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.”