Amy Rodriguez Named Manager of NWSL Expansion Side Utah Royals

Amy Rodriguez has accepted a royal(s) role…

National Women’s Soccer League expansion side the Utah Royals has named the 36-year-old Latina World Cup winner and two-time NWSL champion as manager.

Amy Rodriguez Rodriguez spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach at her alma mater, USC, and now returns to Utah, having spent time there as a player from 2018 to 2020 during a previous incarnation of the club.

Utah was named as the latest NWSL expansion side last month and will begin play in 2024.

“The moment that the Royals organization gave me the phone call, I had the butterflies in my stomach,” Rodriguez told ESPN via telephone. “I was so excited to potentially go back to a club that I had so much enjoyment to play for.

“But this obviously is a much different role, one that is a bit daunting. And I’m not going to lie. I’m nervous about the task at hand. But it’s an exciting time, too. So I’m like, rolling my sleeves up, ready to go.”

Rodriguez acknowledged she will undergo a steep learning curve in terms of going from assistant coach to manager, as well as coaching professional players for the first time.

“Anytime you step into a role that is above you, there’s definitely way more responsibility that comes with it,” she said. “There’s an excitement [and] a potential to make something my own, and that gets me fired up.

“But I take it with a great amount of responsibility that I’m going to now step into, and I’m going to give it my very best. I think as a player, I always leaned on hard work, and I think similarly in this coaching role, I’ll do the exact same.”

Rodriguez has a long history with Royals president Michelle Hyncik, as the two were teammates in high school. When Hyncik suggested they talk over video instead of catching up over the phone, Rodriguez said she was “caught off guard” that this wasn’t just a time to catch up with an old friend.

Those sentiments continued when she was told she was under consideration for the job. She even admitted there were moments when she thought she “wasn’t deserving” and had more to learn before taking on such a role.

“I just had reflected back on what I always tell my players,” Rodriguez said. “Before a big match or opponent, I’m always like, ‘Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be brave. Go out there and give it your best shot.’ And I thought to myself, ‘If I ask this of my players and I can’t do this for myself, then what kind of coach am I?’

“And so I think that was like a light bulb in my head where sometimes in order to grow and to become the best version of yourself, you have to be uncomfortable. And this definitely makes me uncomfortable, but in the best way possible.”

Hynick said the hiring of Rodriguez is a perfect fit with the club’s broader mission.

“Empowering women both on and off the field has been an underlying driving force throughout the journey of our Return of Royalty. The hiring of head coach Amy Rodriguez embodies this Utah Royals’ mission to advance women’s careers in our Utah community and beyond,” The Utah Royals president said in a club statement.

“Amy’s commitment to excellence, winning, community and family aligns with our Utah Royals’ creed and we are honored to have her at the helm to lead us into the next era.”

Taking over an expansion team, Rodriguez is essentially being handed a blank canvas. The same is true of her first foray into management. There’s also an immense amount of work to do, even before she begins to think about what style she’ll want to play.

“We have a very large task at hand, and we’re starting from scratch, so building the infrastructure and player identification and player acquisition, creating a staff, building what I would need to make this the most successful organization in the end,” she said.

“So even though it’s a big task to start from scratch, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to build something that we want from the ground up. And I’m looking forward to it.”

Rodriguez’s career as a player spanned multiple leagues, starting in 2011. She played for the Boston Breakers and Philadelphia Independence of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), and later with FC Kansas City, the Royals, the Kansas City Current and the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL. Over that span, she scored 64 goals in 102 appearances, and was part of two title-winning teams in Kansas City in 2014 and 2015.

At international level, Rodriguez made 132 appearances for the U.S. women’s national team, scoring 30 goals and adding 22 assists. She was part of the 2015 World Cup-winning side, and played on two Olympic gold-medal sides in 2008 and 2012.

Rodriguez is currently in the process of earning her U.S. Soccer A-level senior coaching license and was part of the first group of players from the National Women’s Soccer League — supported by the NWSL, the NWSL Players’ Association and U.S. Soccer — to receive her B-level license.

U.S. National Team Calls Up Mexican Dual Citizen Alejandro Zendejas

Alejandro Zendejas is heading north…

The 24-year-old Mexican professional footballer has beene called up for the first time by the senior United States national team, according to Futbol Americas hosts Herculez Gomez and Sebastian Salazar.

Alejandro ZendejasZendejas, a dual citizen who plays for Liga MX‘s Club America is joioned by Brandon Vazquez of FC Cincinnati on the roster.

The sources said that the two soccer up-and-comers are on the list for this month’s camp in Los Angeles ahead of friendlies with Serbia at Banc of California Stadium on January 25, and Colombia at Carson’s Dignity Health Sports Park on Jan. 28.

The full U.S. squad is expected to be released on Wednesday, with World Cup assistant Anthony Hudson set to oversee the side for the camp and friendlies.

Vazquez, a 2022 MLS All-Star said last year that he’s open to Mexico or the United States, but hinted at this month’s MLS Media Day that a decision had already been made.

“It’s a big milestone for me,” Vazquez told about earning a chance with the USMNT’s January camp.

“I mean, growing up with the [U.S.] national team, and then seeing other teammates get the opportunity and thriving with the men’s national team, and not being there, sometimes I compare, you know? So I always wish I’m there, too. I’ve been wanting to get there for a long time.”

Vazquez, who was a part of the U.S. youth national team setup, also noted that there’s “still no conversation” with the Mexican federation and that “nobody’s called.”

Zendejas has represented both Mexico and the United States at youth level and made two senior appearances for El Tri in late 2021 and early 2022. Last August, ESPN Mexico reported that FIFA were investigating the eligibility of the player who had allegedly yet to file a one-time switch with Mexico.

In September, a representative from U.S. Soccer confirmed to ESPN that they were following Zendejas’ development, after his involvement in the youth setup.

While Vazquez is in MLS’ preseason, a possible hurdle for Zendejas is two upcoming home games for America in Mexico City against Puebla on Jan. 21 and Mazatlan on Jan. 28. Due to the USMNT camp and friendlies landing on non-FIFA dates, Club America does not have to release Zendejas.

Sofia Huerta Called Up by U.S. Women’s National Team Coach Vlatko Andonovski for SheBelieves Cup

Sofia Huerta will be representing the U.S. later this month…

U.S. women’s national team coach Vlatko Andonovski has called up a squad that mixes youth and experience, including the 29-year-old Mexican American professional soccer player and a midfielder for OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League, for this month’s SheBelieves Cup.

Sofia HuertaAndonovski’s roster leaves out big names like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan in favor of up-and-comers like 22-year-old Brazilian-born American professional soccer player Catarina Macario and 22-year-old Ashley Sanchez, a forward for the Washington Spirit.

The 23-player squad will compete in the USWNT‘s first games of 2022 when the Americans face the Czech Republic, New Zealand and Iceland in the SheBelieves Cup, taking place February 17-23.

The games will be played at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, and Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Veterans left out include some of the USWNT’s biggest attacking names, such as Rapinoe, Morgan, Tobin Heath and Christen Press. Andonovski said those players had been left off to make room for the players needing to prove themselves.

“All these players are very good players — we know that they’ve done so much for this team,” Andonovski told ESPN of the veterans. “But right now I want to give a chance to players like Sophia Smith and Mal Pugh and Catarina Macario, Ashley Hatch, players that have earned their spot on the national team or earn their spot back. I want to give them maximum minutes or whatever minutes they earn so we can evaluate every aspect of their game, in the training environment or game setting.”

However, the veterans being left off the roster shouldn’t be interpreted as those players being a lock, Andonovski added.

“It doesn’t mean that all these players that have done well in the past are just going to come back here in the next camp because they’ve done well a year ago or two years ago,” Andonovski added. “There’s a reason why we’re not calling Mia Hamm or Julie Foudy in camp, right? So the same goes here: they need to perform, they need to play in their markets, they need to play well in their markets, and show that they can still contribute and be valuable for the national team.”

In the midfield, veterans Julie Ertz and Samantha Mewis are also left out in favor of less established USWNT players such as Macario and Sanchez. Mewis is coming off an injury, Andonovski said, but Ertz wasn’t fit enough to merit a USWNT call.

“Julie was not ready to come into camp from a physical standpoint,” Andonovski said. “In the conversation that I had with her, she understands that in order to get back into camp — and that’s not just for Julie, that’s for any player on this team — first and foremost, you got to be healthy, fit and ready to play. Then, the next thing is you gotta perform in your club market to earn your spot on the national team.”

Ertz was traded from the Chicago Red Stars to NWSL expansion club Angel City FC in December, but she was not on Angel City’s preseason roster announced on Tuesday and has not reported for the club’s preseason camp.

“Whenever Julie is ready and she performs well — we know how good she can be, we know how valuable she is for this team — we’re gonna be happy to see her back,” Andonovski said.

The SheBelieves Cup roster mostly includes players who had joined the USWNT in Texas for its annual January camp, which traditionally features more bubble players and up-and-comers.

The exceptions are midfielder Macario, who missed the camp to stay with Lyon as it faced rival Paris Saint-Germain in the Coupe de France, and defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who missed the January camp with what U.S. Soccer called “a minor injury.”

“We had a great camp in Austin and now we need to see this group of players in game environments against highly motivated opponents,” Andonovski said. “Every player in the pool is focused on making the roster for World Cup and Olympic qualifying this summer.”

Of the 23 players on the roster, 11 are players who have been on the fringes of the USWNT and have 25 or fewer caps. Six players have single-digit caps.

USWNT SheBelieves Cup roster

GOALKEEPERS: Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit; 0), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage; 2), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 78)

DEFENDERS: Alana Cook (OL Reign; 4/0), Abby Dahlkemper (San Diego Wave FC; 77/0), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars; 45/1), Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC; 8/0), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign; 9/0), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit; 148/2), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit; 63/0), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC; 199/0)

MIDFIELDERS: Morgan Gautrat (Chicago Red Stars; 87/8), Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyonnais; 108/25), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign; 68/18), Catarina Macario (Olympique Lyonnais; 12/3), Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 33/4), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit; 2/0), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit; 22/2)

FORWARDS: Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit; 4/2), Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars; 67/18), Margaret Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 9/2), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC; 10/1), Lynn Williams (Kansas City Current; 45/14)

Carlos Cordeiro Reportedly Runing to Reclaim His Old U.S. Soccer Federation President Title

Carlos Cordeiro may be returning to his old post…

The half-Colombian sports executive, the former U.S. Soccer Federation president, is considering a run to reclaim his old position, according to ESPN sources, with one source saying Cordeiro has made up his mind and has shared plans to run with others privately.

Carlos Cordeiro

Cordeiro has received multiple nominations from the voting membership, according to the sources, as required as part of the presidential candidate process, and in recent days has wrestled with the decision on whether to run against current president Cindy Parlow Cone.

Cone announced last August that she would seek re-election.

The deadline for submitting nominations — and for candidates to indicate they are running — is midnight CT on Tuesday. The election itself will be held in March of 2022, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Reached Monday, a U.S. Soccer spokesman said U.S. Soccer presidential nominations are confidential until the deadline passes.

Cordeiro was elected as USSF president in 2018, but resigned nearly two years later amid a backlash to court filings relating to the equal pay lawsuit filed by members of the U.S. women’s national team, which former and current players on both the men’s and women’s national teams called sexist.

In one filing, the USSF and its lawyers disparaged the players, saying they “do not perform equal work requiring equal skill [and] effort” because “the overall soccer-playing ability required to compete at the senior men’s national team level is materially influenced by the level of certain physical attributes such as speed and strength.” Cordeiro said at the time that he didn’t review the court documents filed by federation attorneys, but took responsibility for the filing’s language.

With sponsors applying pressure as well, Cordeiro resigned in March 2020. Cone subsequently took over and was re-elected while running unopposed in 2021 to finish out Cordeiro’s term.

One source expressed concern that if Cordeiro is re-elected, it would amount to a “step backward” for the federation, especially as it attempts to settle the ongoing equal pay lawsuit. The federation has also enjoyed some stability since the hiring of CEO Will Wilson two weeks after Cordeiro’s resignation and with Cone taking over after the turnover from former president Sunil Gulati and Cordeiro — and a source said Cordeiro running again would be disruptive to ongoing efforts at the federation.

There is also bound to be an immense public backlash if Cordeiro runs again, and a source worried about how that could affect the federation’s relationship with sponsors. Before Cordeiro’s resignation in 2020, Coca-Cola, a major sponsor, had called U.S. Soccer‘s handling of the lawsuit “unacceptable and offensive,” Deloitte said it was “deeply offended” and Volkswagen said it was “disgusted,” among other strong reactions.

But other sources say dissatisfaction among U.S. Soccer’s voting membership has been building with some aspects of Cone’s performance as president, especially within the state associations. Late last year, the USSF changed its voting structure in order to comply with the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic and Amateur Athletes Act. That law is primarily focused on preventing athletes from suffering the kind of abuse that came to light in the Larry Nassar case, one in which the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics was found to have assaulted hundreds of girls and women.

But the bill also contains language that mandates that athlete representation on boards and committees of national governing bodies be increased from 20% to 33.3%. A U.S. Olympic & Paralympics Committee policy change reinforced this mandate. While there was general agreement that the composition of the board should reflect these percentages, there was more disagreement about how these changes should apply to the voting membership. The concern among some members is that with the athletes’ council controlling 33.3% of the vote, it could team with another constituency to control the USSF’s agenda. That said, a policy change authored by a USSF task force was passed last October by the national council with 92% of the weighted vote.

There has also been concern that not enough is being done to push the 2026 World Cup — which the U.S. is co-hosting with Canada and Mexico — to the front of the federation’s agenda, with one source calling the USSF’s approach “somewhat passive.” Sources also say some members believe Cordeiro has better connections with FIFA given his role in securing the 2026 hosting rights. A former member of the FIFA stakeholders committee, Cordeiro was appointed last September to be a senior adviser to FIFA for global strategy and governance.

Another source said there is a sense from some segments of the voting membership that Cone “only cares about the senior [national teams] and does not respect the voting membership and what they do for the sport.”

The USWNT’s lawsuit was dismissed in May 2020, shortly after Cordeiro’s resignation, and the players have filed an appeal in federal court. The appeal is set to proceed with oral arguments in March.

U.S. Soccer Gives Young Player Award to FC Dallas’ Ricardo Pepi

Ricardo Pepi is celebrating a special honor…

The 18-year-old Mexican American professional soccer player, a striker for Major League Soccer club FC Dallas, has received U.S. Soccer’s young player award.

Ricardo PepiPepi had a dynamic debut with the United States national team against Honduras in September, posting a goal and two assists in a 4-1 victory.

He then scored two goals against Jamaica in October, cementing his status as one of the most promising young talents playing in the U.S. system.

The FC Dallas forward and El Paso native chose to represent the U.S. over his parents’ native Mexico in August, shortly after he was selected for his first MLS All-Star Game.

Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic was named the governing body’s male player of the year, while U.S. Soccer named Washington Spirit‘s Trinity Rodman as young female player of the year and Portland Thorns midfielder Lindsey Horan took the senior award.

Giovanni Reyna Named U.S. Soccer’s Young Male Player of the Year

Giovanni Reyna is the (young) man of the hour…

The 18-year-old half-Argentine American soccer player, a midfielder for Borussia Dortmund, has been voted U.S. Soccer‘s Young Male Player of the Year for 2020.

Giovanni Reyna 

Reyna burst onto the international scene with the German giants in 2020 and capped the year by making his first appearance for the United States in a 0-0 draw with Wales back in November.

The former NYCFC product received 79% of the vote and follows Sergino Dest, Alex Mendez, Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic as the most recent winners of the award.

He also joins USMNT greats Landon Donovan (2000), Jozy Altidore (2006), and Michael Bradley (2007) on the list of honorees.

The award was first given out in 1998 when Josh Wolff took home the prize.

Reyna has made 39 appearances over all competitions in 2020, producing five goals and seven assists.

He has played in all 13 league games for Dortmund in the 2020-21 season, adding three goals and four assists. Reyna has also been a standout in the Champions League this campaign, appearing in all six matches thus far while starting in four.