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U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Q&A: Eric Wynalda

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PST is vetting the candidates to succeed Sunil Gulati as president of the United States Soccer Federation. This post speaks with Eric Wynalda, the broadcaster, coach, and fourth-leading scorer in USMNT history, about his candidacy. His web site is EricWynalda.org.

Sharp, candid, and clearly passionate about the game, Eric Wynalda will slip into a very serious state when he’s striking a particular chord that means a lot to his vision for U.S. Soccer.

While Wynalda is confident he’s the right person to fix what ails the federation, he seems just as concerned about the wrong person not getting the gig when American soccer is at its most vulnerable. It’s not paranoia, but he’s engrossed in the notion.

“(Change) certainly has become a buzzword,” Wynalda told ProSoccerTalk on Tuesday. “I don’t get offended but I certainly don’t appreciate it when certain people who are engaging these conversations start talking about how they’re going to make the soccer better.

“It’s not possible for them to execute what they’re talking about from their inability to understand what exactly soccer is. My biggest problem, I guess, with all of this is we have engaged the business of soccer. We’ve turned it into an industry. In order to understand the soccer business, you need to be a soccer mind. That’s the best way I can represent what I’m bringing to the table.”

Wynalda spoke of fixing “four or five” key parts of the federation, with functional youth soccer as a bedrock. From a broadcaster standpoint, he thinks the USSF isn’t getting a good enough deal on their properties, naming its deal with Soccer United Marketing as an example. In some cases, he says the policies and agreements were “inappropriate.” In others, they are “appalling” to him.

He worries about business being a bigger guide to the administration than soccer, and how it affects the youth game. When asked about Hope Solo’s assertion that her candidacy has shown her that the USSF is actually in far worse shape than she suspected, Wynalda takes a long pause to consider whether he agrees with her.

“Certain parts of this are a lot worse than I thought,” Wynalda said. “The fragmentation of the youth organizations is pretty bad and it does have its direct effect on our kids and our families. To look at it and say, ‘Wow that’s messed up’ is one thing but to go through the process that we’ve all as candidates have gone through, to listen to people and try to come up with solutions, it’s a daunting endeavor.

“The best part about it is I really feel that myself and my team, in the 501 space, or the marketing space, or the soccer people … it was really cool to dive into the bylaws, the problems, and start coming up with real solutions.”

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Wynalda with the USMNT in a 2-0 win over Guatemala in 1996 (Jamie Squire/ALLSPORT).

And while he let loose with a few buzzy quotes fit for the hits and SEO that drives media, Wynalda says he’s most concerned with the soccer stuff: sorting out the youth side, the professional angle, and getting the ailing USMNT and USWNT programs off the mat.

This is where Wynalda’s pistons really started to fire in a near unbreakable string of words.

“The hesitation or concern might be that the next president will do things exactly the way our old president did,” he says. “That’s a trust question for people who are going to be voting. They may have had their issues, or maybe they felt that they are somewhat disenfranchised.

“Every decision that is made has to be about the game, not the person. That’s why it’s imperative that our next president understands the game, and the importance of this sport. That’s been a concern of mine for many years. I’ve gone through this process and unfortunately recognized that I was right.

“A lot of these decisions were made in inappropriate way. It has put us down a path that isn’t impossible to change our course, but we’ve gone too far into the woods. We need to figure out a way to find the road. It might take a while.

“It might take the ability to hack down some trees and forge your own way, to be a president who’s willing to make hard decisions to get us back on track because we have gone a little bit too far down the wrong path. But at the end of the day when you make your decisions collectively with your board, you have to make it with the best interests of the game. That’s gotta be recognized by our voters right now.

“They are going to vote. And they are going to have concerns, but they need to vote for the person that they believe will always have the interest of the sport — not the business — the sport. You take care of the product, the business takes care of itself. You fail to produce a product, which is what has happened here, the business will fail.”

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Wynalda seems to bristle a bit at the idea that USSF has been a business force. He says the federation’s decision not to open up its television rights for bidding has hampered the bottom line, and that awarding that asset to SUM was one of the aforementioned “appalling” qualities.

He says his 16 years in broadcasting, kickstarted at the 2002 World Cup, has led him to the perfect position to become U.S. president (“I’m not a glorified accountant,” he bites. “I understand this space better than most”).

Wynalda at the 2007 MLS SuperDraft (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/MLS)

Wynalda seems to credit many of his fellow candidates, though there’s a clear feeling that anyone linked to the current crew — Carlos Cordeiro and Kathy Carter specifically — has almost as much to answer to as to offer.

“We’ve seen corruption in the game. We’ve seen collusion in the game. I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here, but you take a look at it and say, ‘How do we make this better? And how do we engage and recreate the policies that leads us as an organization to better serve our members?'”

Wynalda believes he’s the man for the job, and whether he you like his takes or not, he talks like a man who’d walk the country to convince a single voter that his vision will work. Maybe he’s just figured out politics — that’s quite possible in a process like this — or maybe that obsession is the right way to drive the bus.

If he’s convinced enough voters to name him as the next president, that may show that what people can’t know about Wynalda, his status as a leader, is one less worry as U.S. Soccer enters the most important chapter of its story since it won World Cup hosting and kickstarted Major League Soccer some 20-plus years ago.

Report: Martino, Wynalda could “forge an alliance” in USSF presidential race

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According to a report by Steven Goff of the Washington Post, a pair of former USMNT players could join forces to ensure one of them is elected president of US Soccer in the upcoming election.

Goff reports that former NBC Soccer analyst Kyle Martino and former Fox analyst Eric Wynalda could team up in some form or fashion to increase the chance that either is victorious in the February election.

Both candidates have spoken highly of each other in recent interviews, and while neither offered any details, they both admitted the idea had been thrown around.

“I have a high opinion of Kyle and it would be something I would definitely encourage if it meant one or the other was going to win the election,” Wynalda said. “I would certainly consider it. If he and I need to partner up, I would be in favor of that simply because we are both agents of change.”

Martino shared the same sentiments. “I have a lot of respect for the way Eric has brought both the need for change and the need for deep soccer knowledge to the forefront of this campaign,” he said. “I have met with Eric and will continue to meet with any and all candidates who share these common beliefs.” Martino made sure to add, “But to be clear, I haven’t agreed to anything.”

It’s unclear what kind of alliance could be formed, but any scenario would likely involve one or the other dropping out of the race late in the game and supporting the remaining candidate. It’s possible that any candidate who drops out to support the other could be promised a coaching role within the organization should their supported counterpart win the election.

A debate will be held next Saturday, Jan 20th, while the election will be held on February 10th.

U.S. Soccer confirms eight presidential candidates

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The eight approved candidates for the post of U.S. Soccer president have been announced by the confederation ahead of the Feb. 10 election.

Paul Caligiuri, Kathy Carter, Carlos Cordeiro, Steve Gans, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo, Michael Winograd, and Eric Wynalda are the people in question.

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All but Caligiuri have bios posted on the U.S. Soccer web site here.

There’s plenty of controversy inside of the nominees, even respected ones. Kathy Carter works for powerful but oft-criticized Soccer United Marketing, Carlos Cordeiro was embattled leader Sunil Gulati’s vice president, and USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo has had multiple scrapes with the law including her husband’s DUI driving an unpermitted use of a U.S. Soccer vehicle.

In actuality, these are eight X-factors. Carter and Cordeiro may draw scorn for connections with the incumbent — and thus, the embarrassing World Cup qualifiying failure — but are very much their own people.

Martino and Wynalda are former USMNT players with wide-ranging takes on the game today, while Caligiuri fits that bill as well. Laywers Gans and Winograd would bring differing takes on the game as relative outsiders.

Key debate arrives in USSF presidential election campaign

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For those of you concerned about the future of U.S. Soccer (so, all of us) a key debate between candidates running for U.S. Soccer Federation President will take place later today in Chicago.

US Club Soccer will hold the event from 12:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday with presidential candidates Paul Caliguiri, Steve Gans, Kyle Martino, Michael Winograd and Eric Wynalda taking part in the forum about the future of U.S. Soccer as they aim to win the US Club Soccer recommendation and votes ahead of the USSF presidential election in Orlando, Fla. on Feb. 10, 2018.

Below is the statement from US Club Soccer on the event, which will be moderated by their CEO/Executive Director Kevin Payne plus Chairman Phil Wright and the US Club Soccer Board of Directors.

A variety of questions will be asked about player development, national team development and coaching issues, to name a few. Full audio recording will be available for download after its conclusion here.

“With millions of athletes playing soccer in the U.S., the Federation’s President has a critical role to play in shaping the future of the game with a defined roadmap for growth and success at the grassroots level through the professional ranks,” Payne said. “Each candidate brings unique qualifications to drive U.S. Soccer, and we look forward to exploring how our country can position itself as a global leader of the game, especially with the possibility as serving as one of the hosts for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.”

US Club Soccer’s mission is to foster the growth and development of soccer clubs throughout the United States to create the best possible development environment for players of all ages in every club. The organization’s vision statement is to be the finest soccer organization in America and an integral part of U.S. National Team success.

With presidential candidates to be locked in on Dec. 12, the deadline for acquiring the votes needed to be eligible for the election in February, it will be intriguing to see how the four candidates, three of which are former USMNT players, navigate the debate.

You can follow updates from the forum by following US Club Soccer on Twitter.

Report: Cal United FC to tab Preki as first coach

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Cal United FC may not know where they are going to play next season, but the first-year club knows its boss.

SocTakes.com’s Nipun Chopra reports that Predrag “Preki” Radosavljević will be the first head coach of the Fullerton-based club.

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The report also says current technical director Eric Wynalda will continue in his gig for now despite running for U.S. Soccer Federation president.

That’s a bit ironic, as Cal United FC is slated to begin play in the NASL next season even though the league’s status remains hazy thanks to USSF regulations and pending legal action.

Capped 28 times by the USMNT, Preki has coached Toronto FC, Sacramento Republic, Chivas USA, and Saint Louis FC. He led the Republic to the 2014 USL title.