ESPN - Wednesday 6th December, 2017
This is an updated version of a feature that was originally published on Oct. 25.
With current U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati announcing that he will not run for re-election, the USSF is poised to have new leadership for the first time in more than a decade.
Gulati's decision has served to make an already chaotic race even more wide open. There are now eight candidates who have announced they will run to replace him, and the list seems to fall into two categories: Those with high-level playing backgrounds but little business experience and those with more modest playing careers but greater involvement in business and administration.
The first culling of candidates will come on Dec. 12, which is the date by which candidates must have filed the necessary paperwork, passed a background check and obtained the required three nomination letters.
Here's the latest on a fluid field:
The incumbent: Sunil Gulati
The "Will or won't he?" dance that Gulati has engaged in for the last few months finally came to an end on Monday, with the current USSF president telling ESPN FC that he will not seek re-election.
Opinions vary as to why he decided not to run. Multiple sources have told ESPN FC that Gulati didn't have the votes. Others say he would have won had he entered. Either way, Gulati is out.
Gulati declined to state whom he would support, though the entry of SUM president Kathy Carter into the race, coming less than 24 hours after Gulati's announcement, seems more than coincidental.
Regardless, the race is now on, to see who will replace him come February.
Chances of winning: 0 percent (down from 25)
The heir apparent: Carlos Cordeiro
Cordeiro's candidacy offers advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, he's not Gulati, but his close association as a member of the hierarchy means he'll have to explain how he would do things differently. Cordeiro has been heavily involved on the business side of the USSF, serving as the organization's treasurer since 2008 and on the budget committee. He joined as an independent director the year before that.
He has also won USSF elections and, like Gulati, will be well versed in the politics needed to secure votes. But he has no known experience of dealing with the playing side of the house and, given its emphasis in this election, that will be a difficult gap in his resume to overcome. Cordeiro has vowed to take less of a hands-on role, be more inclusive and transparent and will allow a technical director to decide the next manager of the men's national team.
Cordeiro is among the beneficiaries of Gulati's decision not to run. Lately he has kept a low profile, having not participated in a recent candidates forum in Chicago. Instead he is going about the business of attempting to woo voters on the down-low.
But it also seems clear that Cordeiro has had a falling out with long-time friend Gulati. As a result, Cordeiro isn't likely to benefit from Gulati's withdrawal as much as he otherwise might have. Carter's entry into the race speaks to that. That said, his decision to enter the race before Carter looks like a smart play at this point. He has the advantage of additional time to build support, as well as letting her previous position with SUM take off some of the heat that comes with being an insider.
Chances of winning: 28 percent (up from 25)
The firebrand: Eric Wynalda
Wynalda has long been the U.S. soccer community's resident gadfly, willing to say just about anything, regardless of the subject matter. That persona has tended to obscure some of his ideas about the game and without question, he is taking a populist approach to his campaign.
He is a staunch advocate of promotion/relegation, though by his own admission, he admits it doesn't fit within the current system. He will "tear up" the recently agreed CBA between the USSF and the union representing the women's national team in a bid to give them equal pay. His proposed changes for MLS involve moving to a fall/spring calendar in line with that of Europe, as well as a media-rights deal for all divisions similar to what MP & Silva proposed in September.
Such views make Wynalda a polarizing figure. His lack of business experience is also something he'll need to address, which in part explains his praise for current USSF CEO Dan Flynn. Name recognition alone gets Wynalda in the running, but he'll need to sell his ideas -- and temperament -- to constituents, who might be concerned by what he'll do to the system.
Wynalda's campaign appears to be gaining some momentum, as he continues to garner support among voters on the Adult and Youth Councils, where his populist platform had had some resonance. The politicking over the next two months will reveal the extent he can broaden his base.
Chances of winning: 23 percent (up from 20)
The insider: Kathy Carter
The president of Soccer United Marketing, Carter's entry adds another establishment figure to the race given that SUM is the marketing arm of MLS. Her early statements indicate she is doing everything she can to convey the impression that she isn't beholden to MLS or the existing USSF hierarchy, but her previous position means she carries much of the same baggage as Cordeiro. Not only will that be tough to shed, but it will also make it difficult for Carter to expand her base beyond the Pro Council.
Carter played collegiately at William and Mary, so she isn't completely lacking in soccer bona fides. But it's clear that her strength is her extensive business background, having worked for the likes of AEG, ISL United States, Envision, and MLS in its early years. In an election where the soccer side of the job is getting more attention, her resume isn't as much of a strength as it otherwise might be.
Carter does enter the race with a base of support, so her starting point is better than some other candidates. Beyond the Pro Council there are those who feel that it's time for a woman to be in charge of what has historically been a male-dominated organization. But her late entry into the race relative to other candidates mean she has plenty of work to do.
Chances of winning: 15 percent
The businessman: Steve Gans
Gans will likely be viewed as a safe candidate and boasts a strong business background, having been a COO as well as a lawyer, who has advised youth and Premier League clubs on various aspects of their business. He engaged in what he calls a "listening tour" of people associated with the youth and amateur game and said he has found great dissatisfaction. His biggest challenge is convincing people he's also a "soccer guy," so he's been bringing up his long affinity for the game as well as the fact he played professionally in the MISL.
Among his ideas is to use the USSF surplus to address the pay-to-play issue in youth soccer. He has also said he will work to make the youth soccer landscape "less fractured" and, as a parent of two Development Academy players, he has seen it up close. Gans has also vowed to improve the working conditions of the U.S. women's national team, who even after agreeing to a new CBA, have been subjected to playing games on artificial turf.
On the business side, Gans said he wouldn't change much, noting that he things there are a lot of good people working for the USSF already.
Gans was the first to enter the race last summer, but outwardly, gaining additional traction has been difficult to discern. As candidates begin to drop out, can he pick up the support they leave behind?
Chances of winning: 15 percent (unchanged)
The idealist: Kyle Martino
Martino insists his entry into the race is not "a person for a person" and that nobody alone will save U.S. Soccer. He made that comment as it relates to Gulati, but his presence seems to make him the anti-Wynalda. Martino may not have had such an illustrious playing career, but his knowledge is not in question but what he offers is a candidate with many of the same qualifications as Wynalda, but one who is less controversial. That might appeal to voters less inclined to big changes.
Martino's platform consists of three planks. The first involves making the USSF more transparent, while making the president a paid position. He is also emphasizing equality, which includes making the game more accessible for kids from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as better treatment of the women's national team. The third is loosely titled "Progress" and includes setting up training centers around the country that would be free of charge to players, as well as creating an advisory board to aid with the selection of national team coaches and technical directors.
Martino has some catching up to do in terms of establishing relationships with voters and he'll need to find a way to expand his base beyond the anti-establishment crowd.
Martino's name recognition is keeping him in the race. His biggest challenge remains siphoning off enough support among voters those who think someone with a strong playing background ought to get the job. Right now Wynalda seems to be carrying the day on that front, but there is still time.
Chances of winning: 13 percent (unchanged)
The outsider: Mike Winograd
A corporate attorney, who played professionally in Israel and coached at the youth and collegiate levels, Winograd has a skillset that allows him to bridge the business and playing sides. He has touted his experience in legal negotiations as proof of his ability to build consensus but it looks like he has too much ground to make up to win the election.
Winograd is not of the opinion that everything in the system needs to be burned to the ground and his platform contains three major planks: Transparency by which critical decisions are made, addressing the inequities that the women's national team faces, and tackling the costs affecting coaching education and youth soccer.
He "would love to see" promotion / relegation but stopped short of saying he would implement it full bore; instead he is interested in a more incremental approach. He is a big supporter of training compensation / solidarity payments and feels that is a piece to the puzzle of funding youth development. He would also leverage his experience in the corporate world to create more avenues of funding, as well as make use of the USSF's reported surplus.
Chances of winning: 2 percent (unchanged)
The legend: Paul Caligiuri
The 53-year-old, best known for scoring the goal that clinched a place for the 1990 World Cup, is banking on his lengthy playing career to set him apart from other candidates; given the presence of old teammate Wynalda and Martino, that could prove difficult. That said, he could weaken support for his other ex-players.
Since his 15-year professional career ended, his time has been spent coaching collegiately at Cal Poly-Pomona and with Orange County FC in the NPSL. He has also served on the USSF Athletes Council and on the USSF Board of Directors. His "Goal 2019 & 2022" plan aims for the women's national team to defend its World Cup title in 2019 and the men to win the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Caligiuri's plan so far is light on details, but he is in favor of promotion / relegation and said two other areas of emphasis would be culture and values. In terms of the business side, he emphasized that he's there to chair the committees, not be a day-in, day-out person to run the business. Instead, a "qualified CEO" would be in charge of that.
Chances of winning: 1 percent (unchanged)
The lifer: Paul Lapointe
Lapointe has a long history of playing in various indoor and outdoor leagues, then working in the game at youth and amateur levels. He is currently the Northeast Conference manager of the amateur UPSL. In his professional life, he has worked in the automotive industry, owning car dealerships and tire stores after working for Goodyear.
Easily the biggest plank in his platform is his idea for instituting promotion / relegation at every level except MLS and then, after a period of time evaluating how well it works, for the full conversion to happen naturally.
In terms of youth soccer, Lapointe would like a more clearly-defined path to the national team and believes the Development Academy doesn't reach enough kids. In terms of the women's game, he believes that having a women's version of the U.S. Open Cup would be a way to further market that side of the sport.
Chances of winning: 1 percent (unchanged)
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.
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