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Victory for the Status Quo: What Now for U.S. Soccer?

February 12th, 2018 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, soccer, World Cup

A former colleague who is involved in grassroots soccer may still be in mourning.

He was adamant that the U.S. Soccer Federation needed new blood at the top … but the presidential election over the weekend went the way of the two establishment candidates, with the former federation vice president and Goldman Sachs partner (no, really) winning election on the third ballot.

Congrats, Carlos Cordeiro!

We’re confident you will meet the little people — just as soon as you hire someone to make the introductions.

Cordeiro, 61, was one of eight candidates running to replace Sunil Gulati in the unpaid presidency role, and Cordeiro survived the first round of voting thanks to the unanimous support of professional soccer players. Which either says something good about Cordeiro or something bad about the players.

Their support allowed the India native and former Gulati ally to hold off Kathy Carter, president of Soccer United Marketing — “the marketing arm of Major League Soccer”, whose candidacy collapsed when MLS went over to Cordeiro in the third round, giving him 69 percent of the vote and victory.

Meanwhile, the folks at the bottom of the U.S. soccer heap, parents and poor kids and unpaid coaches watching games played on vacant lots, remain disenfranchised, and it is hard to see how they will be able to move forward in the direction (and with the speed) they had hoped for if their candidate, former national team striker Eric Wynalda, had been elected.

My former colleague was more than a little partisan in this.

He said: “Missing this summer’s [World Cup] has made leadership change necessary. Sunil is out and now it’s either Eric or we riot in the streets! Anything less and we have failed and are doomed to mediocrity.

“I’m less-than-half joking.”

No riots to report.

So, what happens next?

Cordeiro’s highest priority is to ensure the success of the U.S.-led bid (with Mexico and Canada) to host the 2026 World Cup, a decision Fifa will make on June 13.

And the magnitude of that task, which involves international negotiating and a head for business, probably is beyond the ken of any of the four former U.S. internationals who stood in the election: Wynalda (who had 13.7 percent of the vote in the first round), Kyle Martino (8.6), Hope Solo (1.6) and Paul Caligiuri (0.5).

(Had the grassroots, which presumably voted for one of the four ex-players, gotten behind one of them, that would have represented a bloc of 24.4 percent of the 537 votes cast. Fairly impressive, but they still would have needed support from the players’ 20 percent of the vote to have made a revolutionary change.)

And, we must concede, it is not at all clear the players candidates have sufficient business background to walk into a Fifa meeting in Moscow in June and bring back the 2026 World Cup bid.

I recall Landon Donovan‘s explanation, to Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated, of why he — only briefly — weighed his own candidacy for federation president.

“Your initial reaction is, well, I can help. I can do the job,” Donovan said. “And I quickly walked back from that to considering the realities, which were 1) I’m not remotely qualified for that job; 2) I would have no idea how to even begin that job; 3) I don’t want to do that job; and 4) there are better ways for me to be involved and impactful.”

That may have been how a majority of the electorate in the USSF’s weird voting system saw it.

(And, for the record, here is how the votes are distributed: The professional, youth and adult councils each make up 25.7 percent of the vote; the athletes council makes up 20 percent; and a smattering of individuals make up the rest.)

So, back to the question: What happens next?

The federation continues to generate revenues along the lines of $130 million a year, presumably rising in a run-up to the 2026 World Cup — if it comes to North America.

Then we wait for the transparency Cordeiro, like everyone else, promised. Along with hiring general managers for the national teams, and more power for players and the board of directors. Campaign promises, all.

From the perspective at the bottom of the pyramid — which isn’t really a pyramid, since there is no connection between the numerous small clubs popping up all over the country (See: UPSL) — being able to grow and rise, well Major League Soccer, the top level of American soccer is there to block that.

Additional points made, ahead of the election, by my former colleague, the Wynalda backer: He wants American clubs — of any size — to benefit from the selling of players, as is done in most of the world. He wants promotion and relegation, as is done in most of the world. He wants a way to break the domination of MLS, which continues to charge hefty expansion fees for new franchises in a league that is headed for 28 clubs — which is, frankly, too many.

He said: “MLS is a bloated closed entity with franchises and backward economics. There is talk of creating a pyramid alongside MLS, and forcing (MLS president) Don Garber, et al, to adapt or die.

“This election is about more than USMNT or MLS. This is about the culture of soccer in the U.S. and the rolling back of the books at U.S. Soccer. It’s about [promotion/relegation] and transparency. It’s about aligning with the world’s standards and not being a hobby for NFL owners. It’s about all of it.”

Did U.S. soccer just miss a chance to do any of that? Will the country continue to be a second-tier soccer nation, now that the status quo has been affirmed? The round of 16 in good World Cups; out in the group stage in bad?

Will MLS continue to throttle all potential competitors while playing a level of football far below that of top global leagues?

Will any of us live to see promotion and relegation up and down a coherent, integrated U.S. soccer system that resembles those in England and Germany, etc.?

After this election? Have to say … “no.” We should expect more of the same.




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