I have spent the past few weeks carefully looking at the platforms and personalities of the men and women running for the position of President of the United States Soccer Federation. My conclusion is, I endorse the elimination of the position of the President of the United States Soccer Federation. If this is the quality of people we get running for the job, there must be something wrong with the job.
I think the problem is that no one is really certain what the job is supposed to be. There’s a universal assumption that, just as FIFA rules world soccer, the USSF can and should exert a similar influence in the United States. Even the ones who talk of implementing progressive changes take for granted that they will have the power to do so, and should have the power to do so. It’s like seeing eight versions of Isildur vowing to use the One Ring for good.
No, I will never apologize. My entire life has been leading up to that metaphor.
This is also the first contested election in, for want of a better term, the Fan Era. The stakes for the 1990 Fricker v. Rothenberg battle were arguably higher, but just because there were millions of dollars at stake did not mean there were millions of fans paying attention. Fans don’t have a voice in this process – and don’t get me wrong, we should not. We are customers. We decided we have an interest in this, but that was our choice. And as Grant Wahl showed us this week, giving monkeys the vote is not always popular with the organ grinder community. But we’ll get to that.
Steve Gans is the only person still in the race who had the donuts to challenge Sunil Gulati before October 10. Odds are if you’re reading this, it’s not gonna take you too long to figure out what changed on October 10. Should one draw conclusions about the viability of his candidacy based on the fact that seven other people piled on as soon as it was safe? Yes. You should. Every candidate’s platform is basically a series of promises to form committees and councils, but this one from Gans stood out:
I will immediately halt and institute a moratorium on the current U.S. Soccer plan to centralize the State Referee Administrator responsibilities. An open, transparent and inclusive summit will then be held – with participation by all state associations – to jointly discuss any issues in the SRA program, and to consider any possible related improvements.
No other candidate is bringing this subject up, so it’s fair to assume it’s meaningful to Gans. He wants to call a Council of Nicaea to address the issue – whatever the issue actually is. Gans may have suggestions for improvements, but the main problem seems to be centralization.
Well, okay, that’s one way to tell candidates apart – it makes sense that some would be for more USSF authority, and some for less. Gans clearly feels the USSF should have less – wait, what’s this?
I will create and participate in a task force of youth state associations and national affiliates to address and solve the counterproductive competition amongst sanctioning organizations which occurs beneath the topline of U.S. Soccer youth registration numbers. Such zero-sum competition is destructive to youth soccer and the youth development system, and these issues will be addressed and solved for the good of the game.
It’s going to take an awfully strong central authority to put a stop to competition between youth soccer organizations.
You will also have noticed that councils and committees and task forces and such play a significant role in Gans’ platform. But that’s okay, because councils and committees and task forces make up the most significant part of nearly every candidate’s platform.
I believe you form a committee to do one of two things. Either you want nothing done at all but you want to fool people into thinking you’re trying, or you want something unpopular done and want to make sure everybody else gets to take the blame. Chief executive officers, chairpeople of boards of directors – these aren’t the sort of folks who are used to hearing a lot of backtalk in their daily lives. They’re certainly not going to go out of their way to get a bunch of people in a room to churn out something they oppose.
People like to promise committees, because it sounds like other people have a voice in the process, even when the voices are there to be co-opted or compromised.
If you go to michaelwinograd.net, you will learn about a renowned klezmer and world music clarinetist from Brooklyn. If, on the other hand, you go winogradussf.com, a domain name likely to be available some time in March 2018, you will read this promise from candidate Michael Winograd, speaking in the third person:
Winograd will ensure that critical US Soccer decisions reflect input from all parts of the US Soccer landscape they affect. The selection of national team managers and technical directors; decisions on structures, policies and guidelines in youth soccer; negotiation of sponsorships and other key business transactions; and other fundamental decisions affecting the direction and success of US Soccer are too critical to be made without a deliberate, inclusive, and transparent process. Winograd will form advisory committees that include current and/or former players, coaches, managers, administrators and executives from all levels. And qualifications will be based on merit – people with pertinent skills and achievements and the proven ability to exercise good and objective judgment – not on politics, favoritism or principles of entrenchment.
Those aren’t promises. Those are threats. The idea that, to pick an example not entirely at random, the Eastern New York State Soccer Association should have any meaningful input in who should coach the national teams is downright painful. There are areas of knowledge that can’t be crowd-sourced effectively, and hiring coaches and technical directors is….okay, it’s not up there with neuroscience, but I believe you see what I’m getting at.
Winograd isn’t stupid, and presumably realizes this. Sunil Gulati’s expertise in choosing national team coaches was inadequate, and did not improve with experience. (What did he end up picking, three each for the men’s and women’s teams? Godalmighty.) There’s no good reason to leave decisions like this to King Mob. And there’s nothing here that says Winograd would do so. Input from advisory committees isn’t binding, still less when it’s from the break room at the construction site at the Tower of Babel.
There aren’t many people running here who believe in the USSF President having less power. And it’s funny how youth soccer brings out the autocrat in everyone.
We should take a fresh look at youth soccer’s organizational structure on a state by state basis. We need to implement uniform standards and ensure fairness across youth soccer in all states, and then work together to structure the youth landscape in any given state in a way that makes the most sense for that state, taking into account existing entities, geography, demographics and other key factors. And we must clearly define that structure and its individual components to the consumer.
One way to achieve what works best for an individual state would be to leave it to the individual state. Winograd, like Gans, and like most of the other candidates, would sooner crawl on broken glass.
Eric Wynalda announced his run something like a week before Winograd, but over a week after the Trinidad debacle – after spending literally years hemming and hawing about it. He would have been in a much better position had he made a stand before it was safe – but judging by his campaign web site, probably not. There’s no platform, just a series of pinheaded videos under three minutes each. The closest thing to an actual plan is in the Four Four Two interview he did with Scott French. His twin planks are promotion and relegation on the one hand, and a winter-to-spring schedule on the other.
Let’s put aside for a moment whether either of these are good ideas. Wynalda presumably knows that no US league is doing either of these things voluntarily, but assumes the USSF President has the power to force these policies onto member organizations. It’s a little troubling when people spend years complaining about Sunil Gulati exercising too much power, only to find out the solution is to change the name of the person exercising that power.
It was not Wynalda that sounded the knell for the Gulati administration, but Carlos Cordeiro. Until Kathy Carter entered the race, Cordeiro was routinely summed up as Gulati’s right-hand man. Apparently the two had a split, probably due to Cordeiro realizing that Gulati was ambulatory dead meat before Gulati did.
There is a great deal on Codeiro’s platform that deserves serious discussion and consideration. In fact, he would probably make a very good USSF President, my glib click-baity dismissal of the entire process notwithstanding. But if you considered Gans and Winograd, and thought, “I like them, but they don’t suggest enough committees”? Have we got a guy for you!
These are the planks in Cordeiro’s platform that stood out the most, to me, anyway?
Have a truly independent President who is beholden to no one, listens to and treats all members of our community fairly, is transparent, abides by checks and balances, and works collaboratively to bring all stakeholders together around common goals; [and]
Empower the Board to play a greater role in all Federation activities, including the creation of two new board-level committees: a technical committee, chaired by an Athlete Director, to oversee soccer operations, and a commercial committee, chaired by an independent director, to oversee all USSF commercial activities, including marketing and TV broadcast rights[….]
That first paragraph is quite the slap at Sunil Gulati, unless all this time Cordeiro’s held a grudge against the late Dr. Bob Contiguglia (EDIT - good news! He's not dead! Why did I think that? The world may never know). And it’s a refreshing acknowledgement that checks and balances in USSF exist, rather than depend on the whim of the executive.
The commercial committee idea seems like a reference to Soccer United Marketing, and not necessarily a kindly one. It reads like he’s talking about putting a cop on their corner, especially if we go by “independent director.” Cordeiro might, in fact, have been wrongly dismissed as a status quo candidate. I’d be extremely interested to hear Cordeiro elaborate on this.
And apparently I’m the only one who would be, since there’s literally a lawsuit going on about this very topic and the genius plaintiffs don’t even seem to have asked Cordeiro for an opinion.
It’s worth noting that Wynalda seems to loathe Carlos Cordeiro on a personal level, judging by the Scott French interview. In case you’re wondering how close this was going to be to a full-on Cordeiro endorsement.
Two other former US national team players joined the race, and I like to think both of them joined specifically to annoy Eric Wynalda. Wynalda certainly treated Kyle Martino dismissively enough, and continues to. Paul Caligiuri, on the other hand, is one of the few men who outranks Wynalda on the legendariness scale.
Kyle Martino has been agonizingly slow with specifics, and irritatingly quick with accusations – he and Wynalda need to form a joint ticket. Or a podcast. Martino, like Wynalda, is given to dark accusations of blackballing and reprisals against those who place toes against lines with insufficient enthusiasm. In complete fairness, Martino has endorsed an idea where little soccer goals could be placed under basketball hoops in city playgrounds. It’s a pretty poor excuse for inclusion, but then again, at least it’s an idea.
Paul Caligiuri is not campaigning online, and doesn’t have a web-based platform. In case you were wondering how close this was going to be to a full-on Caligiuri endorsement.
The true insider candidate rolled around in December, when it became apparent that even this crop was preferable to Four More Years.
Sometime between November and now women started playing soccer, so someone had the bright idea to get a woman to run for USSF President. Kathy Carter’s platform is unusually light, even for this field. It really boils down to whether you believe “President of Soccer United Marketing” is a qualification or not. There’s nothing Carter is going to do to win over someone who has the fears of all SUM.
Carter is also running an old-fashioned USSF campaign, which means meeting the people who actually have the vote. It was ridiculous to think that the President of SUM would not have the endorsement of the Chief Executive Officer of SUM, so people should not have been appalled that Don Garber was campaigning for her. Sunil Gulati, on the other hand, was pretending not to have endorsed anyone, at least until Grant Wahl followed up on endorsements from a couple of Eastern Seaboard soccer associations.
Did I mention we’re dealing with a bunch of guys who are used to making decisions and are not used to being second-guessed? For all you who expected soccer associations to poll their membership on who they would support – did it hurt? When you fell off the tomato truck? You knew Carter was the insider candidate already, wipe the shocked look off your face.
Then there’s Hope Solo, who…is putting together a clear and consistent platform backed up with the passion and sincerity of her beliefs. Everyone has made up their mind about Hope Solo, which is fine, but that doesn’t mean she’s not as serious a candidate as literally any of the others.
If the theory is that you want a change candidate? If you want someone who is really going to change the old boy network, reshape the way the Federation does business, give more attention to the women’s program, give more outreach to poor and under-served communities? Solo is your candidate. Yes, she’s one of the least diplomatic people in the sport, but then, so is Wynalda.
I know, it’s unfair to compare Solo to Wynalda. Solo has won championships. And Solo’s platform is coherent.
There’s something irritating about USA Today, for example, saying Solo can’t win because of her previous controversial remarks.
“The problem for Solo is that she isn’t the only former player running, but she is the only one with a hostile relationship with the federation. She won’t be able to overcome that.”
Emphasis in original.
Hey, let’s go back and see what Wynalda told Scott French about the USSF:
“I completely hated my experience with the United States Soccer Federation from 1989 until now. There hasn’t been a time in any of that that I trusted their motives, where I didn’t feel that I was being manipulated or deceived or lied to or essentially ruled by fear. We have been told, ‘Cooperate and comply or we don’t need you. Take it or leave it. Ninety/ten is our idea of a partnership,’ and then we’re expected to wear the crest and be proud and go represent our country. It doesn’t work that way. It’s been that way for too long…Playing for the national team really is not something that anybody enjoys anymore. And that’s mainly because of the relationship with their federation is horrible. And that has gone back the last couple of decades. Anybody that has played for the national team will tell you without hesitation that they hate their federation.”
But Solo is the irrational one. Why, she can barely form a coherent thought:
Hope Solo says she will eliminate sexism and discrimination in her campaign statement. She did not offer how she would do that. She didn’t write a paragraph about it. She didn’t even write a complete sentence about how she would eliminate two things that have existed in our society since its inception. Just know that she’s gonna do that. Sexism and discrimination in soccer? Boom. Gone.
Yes, Hope’s platform was collected into bullet points. The thinking behind those bullet points was spelled out in detail in her Facebook post and the “Why I’m running” section.
Now, if one were to say that Solo, too, assumes a USSF President bestowed with limitless power for good or evil, then yes, that would be a fair criticism. If you were to tell me that Solo, like most of the other candidates, is running for dictator, I would listen attentively.
But calling Solo unrealistic and unclear in the same race where Silent Cal doesn’t even have a website, and Eric Wynalda promises to ban summer soccer? Asinine.
The United States Soccer Federation is a licensing organization. It provides a bureaucracy to handle player contracts, manage leagues and tournaments, administer the laws, and occasionally promote the game.
Lately it has achieved attention for assembling a series of men’s and women’s all-star teams to compete with other national teams in various competitions. Those are the Federation’s primary revenue sources, and by the way the source of every single one of its fans.
The mission for the USSF is the following:
Stop getting sued;
Host the World Cup.
Instead, we will get someone whose mission will be to continue to consolidate power, for whatever perceived good. I believe Pete Townshend had the final word when it came to making introductions with recently-ascended overseers.