PST is vetting the candidates to succeed Sunil Gulati as president of the United States Soccer Federation.
This post speaks with Carlos Cordeiro, who has been an unpaid volunteer to U.S. Soccer for 10 years, most recently as Vice-President of USSF, plus currently represents U.S. Soccer on the CONCACAF Council and FIFA’s Stakeholders Committee. He was formerly a partner in Goldman Sachs after 30 years of experience in the international financial world. His web site is Carlos4soccer.com.
What does he hope to achieve if he succeeds and is named the new president of U.S. Soccer on Feb. 10 during the vote at the AGM in Orlando, Florida?
“I would say that I have spent a lot of time talking about strengthening the governance of the federation and creating a strong base for growth. What we are talking about, whether it is the World Cup bid, the grass roots, enhancing the national team programs, the prerequisite for all of that is a strong federation. A lot of my campaign mantra, so to speak, refers to stronger governance,” Cordeiro told Pro Soccer Talk.
His own journey at the U.S. Soccer Federation began as an independent director and he’s now risen to become most recently the Vice-President of USSF over the past two years, working closely with outgoing USSF president Gulati.
How has his role with USSF developed over the years?
“I came in as an independent director, but people forget that as an independent director, you are an outsider. You don’t have any prior connection. I came into a major organization where there was no culture to involve independent people in decision making,” Cordeiro explained. “That’s been some years in the making and it was very hard to integrate with people who had basically grown up with the sport. I have a love for the game, I’m a passionate fan and I played during high school, it’s not about that. It’s about the culture of the organization that’s member based, driven by youth officials, adult officials, former national team athletes and professional people, they spend 24 hours a day in and out of the game.
“I’ve worked very hard to improve the governance and to get the board more engaged in decision making, creating board level committees, I know it sounds very basic and boring, but that wasn’t there. Some of that is there now and more of that has to happen. Stronger governance, more transparency and holding people more accountable ultimately makes for a stronger organization. That gives us that the rock, the basis to achieve all of these great ambitions that I talked about.”
Growth is a key word used time and time again by Cordeiro, who talks about soccer enthusiastically as someone who admires Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.
But with the USSF often criticized for not developing the huge amount of youth involvement in the game across the U.S. into tangible success with national team programs, how can he change that? His main aim is to educate coaches and follow models in Germany where coaching licenses are much cheaper to obtain.
“What do I mean by growth? We are only running a budget, our total expenditure in the next fiscal year is going to be something like $110 million. You can take that and look at what the English FA spends, and they would be spending five times what we spend,” Cordeiro said. “It tells you a story, because a lot of the other candidates say ‘we have all this great money’… We don’t have a lot of money. We pale in comparison to the English, to the French, to Italy, Spain and Germany, which is bigger than anyone.”
“There is, for me, a direct cause and effect. The more resources you put into the grass roots in an accountable way — I don’t mean throwing money out of the window — with good programs, you get direct results from that. Why is it that an A licence German costs about 600 Euros, I believe, and in the United States it is closer to $5,000? Why is it that Germany has more A license coaches than we have F license coaches? The point is Germany has been at it longer. They’ve been supporting, subsidizing and growing their coaching bases and without that you don’t grow the game at the grass roots. You need qualified coaches running the game at the grass roots.”
What would Cordeiro say to people who suggest that wholesale changes are needed at USSF, an organization he has been a key member of over the past 10 years, and that other presidential candidates from purely soccer backgrounds would be better suited to this role?
“I have the highest respect for the other candidates. I know they have different skills, different experiences, as you would in any election for a sporting organization or a political entity. U.S. Soccer is a very, very complex organization,” Cordeiro said. “I mentioned we are running a business which exceeds $100 million a year. We have legal issues with member organizations I don’t need to talk about. We are about to get into a negotiating run with our men’s national team, Collective Bargaining Agreement, incredibly complicated things. I don’t need to tell you about our World Cup bid with Canada and Mexico, working with CONCACAF and FIFA.
“This is a sampling of the breadth of the complexity of the organization. Fundamentally, it needs a president with experience and I think I bring back to the table, with over 30 years of experience in the business world, before I got into soccer, and in soccer I’ve been operating at the highest level first as an independent director and now as Vice-President for only two years but making significant attempts to make change. I’m on the Council of CONCACAF, no other candidate has that, and I’m on the FIFA Stakeholders Committee. All of that happened over many years of networking and people recognizing me and my talents and what I bring to the table and my experience. I know the vast majority of the 208 association presidents who will be casting the vote on June 13. That’s what I mean by experience. There is no time but to hit the ground running on the experience side of things.”
Sharing specific examples of recent trips Arkansas and Kentucky, Cordeiro believes there is a big problem in the number of youngsters playing the games across the USA in unregulated leagues and families struggling to fund their kids to play the game.
Cordeiro reflected on his journey over the last four months with a chuckle as we enter the final few days before the election.
“This has been the most exhilarating thing I have ever done in my entire life,” Cordeiro said. “It has been fascinating because for me it’s been an opportunity to connect with hundreds of people across the country, putting names to faces. Going to States I haven’t been to before and sitting down with the soccer leadership in those States.”
The examples of what he saw in Arkansas and Kentucky clearly hit home for Cordeiro as to what is most important to him: grass roots development.
“I was in Arkansas last week, just to give you an example, I was in Little Rock, then I went on to Bowling Green, Kentucky and in both places I met with their respective presidents who run day-to-day aspects of the associations,” Cordeiro said. “I met with so many coaches, and in Bowling Green I was having lunch and the president brought in a group of eight people, some young male players, 14 year old boys, that these young kids were the best in Kentucky, a small state, and they will challenge for positions at the national ODP level. They are both Hispanic, from working-class neighborhoods and their parents couldn’t afford to pay for them to get to soccer. In that particular example the State found ways to get them local scholarships and grants from the local community to support these kids. These are local kids whose parents work in a textile factory in one case and in the other case his father was a truck driver. I make this case because what I’ve witnessed with my own eyes in the last four months has been fascinating.”
What has the last four months of spending times with different associations around the U.S. taught Cordeiro?
“It is the grass roots we need reinvigorate and need to support. Our membership at the grassroots has been stagnant for 10 years,” Cordeiro said. “We’ve had 3-3.5 million registered players for a decade. Some might say that’s a huge number, but in a country of 325 million people today, growing at couple percent per annum, we have one of the highest growth rates among other wealthy countries, why haven’t our youth ranks grown? It’s not that they are not playing soccer, they are, but they’re playing in unregulated soccer clubs and leagues, outside the umbrella of USSF. These are largely young boys and girls who are largely from under-served communities, immigrant populations who are playing day in, day out, who love the game but we are not seeing them and capturing those millions of kids in our player pool for advancement to the national teams.”
With many outsiders suggesting that both Cordeiro and his fellow presidential candidate Kathy Carter, the former president of Soccer United Marketing (SUM), which is the marketing arm of Major League Soccer, have been too close to USSF, Cordeiro revealed he will not tolerate any conflicts of interest if he takes over at USSF.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a stickler for independence. In a complex organization where there are inherent conflicts of interests, given the nature of the member based organization, those conflicts have to be managed to the nth degree and no tolerance for anything other than that,” Cordeiro said. “I’ve made structural proposals to go even further. I’m not suggesting anything about the past but to make things even more transparent. Having experience is great, being independent is very important, but I also think I have a unique vision that combines my deep understanding of the federation, my familiarity with how to place works and runs, with the macro opportunity out there. 325 million people is huge.”
And it is that huge opportunity which seems to excite Cordeiro the most.
With TV audiences for soccer growing, new MLS teams arriving year on year and interest levels rising across many metrics, how can he help USSF capitalize on the love of the beautiful game growing in the USA?
“Soccer has the most favorable demographics over the next 10-15 years. We have a sweet spot in our population where the millennials identify with soccer, by far, being their number one sport. Either because they play it or they watch it,” Cordeiro said. “It is only the sport in this country, that both men and women play, so we have an opportunity to now cement that. They become older, they become parents and grandparents to generations after them will continue to play soccer. We are building a soccer culture like we’ve never had before and that to me is going to transform the sport from a number four or five to a number one. That is going to happen in the next 15 years. With a strong president and a strong leadership, you can accelerate the pace of growth significantly because demographics are what they are, you can’t change that overnight. But you can leverage that change much more exponentially if you have strong leadership. That’s how I distinguish myself from the others.”
The message from Cordeiro is clear. Strong governance is key moving forward.
“Growing grass roots? Of course. Winning the World Cup? Of course. National team prowess? Of course. All of that requires good governance, a strong base, a strong federation and strong financial resources,” Cordeiro added.