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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.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 10 — All eyes on Germany

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Many of the favorites in the 2018 World Cup have disappointed, but until Argentina fell 3-0 to Croatia on Thursday, Germany was the only one to suffer a defeat.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Die Mannschaft fell to Mexico in their opening match, with El Tri carving up the German midfield on the counter. Now, Joachim Low has had ample time to make the adjustments needed to go for victory as the Germans take on Sweden as they chase a spot in the knockout stages among Group F.

Meanwhile, Mexico looks to prove they’re not a one-hit wonder as they take on South Korea in Rostov. Juan Carlos Osorio has received plenty of praise – and rightly so – for his tactics in the upset victory, and that leaves El Tri with a chance to clinch a spot in the knockout stage with a win.

Before all that Group F craziness, Belgium takes the field in the morning against Tunisia as they look to follow up its comprehensive 3-0 victory over Panama in the opening round. A victory for the Red Devils would not only book a place in the knockout round, but also eliminate Tunisia from contention.

Below is Saturday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Saturday, June 23

Group F
South Korea vs. Mexico: Rostov-on-Don, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Germany vs. Sweden: Sochi, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Tunisia: Moscow, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Kluivert junior leaves Ajax for Roma in $21m transfer

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ROME (AP) — Roma signed Justin Kluivert, the son of former Milan and Barcelona forward Patrick, from Ajax on Friday for a fee that could rise to 18.75 million euros ($21.8 million).

The 19-year-old Dutch international forward has agreed a five-year contract with Roma.

“I’m very happy. I’m at an incredible club,” Kluivert said. “I cannot wait to start. I believe that Roma is the ideal team for my growth, which will allow me to play at the highest levels.”

Kluivert junior made 56 appearances and scored 13 goals for Ajax. He has one cap for the Netherlands.

He joins Roma for an initial 17.25 million euros ($20.1 million) and performance-related clauses could see the price rise by 1.5 million euros.

Ricketts family, owner of the Chicago Cubs, interested in purchasing AC Milan

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The Ricketts family, who purchased a controlling stake in the Chicago Cubs back in 2009, have interest in further pursuing ownership in financially troubled Italian club AC Milan.

According to a family statement, “The Ricketts family brought a championship to the Chicago Cubs through long-term investment and being great stewards of the team … They would bring this same approach to AC Milan.”

First reported by the Chicago Tribune, the news of the Tom Ricketts’ interest in the team comes on the heels of news that current owner Li Yonghong had failed to meet a Friday deadline for a $37 million loan payment. According to reports, the missed payment means that Li will cede control of the club to Elliott Management, who loaned the Chinese businessman the money to complete his initial purchase of the club last April.

The Chicago Sun-Times also reported the family’s interest in the club, and quoted their source as saying, “The Ricketts put together the management team, resources and training facilities [for the Cubs]. [They did] everything you need top to bottom to be successful.”

Ricketts has plenty of history in soccer ownership, having previously been a part of the group that owned English club Derby County before selling back in 2015. This May, Ricketts also announced he was leading an investment group that is looking to bring a USL expansion team to Chicago.

Forbes values AC Milan at $612 million – a massive 26% 1-year decline – and ranks them the 17th most valuable soccer club in the world. That valuation could be further on the decline, as the storied club missed out on Champions League qualification for the fifth straight year, although they qualified for their second straight Europa League appearance with 6th place finish in last year’s Serie A table, eight points behind Lazio in fifth.

AC Milan also faces heavy sanctions from UEFA regarding Financial Fair Play, although those fears could be eased with the financially-troubled Li selling the club.

The Ricketts family’s wealth comes largely from investment banking, with Tom’s father J. Joseph Ricketts having founded Ameritrade back in 1975. Tom is estimated by Forbes to be worth $1 billion, while his father has an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion.

Xhaka, Shaqiri display controversial goal celebrations in win over Serbia

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A seemingly innocuous goal celebration performed by both Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri has thinly veiled, politically charged undertones and could potentially land the pair in FIFA disciplinary proceedings following Switzerland’s 2-1 win over Serbia.

Both displayed a bird hand signal as they celebrated scoring goals, and considering their pre-match comments, post-match social media posts, and ethnic backgrounds, those were clearly meant to represent the double-eagle symbol in the middle of the Albanian flag.

This is a complicated political scenario, but it could be considered by FIFA to be politically provocative. Shaqiri is Albanian, born in Kosovo before moving to Switzerland with his parents and three siblings when he was just a year old. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and is not recognized as a sovereign nation by Serbia. Xhaka is of Albanian descent, and his father previously participated in a demonstration against the communist Yugoslavian rule in Kosovo that landed him a lengthy jail sentence. Albania and Serbia have a particularly tumultuous relationship, with their leaders meeting for the first time in over 60 years in 2014, which caused tempers to flare.

Following the match, Xhaka posted a picture of his celebration on his Instagram story, with the caption in Albanian roughly translated to, “Here you go Serbia, this is why they call me Granit Kosovo!” He deleted the post, and replaced it with an image of his celebration side-by-side with Shaqiri’s, with the slightly more cryptic caption, “We did it, bro!” in English.

FIFA is wildly against any type of political demonstration or involvement in the world of soccer. The governing body has punished individual nation federations in the past for government involvement, while political demonstrations on the field are fiercely frowned upon.

Switzerland captain and new Arsenal signing Stephan Lichtsteiner came to the defense of his two teammates after the match. When asked about the celebrations, he said to Goal.com, “We had a lot of pressure, it was not an easy game for us. We have a lot of Albanians, so there is a lot of history between Serbia and Albania. It was a very tough game for them mentally.”

“It was good. Why not? This is the history for them,” Lichtsteiner continued. “The war between them was so difficult. I spoke to the father of one of our players who is Albanian, and he told me about this history. This is more than football. This is more than football because they have this period, this war that gave them both big problems. I understand them. I think it’s normal, it’s part of their life. There was also big provocation ahead of the game from them [Serbia], so I think it’s normal.”

Shaqiri could be in especially hot water. The Stoke City midfielder wore boots with the flags of Switzerland and Kosovo. He has made it clear in the past that he values his roots, saying, “I was born in Kosovo, but I grew up in Switzerland. I live both mentalities, it’s not a big difference.”

Switzerland finishes its World Cup group stage round with a match against Costa Rica on Wednesday in which a win would secure a spot in the knockout stage.