U.S. Soccer presidential election: How the candidates fared in Philly

The United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia was the last chance for the eight U.S. Soccer presidential candidates to make a case to the soccer community before they head to Orlando for the National Council on Feb. 10.

A little background: Thousands of coaches were in attendance at the convention, though only a fraction of them attended any of the U.S. Soccer events. Seven of the eight candidates -- all but Carlos Cordeiro -- did 1-on-1 sessions on Thursday and Friday before crowds of 50-250 -- Eric Wynalda had the largest audience. But in a show of hands, no more than a half a dozen voting delegates were in attendance at any talk.

Saturday's forum hosted by U.S. Youth Soccer drew an audience of 600. It was so crowded security would not let any more people into the ballroom, where the voting delegates included representatives of U.S. Youth Soccer state associations that control about 19 percent of the vote in the election and were in Philadelphia for the organization's workshop events.

U.S. Youth Soccer forum: feed

Here are some thoughts on the race after the Philly convention:

First, the shadow of Sunil Gulati hangs over the field, in particular Kathy Carter, his presumptive heir. He also gave a 1-on-1 and broke down issues in a way that no other candidate could come close to doing. Of course, he has the benefit of being involved in just about every decision for the last 30 years.

Second, no one believes any of the candidates, even Carter with her structural advantages, has anywhere close to the support needed to win on the first ballot. It's all about not getting crossed off a delegate's list of acceptable choices as a second or third or even fourth choice.

Critically, it's also all the federation's wise men behind the scenes weighing up the candidates, talking with them and watching them to see how they have grown as candidates and how they give them a comfort level that they can become leaders to work with the board and membership.

The last three days were all about the four front-runners -- Carter, Cordeiro, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino -- trying to knock down each of their high unfavorables.

On the one side, there are Carter and Cordeiro and their baggage as insiders. On the other: Wynalda and Martino, the former players and television analysts but without governance experience. That works against Carter and Cordeiro by a wide margin to the larger soccer community, but against Wynalda and Martino right now to the audience that matters, the National Council membership, but by a lesser margin.

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

At the U.S. Youth forum, Martino helped himself the most, doing the best job of weaving a story about what is wrong and what are some of the things that can be done to fix them.

Wynalda, who speaks very well to coaches as a coach with experience at the pro and semipro level and with his kids, was very good in his 1-on-1 session with former teammate and Fox Sports 1 colleague Alexi Lalas, but he was less so at forum where he rattled off his critiques of the federation rapidly without a lot of opportunity to calmly try to explain the situation.

Carter was better at the forum than in her 1-on-1, though some who only saw her in the forum were not impressed. She still struggles in trying to connect with soccer audiences. Cordeiro is clearly uncomfortable as a public speaker and had the disadvantage of going last. The event went long and some attendees left to attend other scheduled meetings, but to his credit, the current U.S. Soccer vice president did not lose his audience.

The event was probably a missed opportunity for Steve Gans and Mike Winograd to make the case to the many delegates who find the four frontrunners unacceptable for one reason or another. The first remark everyone had about Gans, who's been in the mix from many state associations, was about how much he sweated. Winograd's description of a youth soccer pyramid with U.S. Club above U.S. Youth didn't exactly go over well at a U.S. Youth event.

Former players Hope Solo and Paul Caligiuri, who round out the field and are long shots, both earned positive reviews from attendees for their positions.



DA problem. Credit should go to the speakers for the many points they raised. In particular, the discussion underscored the many questions that need to addressed about the effectiveness of the Development Academy. That should have been no surprise as three of the candidates -- Gans, Winograd and Wynalda -- have or had children in the DA.

"It is creating players without joy," said Gans. "How do I know that? Because of federation rules, it sucked the life out of my son."

Winograd talked about his 15-year-old son already having to miss school for travel to DA games and how families shouldn't be driving their sons and daughters two and a half hours to soccer games on the weekend.

Wynalda made the points that youth soccer became too "serious" too soon and whether it intended to or not, the DA is creating "winners and losers" at a young age.



What matters. A final caveat about the 1-on-1s and forum is that while they are important in creating narratives and impressions, the meetings behind the scenes between candidates and voting delegates -- the one- and two-hour meetings to discuss issues and clarify support -- are what matter.

And a final caveat about the race. As Gulati noted about Soccer America's breakdown of the delegates, few members have publicly declared their support. If others are telling candidates they are supporting them, it should be taken with a grain of salt.

As one longtime federation member reminded, the only delegates to believe are those who tell you they are not voting for you.

17 comments about "U.S. Soccer presidential election: How the candidates fared in Philly".
  1. Ginger Peeler, January 21, 2018 at 10:59 a.m.

    Has anyone made a list of the perceived problems in US soccer and then asked each candidate what they intend to do to fix those problems? And I don’t mean some of the pie-in-the-sky “solutions” that are, basically, wishful thinking. Like really DOABLE solutions? I’ve heard some of the candidates complaints of “what’s wrong with United States soccer”, but I want to know what they hope to do to fix it. Workable  solutions  Years ago, I was complaining to my dad about something (school, work, politics...I don’t remember the specific subject). He listened to me, nodding his head as I listed my grievances, and then he said, “Fine. What are you going to do about it?”  I learned then that it’s easy to complain, but it’s a whole lot harder to actually work something out. I wish SoccerAmerica would run an article or two stating each candidate’s views on problems and proposed solutions. 

  2. Wooden Ships replied, January 21, 2018 at 11:56 a.m.

    The only person I’ve seen list a roadmap-template isn’t even a candidate. Ahmet Guvner. For me, it was well constructed.

  3. John Daly, January 21, 2018 at 11 a.m.

    Kathy Carter was articulate, knowledgeable and strong enough to put a hostile person to task at her 1 c 2. She will make a great President!

  4. Wooden Ships replied, January 21, 2018 at 12:06 p.m.

    Disagree whole heartedly. From what I can tell, the only two major accomplishments of the USSF has been to stash money (good thing) and create MLS (good thing). Carter was integral to that. Meanwhile, with our exponential growth, we aren’t much better as soccer players decades later. A sitting glass half full, evaporates. Confuscious or Woodenships, can’t remember.

  5. frank schoon replied, January 21, 2018 at 12:12 p.m.

    Ships, LOLOLOLOLOL

  6. Bob Ashpole, January 21, 2018 at 3:40 p.m.

    WS I agree with your conclusion. I would call the problem "vested interests." Some of the candidates and some of the USSF organizations are heavily invested in the pay to play system and don't want change. The business side is fine, but we need to reorganize how the soccer side is managed, not just change the processes but change how the processes are managed.

    I am not saying we need to get rid of pay to play altogether. We just need to provide development alternatives so that pay to play clubs don't have a monopoly over development opportunities and so that players don't have to spend 3 times as much time traveling as playing.

  7. Wooden Ships replied, January 21, 2018 at 4:19 p.m.

    Agreed Bob. Your processes points are a always accurate. Reminds me of my Organizational Effectiveness studies/seminars years ago. Those tenets, practices, are timeless and apply to the smallest of companies to the largest of bureaucracies. USSF and it’s closest allies (fellow backscratchers) are circling the wagons and Kathy is in the center. There are good things that can come from experience, but like our political system, not sure that occasional turnover isn’t the way to go.

  8. Ben Myers, January 21, 2018 at 4:28 p.m.

    MLS a good thing?  Sort of.  It's good that we have a top-level professional national (with Canadian cities) soccer league, but the quality of play is comparable to lower tier UEFA leagues.  It is not good at all that MLS play is decidedly mediocre and that MLS does almost zilch to develop elite players for the USMNT.  The 20+ year influx of pro stars past their prime and cheap talent from COMNEBOL and other CONCACAF countries leaves little room to develop American talent.  Of course, the paucity of talented American players in MLS is also an indictment of NCAA soccer and US Youth Soccer for failure to develop players who merit consideration by MLS teams.

    The new US Soccer regime has its work cut out to improve the USMNT.  Wrote a long paper about it after Klinsmann took USMNT past the round robin stage.  Still applies today. 

  9. Wooden Ships replied, January 21, 2018 at 7:42 p.m.

    Agree with you Ben. I was just thinking it’s better to have a pro league versus no league. Soccer specific stadiums are good too, except turf. And, I agree MLS could and should mandate minutes for US players. Much, much work ahead you’re right.

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, January 21, 2018 at 9:45 p.m.

    As unattractive as the style of play is, I still see MLS as a solution rather than an obstruction. 

    The main concern I have is that MLS needs to insure that its clubs have a strong financial incentive to develop US players. I want a regular flow of US players traded from MLS to European clubs. 

  11. Right Winger, January 22, 2018 at 7:27 a.m.

    If this organization votes anyone into office that is remotely assocated with Gulati it will show that they are not interested in change but just a rubber stamp.

    New eyes and minds = New Vision.

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, January 22, 2018 at 3:35 p.m.

    I don't see Gulati as the problem. I see the problem as thinking that the president of USSF, who ever they are, ought to be micromanaging the national coaching staff and technical directors. USSF should split management of the soccer business side from the sporting side. 

  13. uffe gustafsson, January 22, 2018 at 6:13 p.m.

    Bob can you elaborate more on your comments on mls getting more incentives to produce more home grown talents but then send them to European clubs.
    how does that help MLS clubs? Besides getting cash.
    or is that your point?
    i think MLS having great home grown players would make it a product that fans want to watch.
    but then I could be wrong, I’m watching EPL because of great foreign players, with some exemptions of really good English players, and they do have that as well

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, January 22, 2018 at 10:27 p.m.

    Generally yes. The two paths to improvement at the senior level is to improve the play in the professional leagues but also to develop better US players. It is not an either-or choice. Both paths can be taken, but I think that the development of better US players is the quicker path.

    Ajax at its height is the club model that I had in mind. To be successful in my mind all it would take is 1 or 2 MLS clubs producing quality players. But MLS owns all the contracts, not the clubs. So a club needs the assurance that it will reap the financial benefit from the contract sales of players that they produce.

    If allowed clubs may generate revenues from tickets, shirts, TV rights, sponsers and sale of player contracts. If MLS clubs develop the players and sell them in their early to mid 20s, potential profits are huge compared to transfering an 18 year old. But that means the club has to have a way to profit--either retain the player or retain the right to proceeds from a future transfer. MLS needs to find a way to allow its single owner entity to promote club development of players. If MLS is going to take the proceeds or take the valuable players, clubs have no incentive for long term development of adult players.  

  15. Bob Ashpole replied, January 22, 2018 at 10:31 p.m.

    I guess I should expressly point out that the 2 paths are related. The young US players being groomed for future sale are playing for the first team until age 23-26 when their contracts are sold. Creating a great development situation also means creating a great playing environment on the senior team.

  16. R2 Dad replied, January 23, 2018 at 3:17 p.m.

    Bob, may not be an either-or choice but the way MLS has been implemented what they have vs what you describe are polar opposites. You can't sell on a 23YO who has already proven themselves and developed in a league... with little development. So, MLS has chosen to try and trap these youngsters in the system rather than graduate them out. This is a Garber decision that is separate from USSF/Gulati only because USSF has not come up with more firm requirements. (to be fair, this might be the next step in the evolution of the DA but we just don't know at this point).

  17. Bob Ashpole replied, January 24, 2018 at 1:11 p.m.

    R2 Dad, I have low expectations for the DA. I don't expect amateur clubs to develop professional players. Not in a country with professional clubs with professional coaches. I don't have any first hand knowledge, but my belief is that while at the youngest ages there is not a gap between amateur and professional club training, there is a significant gap between quality of training at professional and amateur clubs at older ages.

    For U16 and older players the only development path alternative to a professional club I see would be playing and training with amateur adults. While professional clubs will mix teams for development purposes, the DA does not. (Letting someone play up an age bracket is not comparable to training or playing with the reserves.)

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