USSF Presidential Election Preview

US Soccer is in a transition period. The men’s national team is without a manager, the North American Soccer League’s future is hanging in the balance, and the United States Soccer Federation presidential election is nearing. Sunil Gulati, the current president, will not be running for re-election. Nevertheless, we have a loaded field, filled with nine interesting candidates running for the position. Who are these candidates and what do they stand for? Let’s take a look.

Steve Gans:

Steve Gans, a former youth player, is an attorney and the founder of Professional Soccer Advisors, a firm that works closely with both youth and adult soccer clubs around the country. Gans’ work with a variety of soccer organizations gives him a unique perspective on the game.

A long-time opponent of Sunil Gulati, Steve Gans believes that his background in many of American soccer’s back-alleys brings added value that Gulati did/does not bring to the table.

Gans’ campaign is running on three main platforms. First, he is aiming to bring transparency to the USSF. Next, he is trying to make sure that each individual part of US Soccer is treated fairly (this includes equal pay for the men’s and women’s national teams). Finally, in another dig at the previous administration, Steve Gans wants greater competency.

While he has yet to state what his intent is regarding promotion/relegation, Gans believes that pro/rel is a very exciting system, but also recognizes that it is a complex issue that does not line up with how sports typically function in America. Talking with Yahoo Sports, he said, “It’s an extremely complicated issue that needs to be looked at and considered.”

In regards to youth development, he has brought up three main issues:

First, talking about pay-to-play, Gans said this: “Part of the U.S. Soccer $130-$140 million surplus will be used to support additional programming at the youth and adult levels (including field development), to provide scholarships for youth players who otherwise cannot afford to participate in pay-to-play, and to increase diversity and inclusion.” He also said that he will work towards implementing some sort of training compensation system into the US Soccer landscape.

Second, Gans wants to work on identifying players at a younger age. He plans to add more scouts, specifically in underserved areas. Gans also mentioned improving scout education as a way to improve player identification.

Third, Gans is planning to examine the Development Academy and change how it is run.

As a final note, a lot of Steve Gans’ platform revolves around holding meetings, summits, and conferences with various groups involved in American soccer once in office to determine what is and is not working. While this approach is a calculated one, it does make it difficult to determine exactly what Gans’ own preferences are in respect to many of the prevalent issues.

Carlos Cordeiro:

Carlos Cordeiro is Gulati’s VP, but is not under Gulati’s thumb. He announced his candidacy before Sunil decided to bow out of the running. Cordeiro has a strong financial background and is looking to continue to increase the financial standing of US Soccer.

To do this, Cordeiro has publicly stated that he wants the United States to host the 2026 Men’s World Cup and the 2027 Women’s World Cup, increasing soccer’s domestic popularity. Cordeiro calls this plan “Mission 26/27”.

Another of his objectives is to continue to develop the US national teams at every level by establishing a new technical department in USSF. This new department would be “Responsible for recruiting, selecting, evaluation, managing” all national team coaches.

Finally, Carlos Cordeiro wants to create a couple of new committees. He would install a technical committee to “oversee soccer operations” as well as a commercial rights committee, in charge of overseeing “all USSF” marketing and television activities, chaired by an independent director to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest.

Cordeiro is a unique candidate because of his impressive financial background and somewhat weaker soccer background. He told SI, “I’m certainly not a soccer expert” and that his job as US Soccer President would be more to serve as “executive chairman of the [US Soccer] Board”.

Kyle Martino:

Kyle Martino is a former player, turned analyst for NBC. After originally choosing not to run, Martino changed his mind and threw his hat into the ring. His experiences as a former player and analyst give him insight into what’s working and what’s not for US Soccer.

Martino wants to make leading USSF jobs paid, full-time positions. This would allow the president, vice president, etc. to spend more time and put forth more effort on behalf of US Soccer. He also wants to bring in an independent auditor to look at the federation as a whole in an attempt to improve function.

Talking about promotion-relegation, Kyle Martino hasn’t appeared to be wholly for or against pro-rel. In a Q and A with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Martino said that he is “open to anything that grows the game in this country” but did not say anything more specific.

Independent of the pro-rel discussion, Martino is decidedly pro-Major League Soccer. As a former player in the league, and more recently an MLS analyst, Martino has seen the league grow and mature and believes that it is a positive influence on American soccer.

Looking at the United States Women’s National Team pay issue, Kyle Martino has made it clear that the men and women who represent the United States on the international level should be paid equally. He has also stated that the USWNT should play, travel, and prepare under the same conditions as the USMNT.

Finally, Martino has a variety of thoughts and opinions on youth development. He wants to improve collaboration and cooperation between the federation and youth organizations, while at the same time incentivizing youth programs that find cost effective ways to develop young players.

One of his main youth development initiatives (independent of soccer specific youth organizations) is called “Over/Under”. This program is designed to place soccer goals underneath basketball hoops, transforming basketball courts into dual purpose venues.

Eric Wynalda:

Eric Wynalda is a former USMNT player who enjoyed a long career playing in Germany, Mexico, and the USA. Since his playing days, Wynalda has coached, scouted, served as a technical director, and as a featured analyst on FOX. He is another candidate well-versed in the soccer landscape.

One of Eric Wynalda’s most unique takes is on the MLS calendar. Shifting MLS’s calendar (which currently runs from March to November/December) to a more traditional European style (August to May) would certainly take some major lobbying, but Wynalda believes it can and should be done. A big benefit of this change would be allowing Major League Soccer to more easily buy and sell players, because the major summer transfer window would no longer be mid-season for MLS clubs.

Regarding promotion-relegation, Wynalda is in favor of implementing it in the lower professional divisions first, before involving Major League Soccer. Ultimately, in order to implement pro/rel across all divisions, Eric Wyanalda recognizes the need to connect Major League Soccer to the lower divisions.

Dealing with youth development, Wynalda believes that it is the job of the leagues and clubs to develop young talent, not USSF. He has stated that better cooperation between the federation, professional clubs, and youth organizations is necessary to improve youth development. In terms of the developmental coaching itself, Wynalda believes that many are over-teaching at the younger age levels. Instead of teaching younger children tactics, Wynalda believes in letting them play.

Among the four former professional players in the candidate field, Eric Wynalda is the one going after the “system” the hardest. He has publicly stated that the relationship between men’s and women’s national team players and the federation is extremely dysfunctional and needs to be improved. There is no way around it. Wynalda’s campaign is unique. He’s candid about his playing days and he’s going after people.

Paul Lapointe:

Paul Lapointe, a former indoor soccer player, is currently involved in the United Premier Soccer League. He’s also a business owner and cites his prior business and UPSL experience as two of his biggest strengths. He plans to eliminate the conflicts of interest inside US Soccer.

Lapointe also plans to make the United States Soccer president a full-time job, something that would allow the president to spend more time working on behalf of US Soccer.

In regards to pro-rel, Lapointe plans to examine exactly how it would fit inside the current American soccer landscape. He wants to implement promotion-relegation into the lower levels first, before potentially moving it into the upper divisions. If elected, Paul Lapointe has said that he is willing to gather the heads of MLS, the USL, the NASL, the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League), and the UPSL together to discuss the issues brought up by promotion/relegation.

Like many other candidates, one of the biggest pillars of Lapointe’s campaign is youth development. He believes that re-assessing and improving the American youth developmental system through better communication and division of labor will ultimately lead to better results at the senior level.

In a very realistic take on pay-to-play, Lapointe told FourFourTwo, “There’s no way we’re going to go in there and do a clean sweep and tell a corporation that’s been in business for 25 years as a youth club: ‘Hey, your customers can’t pay anymore, because we need to win a World Cup.’ It’s not going to happen.” That said, Lapointe is open to providing financial rewards to youth organizations and academies as an incentive to develop players.

Finally, Paul Lapointe has made it clear that he is in favor of equal pay for the USMNT and the USWNT.

Paul Caligiuri:

Paul Caligiuri is another former professional soccer player. He played for the USMNT at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups and spent 15 years playing in the United States and Germany. His main goal, seeing the USWNT win the 2019 WC and the USMNT win in 2022 is called “Goal2019&2022”. 

After “Goal2019&2022” Caligiuri has yet to make many of his policies known, but he has cited a few specific areas of focus.

First, he is aiming to improve soccer culture in America. Paul Caligiuri told ESPN that he thinks “the contributions that have been made at this stage for soccer in this country has been wonderful”, but that it’s “not the best we can do”.

Second, Caligiuri made it clear that he will find a reputable, qualified CEO to control the business side of the United States Soccer Federation. As someone with a limited knowledge of business, he is smart to recognize his own short-comings.

Third, and finally, the former USMNT’er is definitively pro promotion-relegation. Hoping to organize a unified front across all levels, Caligiuri has yet to fully elaborate on how exactly he plans to try to implement pro-rel in American soccer.

Michael Winograd:

Michael Winograd is a former soccer player turned corporate attorney. He’s had experience in and around the game (as a coach and administrator) and certainly has a solid foundation in the sport. Winograd’s platform is largely built on improving and innovating youth development.

First, Michael Winograd has made it clear that he will not make the presidential position salaried while in office. He would be willing, however, to try and make the position paid after his time in office.

Looking at development, Winograd has cited identifying players at a younger age as the first step to improving youth development. He also believes that US Soccer should take a greater role in developing these young players.

Addressing one of the highest-profile issues in youth development, pay to play, Michael Winograd told FourFourTwo that he wants to continue to reduce/eliminate pay-to-play costs, but did not make his exact plan available.

In addition to limiting/eliminating the financial obstacles for young players, Winograd stated that he also wants to make education for prospective soccer coaches more affordable.

In talking about promotion/relegation, Winograd has a relatively realistic take. While he does not believe that pro/rel could be immediately implemented across all divisions, he is in favor of trying it first in the lower divisions. Winograd has also come up with an innovative idea to allow “guest spots” in MLS for lower division champions to enter the league. The champion of division two would be “promoted” to division one after the season. If the newly “promoted” team was able to play their way out of the bottom three in the next season, they would remain in the top division. If not, they would be “relegated” back to division two.

Michael Winograd admitted that this plan is not a long-term solution to pro/rel, but the fact that he is working on innovative problem solving is intriguing.

Another hot-button issue, Winograd is all in on equality for the US Men’s and Women’s National Teams. He is for equal playing conditions, travel conditions, and pay.

Kathy Carter:

Kathy Carter is one of the most recent additions to an already crowded field of qualified candidates. Carter is the president (now on hiatus) of Soccer United Marketing, an organization that controls how soccer is marketed in the United States. 

Before we get into Carter’s actual platform and pertinent positions, it is important to note the complicated relationship between Soccer United Marketing, Major League Soccer and the United States Soccer Federation.

SUM is a private company created and owned by MLS owners. Essentially, SUM is in charge of promoting professional soccer in the United States. This includes marketing and promoting MLS and USSF material along with the American television rights to Mexican National Team games.

The relationship between SUM and USSF is a complicated one. There are already rumors that Kathy Carter’s run for US Soccer President is a conflict of interest. Wherever you stand, and whatever the truth is, Carter is running.

With over 25 years in the “soccer business” Carter has a very impressive resumé. So far, her platform is based on making soccer the “leading sport in America” through improved exposure and better communication.

In regards to pay-to-play, Carter is planning to examine alternate solutions to afford young players from lower-income families increased developmental opportunities. She is in favor of investing funds (likely a portion of USSF’s $100,000,000+ surplus) into youth development.

When asked about possibly implementing promotion-relegation, Kathy Carter said, “it’s a bit early to have that conversation”.

Due to her specialty in business, Carter said that she is willing to hire one or multiple “soccer czars” to ensure that the technical side of US Soccer is adequately served. Carter has also made it clear that her role as president will be as a leader and a facilitator.

Hope Solo:

Hope Solo is the most recent candidate to throw her hat into the USSF presidential ring. The former USWNT goalkeeper has unparalleled insight into many of the biggest issues facing American soccer.

Hope Solo is, without a doubt, the most controversial candidate in the field. This profile will not attempt to cover Solo’s past. Instead, it will attempt to dig through her opinions on the future.

In her campaign announcement letter, Hope Solo explained her background as a youth player and outlined some of her (and her families’) struggles to pay the fees necessary to be an elite youth soccer player. Here is a particularly poignant quote from Solo, talking about youth development: “The system has been set up to discriminate and to overlook the disadvantaged because of an arrogant belief that the United States possesses the worlds best athletes”.

Solo is well versed in the system and believes that she is ready to examine and improve it.

Hope Solo is for equal pay between the United States men’s and women’s national team. She does not believe that the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement between the USWNT and the federation provides adequate compensation for the female athletes representing the USA on the international level.

So far, Solo has provided more questions than answers. She wants to address complex issues like pay-to-play and transparency within the federation, but has yet to share any of her solutions. Hopefully, as the election nears her policies become clearer.