There was an event of some note in Nashville this weekend, so I haven’t yet had time to discuss this, so here we go. First reaction: at least it wasn’t one of the two candidates who are utterly horrible.
Kathy Carter was not an option in my mind first and foremost because she was going to do nothing to unentangle the MLS/SUM/USSF web. In fact, she would have been extremely likely (as the outgoing CEO of Soccer United Marketing) to not only emphasize that relationship, but probably also make it a little more opaque to the outside observer. She also lost any and all feminist cred she may have had – and this was a fairly important issue to me in this particular election – by not condemning The Reprehensible Sal Rapaglia for calling her “the girl” or “Gulati’s girl” exclusively in an extensive interview. “Welcome to my life” is not a remotely adequate response to that, and she should be embarrassed not only as a US Soccer presidential candidate, but on a personal level for that to have been the entire strength of her response.
Eric Wynalda was an absolute non-starter for me for a lot of reasons, but first and foremost the one he championed. That is coming from the opposite pole as Kathy Carter. His ideas to revolutionize US Soccer were bad, from forcing MLS to change seasons or agree to a pro-rel structure. His campaign strategy (at least until we got pretty close to the end) was also repulsive and indicative of a major cancer in our society. Instead of having an actual platform early on, his entire pitch was “I have personal animosity toward Sunil Gulati, Go Go Eric Wynalda 2018” and that type of discourse needs to leave our country ASAP – wherever it exists right now. He was also the most clearly in it for his own personal brand advancement over the good of the federation (“I won’t help our soccer nation if I’m not elected president” and “I won’t reveal my platform until everybody else reveals theirs first so they don’t steal my terrible ideas”), which is not the sort of person who should be picked for any voted-upon office, full stop (and for the second justification in a row, I swear I’m referring only to Eric Wynalda, not any obvious analogues you want to draw). Declaring personal bankruptcy multiple times – and being very open about it with the New York Times – is a bit of a humanizing deal for Wynalda, but again indicates a lack of expertise in something (general finance) very important to the federation and its president (I swear I’m not doing this on purpose, by the way).
Hope Solo is also in the “do not want” category for two reasons: alcohol/violence issues, and a similar “I have personal animosity to Sunil Gulati” campaign strategy. It’s unfortunate, because a better strategy for her might have really helped – she has some important ideas for women’s and youth soccer (I would have been more willing to overlook personal
So, who did I want? I’ve been pretty open throughout that Kyle Martino was my choice, though he lost me a bit when he tried to grab onto the populist support of Wynalda’s campaign (among the very vocal, very stupid minority) by insisting on promotion/relegation as a key part of his platform, when he had previously been very committed to the “we’ll evaluate when I’m elected after I can hear all sides” stance. Frankly, I think that shift could have cost him the election. He was very strong on youth and grassroots, had an absolute commitment to spending some of the US Soccer surplus but doing it wisely, and wanted to stress transparency from the federation going forward. Dear Kyle, bad things happen when you let yourself get too close to Eric Wynalda.
So how about the dude who actually won?
Now-outgoing USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro was the far less dangerous-seeming of the two entrenched establishment candidates, and based on the voting, it’s clear one of them was always going to win, so at the very least we got the best case scenario out of those two options.
There have also been rumblings (and I’ll certainly admit they seem a little revisionist to soften the blow of an establishment candidate winning) that he and Sunil Gulati didn’t see eye-to-eye in a lot of ways. That’s not necessarily a positive in the specific – as Gulati also did good things for the federation, the actual issues would be important – but in the general sense of “he’s not simply going to be a puppet of the previous president,” it’s important. Given that some of the issues he apparently didn’t care for were a president overreaching with power and a lack of transparency in his boss’s administration, the specifics are indeed a little more refreshing.
By all accounts, he sounds like he’ll be a little more hands-off, without making unilateral manager or technical director hires for the men’s and women’s national teams, etc. Letting soccer people do soccer jobs (and I know there’s been a debate over what constitutes a “soccer person,” especially for somebody who’s been involved with the federation, but he doesn’t present himself as an industry expert so he shouldn’t be considered one) is a nice step forward.
There are still red flags. “Goldman Sachs executive” doesn’t exactly conjure an image of the highest level of integrity – whether that’s fair to present and former Goldman Sachs employees or not, there are certainly reasons behind it. He’ll have to work quickly to prove that the stink of that position doesn’t follow him to his new (unpaid) gig. That should be something he can do fairly easily if he is who the electors believed him to be. The stink of “close personal friend of notoriously corrupt Chuck Blazer” is disheartening in a similar way. We’ll see if that reputation can be shed.
He was also famously media-shy during the election process, which (believe it or not) is almost as big an issue for me as anything else. He wouldn’t do interviews if he didn’t have the questions in advance – even in a low-leverage situation like the US Soccer Coaches’ Convention in Philadelphia – and somehow managed to be elected to a job that 1) has long been a very glorified spokesman, and 2) he intends to strip away some of the specific non-spokesman duties from. That is bad. He opened up a little bit late in the process, but there’s a long way to go to change his reputation there, and it’s a far more important part of the gig than he evidently realized (and that he didn’t realize it is a part of that red flag).
What’s the hope?
First and foremost, Cordeiro is going to be judged primarily on the basis of general manager hires for the men’s and women’s national teams, and the resulting manager hire for the USMNT. Even though the job is much more than that, it’s what the layperson will see and judge. And it is indeed important.
There are other things that should have near-equal importance for the federation. Quick, who’s the head coach of the USA Basketball team? Or even Hockey? With health through the core functionalities of a federation, the other aspects get put into a bit of perspective. I know it’s not a great comparison because of (relative, at least) American dominance in those sports and the visibility of global soccer, but the business of USA Hockey is getting kids playing, improving safety at youth levels, etc. At a certain point, that’s what sporting federations are for, more than simply being a conduit for people to view national teams.
So: how will Cordeiro deal with pay-to-play, academies, other development issues, incorporation of NCAA into our culture, multiple lawsuits brought by Eric Wynalda’s moneyman (and Hope Solo herself in separate suits) against the federation, building grassroots, dealing with issues between leagues at different levels in the pyramid? And doing all this while wisely spending federation reserves? We shall find out what his plans are, because more than any other candidate, the potential disconnect between what he said on the campaign trail and what he actually intends to do can be huge.