy and commitment, but most important integrity?

Cindy has already done fantastic with the hiring of Kate Markgraf.

SA: What else makes you optimistic about Cindy Parlow Cone in this role?

ANSON DORRANCE: I just have huge admiration her, as I have had before she was given this opportunity.

I'm excited about the people on her speed dial -- Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly and many more ... and obviously Kate Markgraf, who’s doing a wonderful job already [as general manager of the U.S. women’s national team].

Judging by Kate’s appointments so far, she gets 5 stars from me. She made a very good and a very hard decision for this era when she picked a man [Vlatko Andonovski] to replace a woman [Jill Elllis] who was a two-time women’s world champion.

She made a statement right out of the gate about who she is. She's not going to be manipulated by gender politics. She's gonna make the best choice. All of us involved in the game not only liked all the four candidates she was considering, but we loved her choice. And she replaced a man [Mark Carr] with a woman at U-20 level, and what an extraordinary job Laura Harvey did with our U-20s in our qualifying [for the 2020 U-20 World Cup].

Cindy is connected to so many people at the top, like Carla Werden Overbeck, one of the great leaders in the history of the women’s national team. Or like Wendy Gebauer, who’s married to one of my former assistants, Bill Palladino. She won a world championship in 1991. Her connection to that side of the house is extraordinary. Those people who are thinking, oh my gosh it's going to be horrible for the men's game that this woman is going to be the head of U.S. Soccer, can't be further from the truth.

And those who try to manipulate her will fail.

SA: Why do you say that?

ANSON DORRANCE: What’s going to give her amazing power is she didn't want to the job. So she won't be able to be manipulated. One of the things that comprises our political system are all these people scrambling for power. They compromise their inner conscience because they want power. They want to remain in power.

They want to trade things to gain power even if what they're trading for is compromised. Cindy is not going to suffer from any of those things. She'll be impossible to manipulate because these people who want to take over, the different ways they can exploit U.S. Soccer through marketing deals and everything else, won't be able to promise her a position they know she won't want. Or promise her an extended stay at the top, because they'll also discover she doesn't want that either.

She's going to be in these wonderful positions that are uncompromisable because of who she is. From that perspective, I love the opportunity she has.

SA: Cindy’s husband John Cone’s impressive coaching resume includes work with MLS clubs, coaching education instruction for the highest level USSF licenses, expertise in fitness and sports science, college and youth coaching. You know John Cone?

ANSON DORRANCE: Very well. Because that year Cindy was working for me, I was studying with Raymond Verheijen, who’s been a coaching mentor for me. Because of Melissa's illness, I couldn't join Raymond for his international conference. I asked that John go for me and I would pay for him. And obviously, being a fitness expert, he basically had no issue going even though he already knew a lot of the stuff Raymond was sharing.

John went in my place and when he came back shared with me all the stuff he learned that we brought into that 2012 season, using a periodization platform that he studied. And through Cindy we were trying this new idea for me, on how to stay fit with the ball, and a lot of that was what John had studied.

I know John very well and have huge respect for him. John is a consummate professional, obviously raised through the men's game, and is also a soccer expert on his own. Trust me, this extraordinary woman is going to do as much as she can for both sides of the gender divide. And it’s very rare to have a couple with such expertise in the game as both of those two.

SA: One of the big issues for U.S. Soccer is its Girls DA aiming to be the top girls youth in the country, while major youth clubs are opting to play in the ECNL. What’s your view based on the latest developments?

ANSON DORRANCE: Originally I thought it was a travesty, because I hated the way the ECNL was treated and the way U.S. Soccer rolled out the DA and all those different things back then. Now I kind of like it.

SA: Why?

ANSON DORRANCE: I think the United States is in a unique position for player development. Unlike Iceland, where they have to get it exactly right because their population is so small, we don't have to come up with some formula that’s exactly right for everybody in our country.

The United States can be an extraordinary petri dish for different ideas. One of our great strengths is for all of us to search for the best ways to develop players. But let's have a leadership structure on top that brings us together, and we review.

SA: Regionalize more instead of a one-size-fits-all approach?

ANSON DORRANCE: If you're living in frozen New England, maybe you've got this idea where futsal is a three-month break for your player development platforms. And let's see how that works. Because I'll tell you this, the best player of her generation is a futsal player from Boston.

Obviously, Southern California we don't have to touch. Because, holy cow, are they a conduit right into to all of our teams in every area. It’s an area of the country that attracts extraordinary coaches because of the quality of life. Right now, they are our lifeline to every national team, including the full team in terms of percentage.

Maybe we can have different parts of the country concentrate on different things. So I love the fact that we've got these two behemoths competing with each other. And now they're going to have to find a way for their best practices to attract the best players.

SA: The downside of Girls DA vs. ECNL?

ANSON DORRANCE: What I don't want to see happening, which I have seen, is the DA trying to get these kids playing for them by sharing things that aren’t true, like the only way to make the national team is through us. And maybe what our national leadership will do is say, sure we were a part of launching the DA, but we don’t have to be married to them.

What they have to do is give every player in the United States equal opportunity to be seen.

I've always been a fan of [ECNL president] Christian Lavers. I love him. He's a leadership force. And God knows we need more real leaders in this country. I love what Christian tries to do with his group. Then obviously, as in any capitalist environment, they compete and I’d love for more good ideas to spin off from this as we sort out how to best develop players in all the different regions in the country.

There are so many different ways for us to develop. I just don't want someone on top telling all of us, with a sort of a Dutch color how we have to develop our players because this is the model in Western Europe.

12 comments about "Anson Dorrance on Cindy Parlow Cone's elevation to U.S. Soccer president and the reconstruction of a 'gutted organization'".
  1. Thomas Frambach, March 17, 2020 at 8:49 p.m.

    Great interview with a legend in Anson Dorrance!  Refreshing to hear we have a strong leader in Cindy Parlow Cone at the top.  Looking forward to the next chapter! 

  2. Bob Ashpole, March 17, 2020 at 8:58 p.m.

    Excellent choice for an interview, and timely too.

    Coach Dorrance gives me hope.

  3. James Madison, March 17, 2020 at 11:02 p.m.

    Cindy Parlow Cone gives me hope.   Maybe she will even welcome Michelle Akers back from the soccer wilderness. 

  4. beautiful game replied, March 18, 2020 at 8:56 a.m.

    Agree, Michelle Akers is a replica of Alfredo DiStefano football DNA.

  5. John Soares, March 18, 2020 at 5:03 a.m.

    Great interview..... I hope he is right about Cindy. 
    He usually is!

  6. R2 Dad, March 18, 2020 at 7:05 a.m.

    This is a good interview and AD has contributed so much to the women's game. But this annoys me to no end: "Then obviously, as in any capitalist environment, they compete and I’d love for more good ideas to spin off from this as we sort out how to best develop players in all the different regions in the country."
    The youth/amateur game, where player development is supposed to happen yet is paid for by families, is subject to the vagaries/churn of open markets and the unsettled turmoil that entails. Yet when we talk about professional soccer leagues, that's a closed environment like MLB/NBA/NFL. The reason being that leagues and league owners need to be protected from themselves. Because owners are such bad business people they'll all end up like free-spending NASL ninnies and run their clubs into the ground so they must be protected--FROM THEMSELVES.
    The standard open market/capitalism AD refers to only applies to paid-in clubs but not players or outsiders, as pro-rel is not allowed and the benefits of open markets only extend to club owners within the geofencing of established leagues. This is ironically true for USSF membership as well. Clubs benefit, not individual players. I don't think USSF can evolve into something it's not--an entity that values the players and families that ARE the game in this country. It's only about the business and the voting members. Everything else is secondary and that's not good enough in a country that wants to be great at this game.

  7. humble 1 replied, March 18, 2020 at 2:18 p.m.

    Don't get bent on that particular response, that was his for me, weak justification to not knock the DA.  For me it was a very political response as the DA is feeding his program and he needs access and support to get the players guided to his program.  The more revealing part of his response was his fawning over ECNL leadership. 

  8. Mike Lynch, March 18, 2020 at 9:15 a.m.

    Excellent Interview Mike and Anson. Thanks. These are interesting and turbulent times, and out of these times often come new and innovative approaches, especially when people with the quality of Kate, Christian and Cindy are assuming greater roles and voices in the process. The United States is uniquely large, diverse and entreprenurial making one size fits all, top down mandates perhaps our biggest challenge.  

  9. frank schoon, March 18, 2020 at 10:19 a.m.

    I'm noticing quite bit of Euphoria due to one change, Cindy Parlow. I remember when Earney Stewart with his resume and experience was going help change and boost the US game under his leadership..that turned out to be a bust....

    I would like to exactly know ,in this air of Euphoria, what in way of 'REAL" youth player development is she going to make the changes and I don't mean replacing certain personnel at various coaches and management positions, or other feel good directives like making Chicago no longer the center of our brain trust of US soccer operation. 

    For me it is all about Qualitative changes in the soccer development of our youth which I don't even see being discussed or brought up in this interview...The quote by Anson Dorrance sort of sums it up.
    <"One of our great strengths is for all of us to search for the best ways to develop players. ">
    This searching for the best way to develop players even after 50 years where we not improved in our skill level other than a horizontal growth but not vertical. Like I say keep searching....
    Anson compared Iceland where there are so few players and we have soooo many and after 50years even by law of average we have yet to produce a great young talented player, the world would take notice of.....

    Well Cindy Parlow or no Cindy Parlow i'm not that optimistic but realistic for as long as there no strucural and thinking philosophy changes in our player development, it will not matter who is running this show for feel good changes are not going to do it for me...

  10. beautiful game replied, March 19, 2020 at 3:27 p.m.

    USSF goals and processes have to be re-evaluated. Afterwards, people with soccer and business expertise need to come up with a model that is flexible and works from top to bottom. Afterwards a qualified staff can get to work on the final solution. If the revenue stream becomes a central issue, the re-invention process of USSF is DOA. 

  11. Chance Hall, March 20, 2020 at 10:42 a.m.

    Overall I found the article enlightening.  Have always wondered what "the poweers that be" think of US and US Youth soccer.  While I crtainly agree that Cindy has a unique opportunity to help both US and US Youth soccer, I wonder if she will be allowed.  As you know it's a complicated issue with complex parts.  While I certainly respect coach Dorrance and his accomplishments I'm disappointed with some of his key answers.  The first, and most important to me ever since I've been involved with soccer, is the issue of DA and/vs ECNL.  His answer is whow I've always thought "people" at the top of US Soccer think.  That DA and ECNL fighting over the "best" players is a good thing.  But the thing that disappointed me the most is his comments about California being the center for filling our national teams at all age levels!  Finally someone said this out loud...  Disappointed, but not surprised.  For too long young players, boys and girls, have been selected based on where they're from or what club they belong to - not based on their skill and potential!  You can't tell me that there aren't equally skilled players with the same or more potential scattered accross this country!!! If Cindy could find a way to show the young players accross the country that it doesn't matter where you live or play they have a shot of making a nation team at some age group.  If she just accomplished that one single thing, she will help save US Soccer and become the President we all hope she can be.  I wish her the best, she's going to need it!    

  12. Chance Hall, March 20, 2020 at 11:04 a.m.

    spell check didn't catch these.   His answer is how I've always thought.  shot of making a national team at some. 

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