Next month the U.S. Soccer Federation will hold its annual general meeting, a usually dull affair in which delegates from every level of soccer sit through four days of committee meetings. This year, though, the delegates will vote to elect a new president, replacing retiring President Sunil Gulati. The new president will set the course for the federation as a whole, and could change the entire course of American soccer.
During his 12 years at the helm of U.S. Soccer, Gulati helped save the organization from financial ruin and turn it into a moneymaker. That said, he also deserves blame for repeated mishandling of the national teams, including his misbegotten process of hiring and firing coaches for the men’s national team, and his lack of focus on domestic youth soccer, while consolidating his own global power at FIFA.
As Gulati leaves, then, he leaves an organization in which the president’s role has expanded greatly. The favorite to replace him is someone he knows well: Kathy Carter, who currently runs Soccer United Marketing, the marketing agency that makes money for both U.S. Soccer (via selling the national teams) and Major League Soccer (which owns Soccer United Marketing). Carter would be the establishment pick, a promise for more of the same — a focus on “growing the game” that seems strangely limited to growing national-team revenue and MLS coffers.
Those who want someone different aren’t short on options. Heading the list of other candidates is television analyst Eric Wynalda, a former national team player and lower-division coach who has never been able to resist saying inflammatory things. Wynalda seems the preferred candidate of angry soccer fans, but it’s hard to imagine that many of those fans are U.S. Soccer Federation voters.
Two other candidates stand out. One is Kyle Martino, who like Wynalda is a television analyst and a former national-team player and who might provide more soccer-focused, less business-focused leadership. Unlike Wynalda, he doesn’t have a reputation for being a lunatic.
The other, current federation vice president Carlos Cordeiro, seems like another vote for the status quo. But it’s telling that Carter, not Cordeiro, is seen as Gulati’s hand-picked successor.
The other candidates are Steve Gans and Michael Winograd, both lawyers who seem likely to be lost in the shuffle, and Hope Solo and Paul Caligiuri, two former American national-teamers who have soccer name recognition and not much else for qualifications.
U.S. Soccer is at a crossroads. The men’s national team has no coach and won’t be at the World Cup. The women’s national team failed to win a medal at last year’s Olympics. Youth soccer is widely split and consistently underfunded. MLS is still struggling for worldwide relevance. Other professional leagues, such as the NASL, are near folding.
All of this is on the plate of the next president, who, by the way, fills an unpaid position. Perhaps the real wonder of Gulati’s tenure is that he made the position so powerful that eight people still want the job.
• Soccerex, a company that runs soccer business events, released its top-100 list of clubs with the most financial power. Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, as fronts for Middle Eastern oil money, have essentially unlimited financial power and thus check in at No. 1 and 3 on the list. The surprise, though, is Arsenal, which sits at No. 2 despite being famously unwilling to spend money on new players. The report concluded that Arsenal has the most assets of any team in the world and holds just $11 million in debt. By comparison, Chelsea has an astonishing $1.1 billion in debt.
• Major League Soccer released its full schedule this week, and once again the league will play through most of the FIFA-mandated international breaks, only taking a (very short) break for the opening rounds of the World Cup. Just like every year, I confess I can’t understand why the league wants to schedule games when top players are required to be on call for their national teams and be forced to miss MLS games. It’s needless and it makes the league worse — in soccer parlance, it’s an own goal.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
FA Cup: Leicester City at Fleetwood Town, 6:30 a.m. Saturday, FS1. Six years ago, forward Jamie Vardy scored 31 goals in 36 games for fifth-division Fleetwood Town. Leicester City bought him for a million pounds and he became a Premier League-winning hero. He returns to his former club, which is now in the third division.
Serie A: Atalanta at Roma, 11 a.m. Saturday, beIN. Roma is near the top of the standings and Atalanta near the middle. But Atalanta might enter this match with more confidence, after defeating Napoli in the Coppa Italia this week. Roma has just two victories in six games and is having a lot of trouble scoring goals.
FA Cup: West Ham at Shrewsbury Town, 8 a.m. Sunday, FS1. This is what an early-round FA Cup game is supposed to look like: a big Premier League side like West Ham visiting a tiny team like Shrewsbury. The atmosphere should be crackling. Shrewsbury, currently second in the third division, could put up a fight.
FA Cup: Arsenal at Nottingham Forest, 10 a.m. Sunday, FS1. When Arsenal was founded in 1886, the club wrote to Nottingham Forest for help — and received some red jerseys. It’s why Arsenal wears red even today. Old friendships will be put aside, though, as Forest tries to take down the London giants.