U.S. Soccer presidential election: Fundamentals of the race

The U.S. Soccer presidential election, which will be held on Feb. 10 in Orlando, enters the home stretch. With less than four weeks to go, the last major event before Orlando will be the United Soccer Coaches Convention that begins Wednesday in Philadelphia.

Seven of the eight candidates will be making presentations, and all eight will be taking part in a forum hosted by U.S. Youth Soccer on Saturday.

Thursday, January 18
9:30 am 1-on-1 with Kathy Carter (203AB)
11:00 am 1-on-1 with Michael Winograd (203AB)
2:30 pm 1-on-1 with Paul Caligiuri (105AB)
4:00 pm  1-on-1 with Kyle Martino (103AB)

Friday, January 19
9:30 am 1-on-1 with Hope Solo (105AB)
11:30 am 1-on-1 with Steve Gans (203AB)
2:30 pm 1-on-1 with Eric Wynalda (201ABC)

Saturday, January 20
1:00 pm  US Youth Soccer Candidate Forum (Marriott Grand Ballroom G/H)

Here is a look at some of the key fundamentals of the race ...

1. The inside game. There are a myriad soccer issues the election has raised, but two essential ways to characterize the race are reform vs. establishment, youth vs. experience.

Being an "insider" creates all sorts of problems in a volatile race like this one, but it has its advantages in any political body like U.S. Soccer with 500-600 voting delegates, many of whom have known each other for years.

Nuts and bolts: How U.S. Soccer's presidential election will work

As hard as it is to imagine, Sunil Gulati would have probably been re-elected on the first ballot if he ran, given the built-in support he had from key voting blocs and the 30 years of relationships he's built up in soccer. But that also means all his support won't necessarily go to his presumed heir, Kathy Carter. Indeed, she will have to win over Gulati's supporters one by one if she is to have a chance of winning or coming close to winning on the first ballot.

Only one candidate has done this before, and he won: Carlos Cordeiro. It's easy to dismiss Cordeiro's election as U.S. Soccer vice president in 2016 as a victory for the Gulati machine, but Cordeiro unseated longtime vice president Mike Edwards and U.S. Club Soccer CEO Kevin Payne in a three-person race. Cordeiro, who has been running under the radar, knows the voters -- he was an independent director for a decade before he ran for vice president -- and how to talk with them.

2. Charting new territory. The 2018 U.S. Soccer presidential election has been a campaign like none other, the first contested election in 20 years, and the first in the age of social media. Just as MLS and U.S. Soccer have effectively used social media to build up support for soccer, the response to the USA's elimination from the 2018 World Cup was so strong that social media made it all but impossible for Gulati to seek re-election.

This is also the first election in which former soccer stars -- Eric Wynalda, Kyle Martino, Paul Caligiuri and Hope Solo -- are running, so they have brought name recognition and created buzz that would not otherwise be there.

If you don't remember Wynalda and Martino from their playing careers, you probably know them as television personalities on Fox Sports and NBC Sports, respectively. Wynalda has done town hall-style events in Chicago and Columbus in recent weeks, and Martino generated lots of publicity for his campaign manifesto, the product of a gathering of soccer minds he held after entering the race.

Steve Gans has been running since the summer, appearing at the U.S. Youth Soccer AGM in July and speaking before the Athlete Council in early October. Gans and Wynalda appeared at the U.S. Adult Soccer mid-year meeting in Lake Tahoe less than two weeks after the USA lost to Trinidad & Tobago. Michael Winograd entered the race before the Gotsoccer.com event in Florida and U.S. Club Soccer board meeting in Chicago that drew multiple candidates, and they've all produced position papers and answered questions, raising the soccer discussion to new levels.

It should also be noted that soccer has never been as popular before -- one only needs to read the findings of the recent Gallup Poll -- nor faced as many complex issues as it does today, all far more than one would have ever imagined when the modern era of the federation began in Orlando when Alan Rothenberg unseated Werner Fricker in 1990.

3. It's all about the numbers. To understand the dynamics of the election, it is important to understand the National Council, which will elect the next president. The National Council consists of more than 100 member organizations -- state and national associations and pro leagues -- and dozens of individuals -- board members, life members and athletes.

U.S. Soccer presidential election: Who votes?

The key thing to understand is that the voting is weighted. Here were the five organizations with the most weighted votes at the 2017 National Council in Maui:

180.32 MLS
45.08 NWSL
45.08 USL
43.16 AYSO
43.16 U.S. Club Soccer

Those five organizations alone accounted for more than 30 percent of the vote in Maui and will likely do so again in Orlando. If you get their support, you will start with a big lead.

The next group in order of power is the Athlete Council, which by federal law accounts for 20 percent of the overall weight. The Athlete Council consists of 20 athletes, so whether one athlete shows up or all 20 so, it still accounts for 20 percent of the vote. Who the athletes go for will likely swing the election.

Each state association is allocated a number of delegates based on its size -- 1 to 6 -- but when you factor in the multiplier an Adult state association with 4 delegates counts slightly more than a Youth state association with 6 delegates.

You probably have never heard of the West Coast Soccer Association -- a club soccer league for college students that registers with U.S. Adult -- but it had three delegates in Maui -- or a higher weighted vote than more than that of half of the U.S. Youth Soccer state associations.

Yes, each vote counts, just some count more than others.

4. Blocking and tackling. Fricker's election as U.S. Soccer president in 1984 was the first at which managers were working behind the scenes, counting votes and coordinating the courting of delegates.

Just like Phil Woosnam and Steve Caspers got Fricker elected, the 2018 U.S. Soccer presidential race will come down to the basics of political campaigning, the blocking and tackling, to use another sport's analogy, that decide most races.

Amid all the buzz about the race on Soccer Twitter and in the media, the essence of the race is the task of making delegate calls and meeting with delegates, the one-on-one contact that makes the race like a union election. That's why someone like Gans, who has been campaigning for eight months with political pros advising behind him, or Cordeiro, who is 1-0 in U.S. Soccer elections, cannot be underestimated.

With eight candidates in the field and no requirement that any of them drop out after the first or any subsequent round, the election could go many rounds and be decided by those who supported the winner as their second or third choice.

Each delegate call is at least at hour, and then there's the travel, making for grueling days. All by candidates who have put their lives on hold and much of their professional careers aside to run for U.S. Soccer president, an unpaid position.

3 comments about "U.S. Soccer presidential election: Fundamentals of the race".
  1. Wooden Ships, January 17, 2018 at 7:27 a.m.

    With the USSF, all too often, not following some FIFA tenets, it sure seems that the MLS receives a disproportionate advantage in votes. Corrections like, mandated minutes for US pro players, training compensation, a more aligned international schedule, pro-rel and no turf, seem like real long shots. Thanks Paul for breaking down the complexities.

  2. Thom Meredith, January 17, 2018 at 7:44 a.m.

    PK: To add to your number 4 above l would suggest (from first hand knowledge) that more important than Caspers & Woosnam's involvement with Fricker's election was the masterful and crucial work done by former US Youth Soccer Chairperson (still a Colorado resident) Marty Mankamyer in Alan Rothenberg's first election. First real foray by a women in what then was truly a predominant man's world IMHO.

  3. Bob Ashpole, January 18, 2018 at 1:58 p.m.

    While I agree that there is a lot of room for improvement at all levels of the sport, there are only a couple of big concerns that I have:

    1. USSF should reorganize so that business and sporting matters are managed separately.

    2. Former US national team players, women and men, should be more involved in management, especially on the sporting side, not just called to consult occassionally.

    3. Gulati should be still heavily involved. He knows business management, USSF, CONCACAF and FIFA too well to lose his services. 

    4. The amateur clubs in the US DA need to be cut back to U14 and U16 and drop national competitions in favor of more local events. Rather than the DA approach, I favor a break out program for individual training of the top teen players like the German FA runs. I think of it as ODP on steroids. The key is the coaches are independent FA employees, not club coaches with club loyalties. It supplements the club system, not replaces it. For pre-teens, I favor break out training on fundamentals for anyone who wants it, U10 to U12--no evaluations, no judgments--just training.

    5. I want USSF to stop being so insular and defensive, becoming a lot more inclusive in every sense.

    Not talking about or suggesting cutting back player development at the professional clubs. Leave identification and development of professional athletes to professional clubs. Gifted amateur players after U16 can play up for a youth or adult club if not selected by professional clubs. 

    That and some rain here in Arizona would be nice. :)    

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