The Latest Failure of US Soccer

On Saturday the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) elected a new president ending the 12-year reign of Sunil Gulati who announced in December that he would not run for a fourth term. Gulati told ESPN at the time, “I think the best thing for me personally, and for the federation, is to see someone new in the job.” Gulati likely would have won reelection (he ran unopposed in each of his three elections), but after the US men’s team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in ages, there were certainly calls for his job.

I was as mad as anyone back in October when we failed to qualify (yes, even more angry than Taylor Twellman), but I also believed that the colossal failure could lead to positive change. Apparently that was naive on my part because the election instead showed that the establishment was even more deeply entrenched than we thought. Having said that, it is worth noting that the election was actually an open competition, something that could not be said for many previous editions.

Who ran for election?

Over the years we’ve mostly had people running unopposed in elections that no one paid any attention to, so this year was unique. An explanation of the process can be found here. Nine different individuals threw their hat into the ring and eight of them were deemed “qualified” to run by the federation. Here is a quick peek at who they are:

  • Paul Caligiuri, former player 
  • Kathy Carter, president of Soccer United Marketing (SUM)
  • Carlos Cordeiro, USSF vice president since 2016 and member of CONCACAF Council
  • Steve Gans, attorney based in Boston[16]
  • Kyle Martino, former player
  • Hope Solo, former player
  • Michael Winograd, lawyer and former player
  • Eric Wynalda, former player

Solo, Martino, and Wynalda are high profile players who have been quite outspoken in recent years. Carter is a major player on the money side of US Soccer and was widely considered to be the candidate backed by Gulati on his way out. However, after three rounds of voting, current USSF Vice President Carlos Cordeiro was the one elected.

Who is Carlos Cordeiro?

He isn’t new to the US soccer organization, but his acceptance speech made it sound like he’s new to soccer. The 61 year old Cordeiro reportedly opened his acceptance speech by saying, ““I’d like to thank Sunil and our board for their tireless service. Sunil for introducing me to the game 10 or 11 years ago.” There are teenagers who got introduced to soccer more than 10 or 11 years ago and this guy is gonna be president of our federation? STRIKE ONE!

Many of you might be thinking “Well if he’s not a soccer guy, he must have a great history of management or something, right?” Not exactly. Cordeiro is described from a career standpoint as a “former Goldman Sachs executive.” STRIKE TWO!!

What about his time as part of the USSF? Well the organization is an absolute trash heap of corruption and failure in what might be the most corrupt confederation in FIFA, which doesn’t have a sterling reputation itself. He was the Vice President of the administration that oversaw the most embarrassing failure in the history of US Men’s soccer. STRIKE THREE!!!

[On a lighter note, I recognize that I am using baseball terms here in this soccer article which might very well be a part of the problem with soccer in America also.]

How did an establishment candidate win in this climate?

With all the outrage around the country and some people calling for a “scorched earth protocol” for the USSF, one might have assumed that sweeping change was inevitable, but the establishment candidates won this election handily. In fact the only real question in the three rounds of voting was which establishment candidate would get the nod. I linked above to an explanation of the election process, but the crib notes version can be found in the tweet below:

The four councils that wield all the power obviously weren’t interested in making any real changes, but it’s the Athlete Council that has been getting crushed publicly for their decision to vote as a block and to unify themselves behind Cordeiro. To me, this feels like the biggest betrayal of all. The pencil-pushers and bureaucrats that hold the vote in the Youth, Adult, and Professional Councils did what you’d expect and went with the flow. From the athletes (a council literally composed of people who represented the US at the senior national level quite recently) I expected more.

The voice of the people

I want to leave this feed here because it offers a raw look at how the fans are feeling. The decision-makers cash their checks whether the teams win or not. The athletes are jockeying for post-playing careers and clearly have already lost their objectivity. It’s the fans who suffer when the USSF is too stubborn, too corrupt, too stupid to get out of its own way.

Conclusion

I’m hurt and disgusted about the way this went, but I’m going to allow some of my unbridled optimism show through here. People are saying that Cordeiro intends to be quite “corporate” in his leadership meaning that he wants to put soccer people in place and let them do their thing. I’ve also read that he listens to people in a way that was simply not part of the program under Gulati. I genuinely hope that this presidency can make some smart decisions and get us back on track. For my money, that starts with investing in the development of talent and in making damn sure we qualify for Qatar 2022.

Soccer fans, I want to hear from you on this!

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