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U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Q&A: Carlos Cordeiro

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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 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.

Solskjaer warns “could have been one of those nights” for Manchester United

Manchester United Solskjaer
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was clearly relieved after his dominant but wasteful Manchester United finally beat goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson and Copenhagen in extra time of their Europa League quarterfinal in Cologne.

“I think it was just one of those nights,” he said after the win. “I think we deserved to win, that’s clear, but they made it very hard for us.”

Johnsson made 13 saves as United out-attempted the minusM-1000 underdogs from Denmark by a 26-9 margin. The Red Devils blocked several Copenhagen chances in tight, making the Danes’ total of zero shots on target a bit deceiving.

[ RECAP: Manchester United 1-0 Copenhagen ]

“Their keeper was unbelievable and we hit the post a few times,” Solskjaer said. “It could have been one of those nights that you end up with a shootout. We had to block, defend well and they made it hard for us.”

But United was clearly the better team on the day, as expected. Juan Mata entered late in the game and was an influential sub in extra time.

He says the Red Devils were a bit beat up on a hot night in Germany.

“The team is quite tired physically,” Mata said. “At this stage of this season it is important to win games like today and we go through. We stay in Germany for quite some time and hopefully we can win.

“Both teams got a little tired and there were more spaces and more chances. They played some good football and credit to them. We could have scored more goals in extra time but we are through.”

United will meet either Sevilla or Wolves in a dynamite semifinal in one week.

Manchester United breaks through Copenhagen in extra time

Manchester United - Copenhagen
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Manchester United – Copenhagen: The Europa League’s biggest underdogs of the quarterfinals took the tournament favorites to extra time before succumbing 1-0 in Cologne.

Bruno Fernandes highlighted his Man of the Match performance by converting an Anthony Martial-won penalty in the 95th minute for Manchester United, the only way past Copenhagen’s terrific goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson.

But Fernandes gave United a scare, needing care for his hamstring at the final whistle.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Johnsson made 13 saves, seven from inside the box, to keep Copenhagen within a sucker punch of eliminating the Red Devils over 90 minutes.

Manchester United heads to Dusseldorf for an Aug. 17 semifinal against the winner of Tuesday’s tilt between Wolves and Sevilla.


Three things we learned

1. Copenhagen plays prime tournament soccer: The heaviest underdogs in the quarterfinals, Copenhagen executed a traditional 4-4-2 in a less-traditional low block for much of the match. The low block wasn’t the surprise, but instead of two banks of five, the rows of four with two men hassling up front challenged United for time and helped spring a number of dangerous counters. The Danes opened up in extra time after going behind, but taking it to extra time was more than many expected out of them.

2. VAR denies the Red Devils: A rout would’ve been on if this match was staged a year ago without VAR, as the assistant referee twice allowed United goals to go to video. Harry Maguire was offside before assisting the first would-be Red Devils goal, while Mason Greenwood was off before ripping a rocket off the far post and into the goal.

3. Bruno is a beast: Fernandes was everywhere, cueing up his teammates for chances when he wasn’t smashing them off the frame in a bid to win it himself. The Portuguese playmaker registered three key passes, put three of his five shots on target, and won the majority of his duels on top of scoring the game’s lone goal (SofaScore). Now United must hope his late leg injury was just a product of 120 minutes and nothing major.

Man of the Match

Fernandes, and yes we had him here before he smashed his penalty home. Fernandes is now the Europa League’s leading scorer with seven goals between Sporting Lisbon and United.


Manchester United – Copenhagen recap

United has plenty of the ball in the first 10 minutes but Copenhagen provided legitimate danger that Eric Bailly managed in his own six.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked a cross with his face and needed treatment, looking quite dazed before returning to the game.

Another Copenhagen chance was blocked in the six by Bailly (again), who proved a wise choice over Victor Lindelof.

VAR had a look at an early United goal and rightly chalked Harry Maguire offside in the build-up. And it took Mason Greenwood’s hammer off the far post off the board for offside early in stoppage time.

Copenhagen was in it at the break. Would United pay?

[ MORE: Lukaku leads Inter past Bayer Leverkusen ]

The early stages of the second half remained with the Red Devils, Copenhagen parking all its men behind the ball at times.

Rashford flubbed a chance to shoot or pass to Paul Pogba when Bruno Fernandes spotted him at the back post just after the hour mark.

Fernandes tried his luck from distance in the 63rd, ripping a shot off the far post.

Ex-Everton man Bryan Oviedo nearly put Copenhagen ahead in the 66th only to see Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bailly clog his shooting lane after Rasmus Falk dazzled to get into the box.

Karl-Johan Johnsson made a flying save on Anthony Martial to force an 84th-minute corner that came to nothing for United.

Johnsson denied Martial again in-tight at the start of stoppage time, but the high was short-lived as the Frenchman was dropped in the box moments later.

Fernandes stepped to the spot and used a stuttering run-up before blasting his penalty home.

Martial nearly had it 2-0 after the restart when he dribbled through the Copenhagen 18 but took it himself instead of laying off to Juan Mata in what would’ve been a fairly straight-forward chance for the Spaniard.

Johnsson denied Fernandes at the end of the first 15 minutes of extra time, United unfortunate to not score on the ensuing corner when Mata’s shot was blocked to Lindelof, who fired off the outside of the post.

Lindelof made a fine intervention to block a close-range equalizer bid in the 116th.

Inter Milan rides early goals past Bayer Leverkusen

Inter Milan - Bayer Leverkusen
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While Manchester United and Copenhagen played chess across the country, Inter Milan and Bayer Leverkusen were staging double jumps all over a checkerboard in Dusseldorf.

Romelu Lukaku and Nicolo Barella scored twice in six first-half minutes before Kai Havertz answered in the 24th to account for all the goals in Inter’s 2-1 defeat of Bayer.

Lukaku has scored in nine-straight UEL matches, a new record.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Inter now waits for an Aug. 16 semifinal in Cologne, where it will meet the winner of Tuesday’s match between Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk

Bayer now must settle for the Europa League again via its fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga.

The three goals in the nine minutes were highlighted by Lukaku doing his best “Harry Kane versus Leicester City” falling down finish.

Nicola Barella put Inter ahead after a quarter-hour when he made the most of a loose ball outside the 18.

A Manchester United connection saw Inter ahead by two when Ashley Young found Romelu Lukaku and the Belgian striker maintained his composure while being dragged to the ground, beating Lukas Hradecky with a low shot.

Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland’s interplay near the box ended with the transfer rumor mainstay slipping a shot home to bring Bayer back within one.

Lukaku had penalty decisions taken off the board by VAR in each half.

Who’s next for Manchester United if Sancho stays at Dortmund?

Chiesa to Manchester United
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The transfer rumor mill is usually buzzing this time of year, but it’s nearly a cacophony following Michael Zorc’s announcement that Jadon Sancho will be staying at Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool announces new left back ]

Reports say Manchester United is not quitting on the idea of Sancho at Old Trafford, but here are some other targets if the Red Devils have to look away from the English phenom.

Federico Chiesa, Fiorentina

Linked with United for some time including a Monday nod from Football-Italia, Chiesa’s approximately $80 million price tag is high but half of what Dortmund is asking for Sancho.

The versatile playmaker has often been linked with Juventus, though Fiorentina is loathe to do business with The Old Lady unless absolutely necessary after big sales of Roberto Baggio and Federico Bernardeschi to Juve in the past.

The 22-year-old already has 17 Italian caps and scored 10 goals with six assists for La Viola this season in Serie A play, career bests in both.

Douglas Costa, Juventus

This one could become even more feasible if Juve latched onto Chiesa.

Juve desperately needs to get younger and Costa doesn’t figure to fit into the plans of Andrea Pirlo, a month away from his 30th birthday.

Costa works better on the right side and would be a worker bee looking to set up Rashford and Martial or cut back for Bruno Fernandes. He boasts double-digit assist seasons in the Bundesliga (Bayern), Serie A (Juve), and Ukraine (Shakhtar Donetsk).

TURIN, ITALY – MAY 19: Douglas Costa (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Raul Jimenez, Wolves

This one still feels like a long shot of long shots given the players’ age and status at Wolves, but the El Tri star has been linked with United in the past.

Jimenez doesn’t solve the wing issue presented by Sancho staying at BVB, and you’d fancy the Red Devils to go after one of Wolves’ wingers before Jimenez.

But Solskjaer enjoys Marcus Rashford at left wing and could use Anthony Martial at right wing a bit more often than center forward. Throw in Mason Greenwood and the boss would have a lot of permutations to use around Bruno Fernandes in a front three or four.

Ivan Perisic, Inter Milan

Mentioned as part of a swap deal for Alexis Sanchez, that’s less on the cards after the Chilean accepted a Man United payoff to move to Inter for free.

The 31-year-old favors the left wing and Inter would be happy to offload him after Bayern declined its option to buy the loanee who managed seven goals and 10 assists in just over 1600 minutes.

That’s pretty good output for a part-time player who kept some tread on the tires.

Perisic to Manchester United
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JULY 15: Ivan Perisic of Croatia (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

James Rodriguez, Real Madrid

If you’re sensing a thread amongst most of these players, it’s no surprise considering United has a wage scale to meet the needs of many wantaways.

Real desperately wants to get something for Colombian star James, who at 29 played less than 800 minutes for La Liga’s champions this season.

His two-year loan stint at Bayern also saw him as a part-time player, but like Perisic a productive one. James scored 15 times with 20 assists over two seasons with the Bavarians.

Kingsley Coman, Bayern Munich

This would cost a lot of dough.

The 24-year-old has been a part of nine-straight league winners between Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, and Bayern.

Okay that’s cheating a bit considering his Ligue 1 crowns came off a handful of appearances over two seasons at the Parc des Princes.

But the left and right winger might be on for a change of scenery with Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane set to dominate the preferential places at Bayern.