U.S. Soccer

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Sifting through the ashes of the U.S. Soccer election

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It has now been four days since Carlos Cordeiro was elected president of the United States Soccer Federation, and he’s changed absolutely nothing and stands as a monumental failure.

Jokes aside, it’s a challenge to find the right feeling for this new era of American soccer. The response to Cordeiro’s election was entirely predictable for two significant crowds.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Carlos Cordeiro ]

First, there is the disappointment that flowed freely from the fringes of the anti-establishment group, the bunch that generally wields #ProRelForUSA as a prime solution to the question of what’s kept our 20-year-old top flight club soccer league from taking a Louisville Slugger to all of the top talents at the Bernabeu and Old Trafford and sprinkling them between San Jose, Kansas City, New York City, Wichita, Buffalo, and Ismay, Montana.

Second, there’s the group of MLS-first honks and a legion of those who either directly benefit from the league or enjoy credit for its incredible growth. Their responses are largely a combination of exhaling and castigating the masses who wished to see monumental change on the voting floor. The people had their say, and they love chanting “I believe that we will win.” They are perhaps a bit easier to identify now that they will criticize both Bruce Arena and Sunil Gulati now that they’re positive they are no longer in charge.

But Sunday’s election wasn’t just one for the extremists. It was monitored with interest from people all over our world, magnified by the fact that Arena and Gulati’s USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup out of the most forgiving confederational set-up this side of Oceania.

[ MORE: The soccer world reacts ]

The sheer number of texts or calls I received from both big time soccer fans and casual observers was almost equal, and people were ticked off: How did the United States not learn from their failure?

I wanted to give a proper reply, and not just shoot off some vitriol that has been sitting on top of my chest for months. Part of this was because I felt Cordeiro proffered more vision and personality than Carter, who I had assumed might dance to the crown. And I didn’t say it in the run-up to the election, because I was hoping for better, and I didn’t want to say it afterwards until I was 100 percent sure it was coming from a place of honesty.

SIDE NOTE NO. 1 — Before we go any further, all of this isn’t to say that Cordeiro won’t be a weapon of positive growth who leaves soccer to soccer people — he’s said all soccer hires will be recommended to him by soccer people — keeps the business on track, opens up youth soccer so parents don’t have to downgrade their vehicle to pay a “technical director’s” salary, separates MLS and SUM from U.S. Soccer, and makes it so tiny Ismay 16 SC can have the same opportunity to grow into a soccer giant as the New York Red Bulls. He’s come to the game armed with business acumen, and he may be willing to make some unorthodox moves that require “United Passions 2: This One Doesn’t Stink Because of Carlos.”

The feeling I had all along is this: Almost every voter in that room cares deeply about soccer, but almost every voter has also risen to their current position of influence due to the current system. Many have been involved in the game since the rise of the USMNT and USWNT programs. They’ve seen the massive growth of soccer in the United States over whichever period you choose, because it’s been moving upward since the early 1990s if not earlier. The idea of an admin outsider topping two establishment candidates was a lofty one (and we should applaud everyone who went after it, especially Wynalda and Martino for currying enough favor to make fear a legitimate feeling for those in power).

[ MORE: Zidane gets it right vs. PSG ]

Largely, my gut says the voters would’ve gladly welcomed Sunil Gulati back for another term if he just owned the USMNT failure with true humility (Oddly enough, had the Yanks not qualified for Russia with Klinsmann through a second cycle, he probably would’ve been altogether safe to make his next hire, but that’s another story).

He didn’t come close to handling the situation with any sense of even PR-induced responsibility, and when a federation is in tumult a lot of perceived condescension that may’ve been overlooked as eccentric or confident during the halcyon days just looks like uppity nonsense. Whether or not the emperor is actually naked, he sure appears so.

So who were the voters going to be drawn to? The handpicked successor, by all accounts Kathy Carter, didn’t seem likely to get the job done without appealing to voters with a modicum of change-driven authenticity. The upstarts, led by Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino, may have ultimately appeared too similar to voters as former players with broadcasting acumen (For what it’s worth, NBC affiliation aside, Martino struck me as a potential winner from Day One of his candidacy while there is no denying the immense headway won by the relentless campaigning of Wynalda).

It would’ve taken the soccer campaigning equivalent of baseball’s perfect game for Steve Gans, Michael Winograd, or Paul Caligiuri to project into the top-tier, and Hope Solo’s troubled past was likely a non-starter (despite some exceptional work on the trail).

Hindsight being 20/20, is it any surprise that a man who was described as Sunil Gulati’s protege but clearly wasn’t in lockstep with the embattled boss was enough of a chance for the voters? The first vote saw Cordeiro emerge with a slim lead of Carter, and only Cordeiro and Martino gained in both the second and third ballot.

SIDE NOTE NO. 2 — Soccer Twitter has stirred in me what amounts to an occasional but very real paranoia about the establishment, and there was a part of me that harbored the following conspiracy theory: Carter’s low profile candidacy and the stories of Don Garber and Sunil Gulati courting voters for her was simply designed to get people comfortable with the idea of Cordeiro being establishment but not the establishment’s choice (It’s worth noting that this conspiracy theory does not require Cordeiro to be in the know if you want it to be extra nutty). At the right hour of any given day, I will fight you on behalf of this conspiracy theory. Most hours, though, I just laugh and make more coffee.

[ MORE: Cordeiro’s open letter to U.S. Soccer ]

Perhaps, as some have suggested, there would’ve been a better chance of a revolution if there were only one or two rivals to Carter or Cordeiro, but I don’t believe the election would’ve carried as much water with the soccer public without the controlled chaos caused by the nine person pool (a ninth candidate, Paul Lapointe, was eliminated from contention in late December).

But as I reflect on the tumult of the fall, the candidates announcements, their campaigning, and the election, it seems like it was always going to be Cordeiro. He declared his candidacy before Gulati announced he wouldn’t run, agreed to have a soccer committee recommend all hirings, and would have the establishment’s resume without carrying its recent failures.

If any change was going to come, it was going to come with a buffer of four years (and next time, can we please have presidential and VP tickets? Don’t you want to know right away who your president wants as his or her right hand man or woman?!? What if you were choosing between Carter-Cordeiro, Martino-Winograd, Gans-Solo, and Wynalda-Caligiuri?).

And when we’re breaking down the 2022 presidential election, Cordeiro is likely going to be carrying a USMNT World Cup berth and hosting duties for the 2026 World Cup. His staff and he have to know that the failure to qualify was a managerial blip on the radar, which means how U.S. Soccer treats youth soccer, the women’s game, and club ball over the next four years is going to make the difference. That’s the closest I’ll get to cup half-full.

Cordeiro, U.S. Soccer world react to his election as president

US Youth Soccer
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Pledging unity, new U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro kept his remarks short and sweet after winning nearly 69 percent of the third vote on Saturday.

[ MORE: How Cordeiro won the vote ]

“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. For those of you who didn’t vote for me, I’m going to work to earn your support and trust over the next four years.”

Others reacted… differently….

Carlos Cordeiro elected new U.S. Soccer president

@CACSoccer
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Carlos Cordeiro is the new president of U.S. Soccer, winning nearly 69 percent of the vote in the third and decisive round.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Cordeiro ]

The former Goldman Sachs executive was billed as Sunil Gulati’s protege upon declaring his candidacy, and he held off fellow establishment candidate Kathy Carter for the gig.

Kyle Martino and Kathy Carter each had 10.6 percent of the final vote, with Eric Wynalda slipping into fourth after finishing third in the first two rounds. Hope Solo finished with 1.4 percent of the vote.

Paul Caligiuri withdrew after the first round of voting, while Michael Winograd and Steve Gans departed after the second.

Skeptics about the U.S. Soccer “establishment” would’ve been fired up when technical problems stopped the first vote in its tracks.

The first round of voting had the two “establishment” candidates well in front, but neither grabbed the 50 percent needed to negate a second vote:

  1. Carlos Cordeiro — 36.3 percent
  2. Kathy Carter — 34.6 percent
  3. Eric Wynalda — 13.7 percent
  4. Kyle Martino — 8.6 percent
  5. Steve Gans — 4.1 percent
  6. Hope Solo — 1.6 percent
  7. Michael Winograd — .6 percent
  8. Paul Caligiuri — .5 percent

The second round saw Carter and Wynalda lose votes as Cordeiro moved closer to clinching the presidency.

  1. Carlos Cordeiro — 41.8 percent
  2. Kathy Carter — 33.3 percent
  3. Eric Wynalda — 10.8 percent
  4. Kyle Martino — 10.2 percent
  5. Steve Gans — 2.4 percent
  6. Hope Solo — 1.5 percent
  7. Michael Winograd — 0 percent
  8. Paul Caligiuri — withdrew after first round

U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Q&A: Steve Gans

Steve Gans
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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 Steve Gans — a partner at Prince Lobel Tye LLP in Boston, Mass. with extensive experience in soccer administration and representation, including helping organize Boston’s efforts to be a host city at the 1994 World Cup — about his candidacy. His website is stevegans2018.com.

Pro Soccer Talk: Hello, Steve. It’s been a long campaign for you. How do you think it’s gone so far as we head to the big election on Saturday?

Steve Gans“It’s gone really well for us. It’s been crazy because I was the first one in, I challenged Sunil last May, I announced my intention (to run) and all through the summer and last fall it looked like it would just be me and him, and then the U.S. failure to qualify (for the 2018 World Cup) happened in October, and the fallout from that has been meteoric. Sunil (Gulati is) not running and seven other people jumped in. The last few months have been crazy, messy and chaotic but it’s been good for us. We’re in really good shape and we’re really excited heading into this weekend.”

[READ: Six USSF candidates reportedly join forces against establishment candidates]

PST: Ultimately, if elected, what are the three main objectives you’d like to achieve as U.S. Soccer president?

SG: “First of all, we have to fix the problems that are ailing the game throughout – from youth to adult to national team to pro as well. One of the big themes that I hear, I’ve been on this listening tour since May, is lack of respect and lack of voice, so I want to get voice back and show that respect, because there’s so many great people in the trenches that have great experience and information that should be included and haven’t been.

“I want to solve the fractured youth landscape, put joy back in the game, we’re creating players without joy, stop the infighting between sanctioning organizations which affects both youth and adult soccer but contributes to the 75 percent attrition rate at U-13, and we need to solve that, that’s not in the best interest for the good of the game or the kid or adult players.

And we want to make us respected throughout the world. We want to improve our youth systems and our national team programs. I do a lot of international work in the Premier League and I represent Celtic FC, and what I know is we’re respected for certain reasons, but the wrong reasons.

“We’re respected for things like fan engagement, front office practices, those sorts of things, digital media. We’re not respected as a soccer nation and we need to fix those things so that we’re respected for our youth system, our development program, our national teams. I want to make us a fully and highly respected soccer nation internationally.”

PST: How much have you learned about who makes up U.S. Soccer’s delegates and constituency?

SG: “What I think is great is this is truly a national election. I’ve never run for anything (before) and I think with a national election, the country’s divided right now politically but what I find so uplifting in this regard, people who might otherwise be divided politically, the people I’ve met are all soccer people, so we all have common ground.

“The other part is I’ve been involved in the sport for 40 years, if you go back to the time I was a teenager, and there weren’t that many competent people involved in the sport, because it was kind of an outcast sport in the 1970s and early 1980s. It’s not true anymore. I’ve met so many people throughout the game who volunteer or are in the game otherwise, and they are so highly competent and they care so much for the good of the game. I’ve learned so much about that and that creates for me a tremendous amount of optimism in this regard, that we can solve these problems, because there’s so many good minds out there that want to help.

“I’ve also learned the fed hasn’t been doing things the right way because so many people feel disrespected.”

PST: Finally, what are your expectations for the election?

SG: “We think we’re in really great shape. I don’t have the money, there are four candidates who are indep financed, but what we do have is the best campaign team. I have been fortunate to have highly experienced people volunteering for me since last May. They’re incredible. I have a Harvard statistics expert doing my modeling and we think we’re in very great shape. We start out very solidly but this will be a multi-ballot race, but the (recent ESPN) article quite rightly tests out that I’m the one who doesn’t have any negatives.

“I may not be the celebrity candidate but people don’t look at me having any negative qualities. In a multi-ballot race, that favors a candidate like that every succeeding ballot because that candidate becomes acceptable and a consensus candidate. Our candidate sees us starting strongly and picking up a big amount of steam every round. We feel really good about this. Our numbers are good and the enthusiasm of delegates is good.”

U.S. Soccer Presidential Candidate: Michael Winograd Q&A

Michael Winograd
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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 Michael Winograd, a former college and professional soccer player who now works as a lawyer for Ropes & Gray, LLP, working in the firm’s business & securities litigation practice group. His campaign website is https://www.winogradussf.com/index.php

Pro Soccer Talk: Hello, Michael. I hope all is well. We wanted to catch up and hear from you ahead of the big vote in Orlando. How has it been on the campaign trail since you announced your candidacy in October 2016?

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Michael Winograd: “I think the campaign has gone very well. I think the narrative for me began that everybody was impressed and they just didn’t know if I’d be able to make up the ground that I need to, given I don’t have the name recognition that a lot of the other candidates did. And I think that narrative has changed.

“It slowly sort of hit a tipping people where people were saying, ‘now we know him, we’ve all spoken with a lot of media and we’ve heard the same thing over and over again, consistent messages no matter who I’ve spoken to said the same things. We all like him so why not.’ I feel like for a very long time, I was on everybody’s shortlist, I still feel like I am on everybody’s shortlist but now I’ve moved up to number one on a bunch of those lists, I made the final four for the Athlete Council, that call went very well on Friday. I feel I’ve got good momentum going in.”

PST: Can you say which organizations are supporting you?

MW: “I have had meetings with pro leagues, folks in MLS, Don Garber, you know, the NASL. I’ve had meetings with the Athlete Council, I’ve had several very positive meetings with very large state associations from the youth to adult level, and several have texted that I’m the best candidate by far, so we’re going to support you.

“I’ve had a number of cases where people say ‘we voted on the first round and we’re going with a different candidate who we knew and had a relationship with, but if our candidate hits a wall and a lot of things will shake out after round one, we consider you a great candidate and we’ll support you. So there’s been a lot of that and I feel like there’s a bit of a groundswell and I feel good going into the election.”

PST: What have you learned about the constituency of groups and people that make up the U.S. Soccer pyramid?

MW: “I’ve certainly learned a whole lot about the structure and process, but a lot of it was, going into it, one of the reasons I joined this race was because I lived through a lot of the issues people were complaining about.

“I started coaching 10 years ago with my kids and saw how fractured the landscape was, saw that it was a really conglomerate of overlapping and competing business and the consumers, the parents, coaches, kids, didn’t know which product was for what. I lived through my son missing days of school for weekend (Development Academy) games, and my daughter separated from her classmates at the birth-year registration. When that decision came out, the coaches had no idea why that happened. I played men’s league near my town and 99 percent if not all the players didn’t realize there was any connection to U.S. Soccer.

“All of these issues I’ve lived through, so when I’ve got to see the inner workings, I’m a little surprised at how few answers there are. My big question coming in is ‘who’s making these decisions and how are they being made,’ and I’m a little surprised at the lack of transparency and how these decisions are being made.

“What I do know is that they’re not being made pursuing to an inclusive, transparent process. What I mean by that, and this is the first strategic initiative, is that when you have decisions that are critical, they have to be made in an inclusive process that brings into that process, folks that are going to be affected by the decisions. You wind up with better decisions, ownership of those decisions broadly and you wind up with a trust and an integrity because it’s an open process that more people are involved in.”

PST: What are your expectations for the election this Saturday?

MW: “I’m looking forward to it. I’m expecting to meet with a lot of members. I’ve been e-mailing and speaking with them over the last several days as we’ve done over the campaign. We’ll be speaking in front of the regional groups when they have their regional meetings, and then it’s a matter of getting in front of the electorate on election day.

“At the end of the day there’s a lot of momentum behind my candidacy and it’s appealed to all sides of every aisle. The reason for that is not just character and that I have ideas and when people scratch beneath the surface, my ideas are sound and it’s not just the ability to bring people together. At the end of the day, beyond the ideas, I think I’ve got the experience, and people are realizing and seeing it, and I’ve got the skill set and the independence to actually do this job.

“I’ve been practicing law for the last 17 years at some of the most prominent law firms in the world, representing some of the largest companies in the world in their high stakes matters. Getting in rooms with CEOs and boards of companies larger than U.S. Soccer, guiding them, finding compromises between competing groups is something I’ve been doing at the highest level for the last 17 years. I think the fact that I have the complete package is really resonating with folks.”

[READ: Hear from the other USSF presidential candidates]