US Soccer

Report: Landon Donovan mulling U.S. Soccer presidential run

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Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl has been all over the turmoil at United States Soccer since the men’s national team’s embarrassing World Cup qualifying ouster last week.

The latest is that many interested observers are encouraging American legend Landon Donovan to run against Sunil Gulati in February’s presidential election.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Donovan retired from playing for a second time in 2016. He’s invested in Premier League club Swansea City and tried his hand at broadcasting as well.

According to Wahl, Donovan issued no comment when asked whether he is seriously considering a run for president. Gulati didn’t confirm that he’d run for a fourth term — the maximum tenure — during his post-World Cup failure conference call, but strongly lauded his credentials for another stint.

Wahl had previously reported that lawyer Steve Gans has the required letters of nomination to run against Gulati.

While Gans would challenge Gulati and perhaps make for interesting debate and a bellwether of the appetite for change amongst the constituency, Donovan’s name would likely be enough to swing some voters regardless.

Without making any judgments about the job Donovan would do, think of it as a big entertainment name like Dwayne Johnson amongst Democrats or Donald Trump amongst Republicans who might upturn eyebrows amongst folks thinking, “Maybe we need something different.” The name value isn’t the same but perhaps it’s less polarizing to compare the runs of Jesse Ventura and Al Franken, or Jack Kemp and Steve Largent instead.

A Donovan run would likely keep U.S Soccer’s cozy relationship with Major League Soccer while perhaps emboldening those who seek big changes within the youth structure (Donovan was part of the U.S. residency program which was recently canceled in a sort of “We did it” nod to academies). His experience is varied and his network exceptional.

Donovan for President? Maybe!

VIDEO: Jermaine Jones’ blistering take on USMNT future

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“This morning I saw that Bruce got released, and the biggest thing has to be now that U.S. Soccer don’t make the next mistake.”

So begins Jermaine Jones’ long talk on the future of the USMNT. While wearing LA Galaxy gear, the midfielder begged younger players to challenge themselves in Europe and asked U.S. Soccer to hire a strong personality rather than pluck a prospect out of MLS.

[ MORE: Gulati conference call underwhelms ]

Jones strongly advocated players going to Europe, aware enough to continually say how much he loves MLS and wasn’t trying to take a shot at it. Jones said MLS is great, but MLS’ best young talents should be pushing themselves further.

The current Galaxy and former Schalke man spoke of two cases in particular, lauding Christian Pulisic for moving to Borussia Dortmund and scratching his head in revealing a conversation with Jordan Morris where the youngster chose to stay home rather than accept the advances of Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga.

[ MORE: PST’s one-on-one with Jones in 2016 ]

It should absolutely be noted that it wasn’t cool of Jones to speak of Morris’ personal reasoning. We’re not excusing it, but it is a colorful and perhaps important part of the discussion. Jones went on to say that players can make that choice, but then can’t be upset when their place in the USMNT fold is threatened by a lower standard of play.

Some highlights, and the remarks on Pulisic and Morris: “I have much respect for this kid. He’s the Wonderboy for us and he makes stuff happen in games but we have other guys too like Kellyn, Yedlin is already over there, Brooks is over there, Wood is over there. …Jordan Morris he was already but he decided to come play for Seattle. If you want to make the next step in your career, you have to go over there.”

“(Pulisic) decided with his family to go the hardest way, and he made it so I respect that but I want to see more kids hungry like that and don’t pull just the other way. ‘I go and play MLS and never want to go over to Europe’ and hope maybe an MLS coach comes and prefers for MLS players. That’s not right. If you want to make the next step, what every fan is hoping, you have to be a coach to be straight. It hurts some times. It hurts MLS … but sometimes you have to talk the truth, and you need more players in the tough leagues.

“When Bob Bradley was the coach, how many players played in MLS? Most of the players came from Europe. You learn to get personality. You learn to get strong as a person.”

“It’s the fault of the whole system that players are not ready yet. If you take 25 year old player in MLS and compare them to a 19 year old player in Europe, the Europe player is farther in his brain and that’s not a good sign.”

“Jurgen (Klinsmann) called me to please call Jordan Morris. I talked with him and I asked him, ‘I know that Werder Bremen really wants you and you can play there. You can go farther.’ And he said, ‘You know what? I wanna go home. My dad is a doctor in Seattle and my mom that bought me and my girlfriend a dog and all that stuff.’ I was like, really? Why you go the easy way. That’s the point. That’s what I wanted to say.”

Gulati call says to expect more of the same from U.S. Soccer

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It was Tuesday night all over again in Friday’s media conference call with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.

Much like the entitled and almost disinterested Americans seemingly expected to beat Trinidad and Tobago with minimal effort and/or urgency, Gulati brushed off any criticism of U.S. Soccer in the wake of the USMNT’s first missed World Cup in four decades.

[ ICYMI: Running diary of Gulati’s conference call ]

The way the call began, with a prepared statement from Gulati claiming “full responsibility” for the abject failure to qualify, quickly turned into the president consistently stating that his body of work makes him the right man for the job moving forward. While he wouldn’t commit to running for the presidency in February — because who could possibly be that audacious two days from an international debacle — he admitted to seeking endorsements and knowing the nomination process well. He even said something about “if the voting delegates” wanted him.

So, yeah, he’s running.

[ MORE: What’s next for U.S. Soccer? ]

That’s not the end of the world, though it also isn’t the start of anything better.

Gulati is a whip smart man who’s done a lot of good for the United States. He’s also seen the level of the men’s and women’s program drop considerably (the women’s drop more short-term and due more to the progressive nature of other nations). The men have now missed a World Cup, two Olympics, and the Confederations Cup. The women bowed out of the Olympics before the medal stand, at the quarterfinals, despite having the richest wealth of talent in the world.

Men in Blazers said it well, too:

Here’s the thing: the United States can still qualify for World Cups on a fairly religious basis without a change at the helm. After all, it’s been doing so for years and arguably outperforming its skill set, and the field is about to expand which will likely make Panama’s stunning work in this tournament closer to commonplace (or at least less impressive). And one of Gulati’s more recent hires, Jurgen Klinsmann, led the team from the Group of Death while an iconic goalkeeper nearly got them to the quarterfinals.

But if the United States wants to move forward on the men’s side, it needs a stronger and visible division between a business side which can include a super intelligent economics professor who can drive the money side and the way the technical development and international performance on the pitch is directed. That’s not to say you have to have a killer playing career to choose a coach (or type an Internet column, I hope). Too often skill with your feet is a pre-qualifier, but cutting ties with Klinsmann to go back to the familiar, ‘Merica-approved well should’ve signaled a problem in vision and/or confidence. And, as supporters and media, we need to move past our silly divisions. Not every failure or success is a reason to toot some horn about promotion/relegation, MLS being just behind Ligue 1, the women being better than the men, or some other obstacle to unity in the goals of putting the best teams forward.

It’s funny that it took this for higher-ups to fall back on concepts like “pay to play” and inner city soccer, as if those concepts didn’t help pad the accounts of so many people currently in charge of soccer here. In a way, it seems an attempt to overshadow the concrete examples we saw from the United States men’s national team over both rounds of qualifying.

Remember, these players lost to Guatemala in the fourth round and technically were in danger of missing the Hex. They lost to Mexico for a Confederations Cup berth, then the first two games of the Hex. Players were said to be tired of Klinsmann and not performing for him. Unfortunately for that excuse, a change in coaches didn’t help. It was very much endemic, and Arena either didn’t see the need to push the buttons, instead shelving the complacency onto Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron, or his words went unheeded. This team showed a willingness to throttle teams when fired up and motivated. Somehow, simply drawing in Trinidad and Tobago to make a World Cup didn’t qualify (Pun. In. Tended).

[ MORE: 3 things from USMNT loss | Player ratings ]

A few days after the elimination, one of my gut feelings remains as it has for some time: The entitlement of U.S. Soccer is unacceptable, the arrogance embarrassing. Qualifying for a World Cup had become a birthright. Unbridled power, as we heard today, bristling at any question with even the slightest hint of displeasure with “the way things are done.” A few scholarships given from a youth club to a family doesn’t mean you rest your crossed arms and shrug when the Americans lose multiple home qualifiers to players who would nearly kill to qualify for a World Cup.

As long as the Bruce Arenas and Sunil Gulatis of this world are content with the process and, you could say, content in their positions, nothing big is going to change. Maybe there will more World Cup groups like 2002, when a lone win over a down Portugal and a knockout round date with Mexico will bring it to the precipice of the semis.

Should that happen, will we crown that group forever and lean on their accolades? It feels like U.S. Soccer supporters, coaches, and players don’t want a part of that. But there’s a certain group who sees it as safe and able to be lauded magnificent.

It screams complacency with what’s “worked” so far. In Gulati’s case, it doesn’t scream, it says it plainly, “I’ve done a lot of good. And I’m going to keep doing good. Are we really questioning this? Soccer used to be a laughingstock, and now people care.”

There’s a bit of “one newspaper town” to U.S. Soccer. It’s coming from mostly the same group, and the naysayers can be so brash that it emboldens the buttoned up and proper. To be honest, there are lessons U.S. Soccer needs to take from the actual U.S. president election in 2016. At some point, people reject “the same” for anything that feels like it might be different. Different isn’t always good. In fact, sometimes it’s terrible. And if you’re unwilling to question the powerful for fear of exclusion? Stare down that mirror, kid.

That’s why Gulati could’ve done well by relinquishing any say in the on-field process, puff his chest at the exceptional growth of U.S. Soccer away from the playing field and admit there are better men to make the final say than him. Say he’ll oversee FIFA matters, and land the 2026 World Cup for North America. May even nod to the plebes with a wink about improving MLS and pro/rel.

He’d have to believe that, though, and that goes back to Tuesday. The players on the field, perhaps sated by their coach, thought it was just going to happen for them. When it didn’t, we heard from the coach that he was disappointed but wouldn’t change a thing. Essentially we heard the same from the president today.

Not encouraging and, honestly, a waste of time.

It would be hyperbole to say that this conference was just as infuriating as the performance on Tuesday, but there are scary, top-down similarities between the, “Can you believe CONCACAF?!?” coach quips and today’s call.

Running diary of Sunil Gulati’s conference call

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Hello! You’re on the precipice of some of the biggest decisions in United States men’s national team history.

Bruce Arena failed in his bid to earn the United States a place in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and stepped down on Friday.

Now, in the midst of a mass of supporters begging for more upheaval, president Sunil Gulati is answering questions from the media in a Friday morning conference call.

[ MORE: Cameron’s USMNT omission explained ]

We’ll be laying out the play-by-play of this intriguing call here. Stay tuned, and refresh.

11:25 a.m. ET — The call is slated by 11:30 a.m., and the calming piano hold music is surely not the tenor of this conversation. We’ll let you know if it changes to “Hell’s Bells.”

11:32 a.m. ET — Before taking questions, Gulati makes opening statement. “The end of the qualifying campaign was disappointment to all of us. It’s a shock to the system.”

They full expected to qualify, and Gulati thanks Bruce Arena for what he’s done in the history of U.S. Soccer from college to pro to international soccer.

“It saddens me at a personal level that it ended the way it did Tuesday.”

There will be at least two games in November, the first in Europe and the second likely in Europe. Will announce coach in the next 7-10 days.

“We’re going to look into everything we do on the men’s side and women’s side,” something they do all the time. Says it will be a “deeper dive” and include pay-to-play, college, and more.

11:35 a.m. ET – Question – “Why has the player pool quality spiraled down?”

Gulati, “I wouldn’t identify reason or say the pipeline has dried up.” Mentions Matt Miazga, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and says the Olympic failures hurt them.

“Not going to prejudge that. We’re going to look at everything.”

11:36 a.m. ET – Gulati says he doesn’t plan to resign, takes full responsibility for the World Cup qualifying failure, and it’s “not the right day to say” whether he’ll run for a fourth presidential term in February.

11:38 a.m. ET – Question: “Why will you maybe run again?”

Gulati says just as you can’t judge Bruce Arena’s career on this failure, you can’t judge him on this point. He also says voting delegates can help make that decision (Sounds like he’ll run).

11:39 a.m. ET – Doesn’t say the November coach will be strictly interim, but says they will take their time in naming a coach.

11:40 a.m. ET – He’ll announce whether he’ll run in the “coming weeks.”

11:41 a.m. ET – “Who will choose interim coach, and who will be involved in choosing next permanent coach?”

Gulati – In the end it’s my decision, but we have committees that undertake the process. Three or four people will be involve in “much easier” November decision. May be a change in process, but was never a singular decision on men’s or women’s side.

11:42 a.m. ET – “When people point out that second cycle coaches after the World Cup haven’t done as well traditionally as the first time, it’s a very small sample and it’s a biased sample.”

Says this is because people who have been rehired have done well, so hard to improve. Doesn’t know that “there is a definitive pattern.”

“If you look at Bruce’s record, it’s two cycles plus. Every World Cup run we’ve had since 1990, with the exception of 1998, the margin has been especially narrow.”

11:45 a.m. ET – Question: “Any specific issues when it comes to player development you can point to?” and “Will MLS be involved in whatever changes you are looking at?”

Gulati: “We have far more resources now than we’ll ever had… one because US Soccer has more resources and two because MLS has more resources. MLS and our other professional leagues will certainly be involved. … All of the things that we all talk about, the pay-to-play model, inner city soccer, we’re going to look at all of that.”

Says they will try to get outside expertise as well.

11:47 a.m. ET – On whether MLS has improved CONCACAF rivals too much.

Gulati – It’s good for them, and us, because the competition is better.

“I don’t think there’s any rationale in trying to limit that or prohibit that. Having top players in France in the Premier League helps, but the Premier League would never limit that.”

Says MLS, US Soccer goals will never be 100 percent in sync. Has no doubt MLS has helped the USMNT.

11:50 a.m. ET – Gulati offended by question regarding his mandate to run U.S. Soccer. Mentions fan, independent, player involvement better than other governing bodies. Say the U.S. Soccer mechanism is the best out there.

11:51 a.m. ET – Questions: Is there a profile for a coach in mind? and Are November friendlies set up before or after World Cup failure.

Gulati – No profile, just improve performance and technical skills. … Multiple contingencies based on whether they advanced to World Cup, needed a playoff, or failed.

11:53 a.m. ET – Does this loss give needed push vis-a-vis pay-to-play, other community initiatives.

“It doesn’t happen in most countries that players pay nothing. We need to make sure players are prohibited” from playing based on money. “As things become more expensive, where there’s a roadblock, you’d like to do something about it.”

“Need to find right solutions, what will work” in terms of player development in inner cities, facilities, etc.

Will help overcome political hurdles “because people will see urgency.”

11:56 a.m. ET – Should Gulati’s job be a paying gig to encourage interest?

Gulati – We’re looking at it, and have been reviewing it for some time.

11:57 a.m. ET – Any signs Tuesday that things weren’t well.

Gulati – “Any time you’re playing a do-or-die game, you’re nervous about it. It’s the first time since 1989 that we came down to the last game. In the end we didn’t get it done but no premonition about that.”

11:59 a.m. ET – Question: Technical director role status. Coming back? Separate from head coach? And how busy will USMNT be with long break from meaningful games.

Gulati – “Ideally we’d like to have a technical director. Most of that role (post-Klinsmann) has been filled by Tab Ramos. … We do see two distinct roles if we can find the right people. That role is a very unique and specific role, and harder to fill than national team role.”

“In terms of activity in 2018, we’ll have a full program of games and I expect us to play on all FIFA dates, including dates with teams going to the World Cup or not.”

12:01 p.m. ET – On the nomination process for U.S. Soccer president.

Gulati –  “Up until a year ago, or 20 months ago, we changed our nomination rules to have nominations come long before the annual meeting. The primary reason was to be able to have background checks. Nominations are due I think two months before the election (in February).

“We have probably 120 different member associations that can nominate people, and you need three nominations to be eligible. I don’t think that will preclude anyone.”

Admits he has reached out to people about nominating or endorsing him.

12:03 p.m. ET – Can you understand the point of view of people who think he shouldn’t have his job?

Gulati – “Sure. I can understand the frustration. Sure.”

12:08 p.m. ET – Why do you feel you’re the right guy for this job, given what happened?

Gulati – “Because of where the sport is now, and the role I played in it, plus where it can go if I choose to run.”

12:09 p.m. ET – What do you say to fans who are really upset, and calling for change?

Gulati – “All of us involved in the game are also passionate about the team, and are extraordinarily disappointed in every single way. None of us is happy about not going. This reconfirmed the passion and support of the team has grown tremendously.”

12:10 p.m. ET – That’s all she wrote. Many people not called upon for questions (including me, to be honest). Lot of softballs, to be painfully honest.

Hope Solo says she has settled grievance with US Soccer

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Hope Solo has settled a grievance with U.S. Soccer over her suspension from the women’s national team following comments she made at the Rio Olympics.

The settlement was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was suspended for six months and her contract with the federation was terminated after she called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards” following the U.S. team’s quarterfinal loss.

Details about the settlement, reached last month, were not released. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Players Association filed the grievance on Solo’s behalf.

In a statement provided Friday to The Associated Press, Solo reiterated her regret over the comments.

“As I expressed in my apology to the Swedish captain immediately following the match, I have tremendous respect for the Swedish team, and in describing the style of play, I used a choice of words that was both offensive and not at all what I had intended to convey,” she said.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

“We have amicably resolved the matter and are moving forward in a positive way,” she added.

U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Women’s Soccer Team Players Association declined to comment.

Solo anchored the team in goal for the 2015 Women’s World Cup victory, allowing just three goals in seven games with five shutouts during the tournament – earning her a second straight Golden Glove Award.

For her career, Solo has made 202 total appearances with the national team, with 153 wins and an international-record 102 shutouts.

The defending champion U.S. women were ousted from the Olympics last summer when Sweden advanced 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw.

Solo’s “cowards” quote came immediately following the loss. Sweden went on to play in the gold-medal match against Germany.

Solo told the AP in an interview late last year that she spoke to coach Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati following the loss, and felt that the issue was put to rest. After she returned to the United States, she said she was blindsided by the announcement about her suspension.

She said she believes U.S. Soccer wanted her off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Solo has been an outspoken advocate for equal pay and was among the players who filed a complaint against the federation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination.

“Let’s call it what is, which is a firing,” Solo told AP then. “It was a termination of my contract effective immediately with severance. That is a firing. It wasn’t a suspension, that’s what they told the media because it looked better. But I got fired. I got fired for what they say was using the word `cowards’ but in reality they got rid of an adversary in the fight for equal pay.”

U.S. Soccer said at the time that Solo was suspended following a culmination of actions, and separately her contract was also terminated with the team.