Above the fray, Carlos Cordeiro coasts to victory

Until he retired from Goldman Sachs, Carlos Cordeiro had no connection to soccer. But following his appointment to U.S. Soccer's board of directors as its first independent director in 2007, he took it upon himself to learn all aspects of the federation and soccer landscape. That knowledge and those contacts he made served him well when he made the surprise decision to run for U.S. Soccer president, which he won on Saturday.

Not a change election after all. For all the talk about radical reform, the U.S. Soccer electorate was quite different from those on social media and quite comfortable with the 61-year-old Cordeiro, who had been on the federation's board of directors for more than a decade, and Kathy Carter, who has been selling soccer for more than a quarter century, first for the 1994 World Cup organizing committee and now for SUM, for which she was on leave as president.

Eric Wynalda and Hope Solo had been the most critical of the candidates about the state of affairs in the federation and within American soccer, but even Wynalda, stunned by the news that Cordeiro had gotten the Athlete Council support as a bloc, took on a more conciliatory tone in his five-minute speech to the membership before the vote in Orlando. All candidates got five minutes, and Wynalda said he didn't need to face the music that played when a candidate hit that five-minute mark in his or her speech.

"The fight stops now," he said. "And not until we stop fighting with each other and start fighting together are we going to be a soccer nation and are we going to be able to achieve and realize our potential.”

Any notion the electorate was in a mood for change was dispelled on the first ballot when Cordeiro and Carter received 71 percent of the combined vote and the other six candidates -- the so-called gang of six -- received just 29 percent.

But if you threw out the athletes going to Cordeiro -- 20 recent -- MLS and the NWSL going to Carter -- more than 19 percent -- the difference in the rest of the vote between Cordeiro and Carter or between them and Wynalda, in third place on the first ballot, or Kyle Martino and Steve Gans, combined in fourth and fifth place, was not that much.

But as the results of the second ballot were announced, it was clear that the two polarizing candidates -- Carter and Wynalda -- had, as many suspected would happen, had hit their ceilings. Cordeiro climbed to over 40 percent of the vote, while Carter dropped 1.3 percentage points and Wynalda fell 2.9 percentage points. Not huge changes but the writing was on the wall.

Paul Caligiuri dropped out after the first ballot, and Michael Winograd and Gans withdrew after the second ballot. On the third round, MLS and the NWSL switched to Cordeiro, giving him more than 68 percent and dropping Carter into a tie with Martino, ahead of Wynalda, for second place.

The consummate insider. Cordeiro's bid for the U.S. Soccer presidency in early November was not a surprise -- he had always been president Sunil Gulati's heir apparent -- but what was a surprise was that he entered without Gulati's blessing. Gulati had not yet decided whether to run when Cordeiro told him he was making a play for the crown.

Most soccer fans would not have known who Cordeiro was if he ran into them, but behind the scenes he was well known to the federation membership. For almost almost 11 years with U.S. Soccer, beginning with his appointment as an independent director, Cordeiro had risen up the ranks of the federation, serving as its treasurer and being elected as vice president in 2016.

Cordeiro, who had retired from his position at Goldman Sachs, had no background in soccer, but he took it upon himself to learn all aspects of the business. While he was the consummate insider, he was an independent director -- something he stressed time and again during the campaign -- which did not place him in one of the four councils in opposition to the other three. That neutrality proved to be a big help.

Cordeiro became the chairperson of the budget committee -- an important position to oversee how money was spent, and perhaps most important, understand what members wanted it one spent on, and as a director of the U.S. Soccer Foundation. He worked on the 2022 World Cup bid committee in 2010 and is on the United Bid Committee's board of directors overseeing the effort to win the 2026 World Cup hosting rights for the USA, Canada and Mexico. He also serves on important committees at Concacaf and FIFA.

One of Cordeiro's biggest advantages was that he was the only candidate who had been in a U.S. Soccer election -- and had won -- beating incumbent Mike Edwards and long-time soccer executive Kevin Payne for vice president in 2016.

"Perhaps that was to my advantage," Cordeiro said afterwards, "but I focused on the issues that were important to the members. My campaign was all about being more collaborative, inclusive, working on teams. You will see a very different leadership [from Gulati’s] going forward.”

In comparison to Gulati, who was viewed by many as aloof, Cordeiro, his constant companion at soccer events, was considered approachable and a listener. As vice president, he didn't have the power that Gulati, the president, held and therefore didn't have those constantly seeking his attention like Gulati did, so he had more time to listen.

Carter's entrance into the race, a month after Cordeiro did and shortly after Gulati announced would not run, appeared to squeeze out Cordeiro. But she was viewed as MLS's candidate and became the focus of the anti-establishment forces that day after day attacked her and MLS's ties to SUM, the federation's marketing partner. Cordeiro might be establishment, but he didn't have MLS and SUM hanging around his neck like Carter did. He even suggested that a committee be formed to oversee its commercial deals, though MLS will work with Cordeiro.

“We're excited for Carlos," said MLS commissioner Don Garber after the election. "We really appreciate his positive approach to how he went about his campaign."

Cordeiro flew under the radar during his campaign. He did not appear at the Gotsoccer.com or U.S. Club Soccer candidates forums -- he had conflicts with FIFA and Concacaf meetings -- nor did he do a one-on-one session at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. Working with a small team of four or five aides, including family, he spent most of his time crisscrossing the country to meet with federation members, visiting cities and states he had never been to before.

Rarely did he do media, though he has a great story to tell.

"I am extremely proud of my heritage," said Cordeiro, the son of a Portuguese-Indian father who died when he was 10 and a Colombian mother. "I am an immigrant who came here when I was a boy of 15 with my mother and three siblings. I had an absolutely great education: a terrific public school, scholarships and grants [to Harvard]. I owe everything I have to the American system."

And that story is what must be repeated, he says, for U.S. Soccer to fulfill its mission to make soccer a preeminent sport.

"We have to be more inclusive," he said. "We have to reach out to those underserved, the diverse immigrant populations. It can't be we have only three, three and a half million kids playing soccer. We know there are more, they just aren't playing under the umbrella of U.S. Soccer."

10 comments about "Above the fray, Carlos Cordeiro coasts to victory".
  1. R2 Dad, February 10, 2018 at 10:30 p.m.

    The only way CC will be able to include other voices is if he can convince all those voting members to give up money and/or influence. Seeing how that's not something self-serving special interests will voluntarily agree to, I foresee 4 years of steady-as-she-goes. Garber will be happy, fans of the sport will not. Now I see how US Soccer can turn into the mexican FMFA. 

  2. Ric Fonseca replied, February 11, 2018 at 9:49 p.m.

    R2D2:  Your xenophobic comment on "...how US soccer can turn into the mexican (sic) FMFA...(sic"  is indde puzzling and, as I said, xenophobic at best and lack in foresight at worst.  Regarding Mr. Cordeiro, I'd like to know how he became a US Soccer VP - in the first place - what with no previous personal soccer experience.  And now here he sits at the pinnacle of US Soccer.  An Open Question to Mr. C:  Will you work out of US Soccer House in Chicago, or for that matter , where do you live?  IN NYC?  Si necesita ayuda, favor de comunicarse conmigo usando este medio de SA!  Gracias!

  3. R2 Dad replied, February 12, 2018 at 11:11 a.m.

    Xenophobic? Even for you that is over the top, Ric. How else do you describe an FA where it's best players have refused or have been prevented from playing for El Tri?  The Mexican FA is infamously at the mercy of Liga MX club owners--or do you deny that as well?

  4. Bob Ashpole, February 11, 2018 at 2:12 a.m.

    Good article. Thank you. 

  5. frank schoon, February 11, 2018 at 11:20 a.m.

    I have no idea who this guy is? I realize, I don't involve myself in the political side of things of soccer and just keep to what is happening on the field. But my first impression when first I saw this column was, what happened? I expected one of the contestant who were written about in SA to win and all of a sudden this 'STEALTH" candidate out of nowhere wins. It is like having 6 guys in a room fight it out and this seventh guy enters from the back and wins. As I read the article it turns out he is sort of a shoe-in for Gulati. It looks like to me that they allow the other contestants to fight it out while meanwhile in the backroom the deals are made as to who is really going to win.
    I don't know Cordeiro , he might be the right guy...who knows, but I hope at least he knows what the grass on the soccer field smells like for obviously, I might be wrong, he's never kicked a ball in his life...

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, February 11, 2018 at 2:13 p.m.

    Frank, he is a successful manager retired from a famous investment banking firm. He has been heavily involved with USSF on the headquarters management side after he retired. He didn't attract media attention until this election.

    The interesting thing is that, although he was vice president of FIFA, he began running for president before Gulati decided not to run for reelection. 

    He is an immigrant and lived the American Dream. He might not know football from the pitch, but he certainly knows USSF and FIFA and how to work successfully within a large international business organization.

    I am optimistic. This not somebody you want on the field coaching the national teams, but he is somebody you want in the club house taking care of the business side and supporting the coaches.  

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, February 11, 2018 at 2:15 p.m.

    Mistake: He was the vice president of USSF, of course, not FIFA.

  8. frank schoon replied, February 11, 2018 at 3:05 p.m.

    Bob, we'll see. I just find it strange that he was not interviewed by SA (or maybe I missed it) and perhaps stated some of his ideas , wants or what his views are on soccer.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, February 11, 2018 at 4:42 p.m.


  10. beautiful game, February 11, 2018 at 10:05 p.m.

    Ex-Goldman $acks...USSF heading for a meltdown!!! USSF needs a reinvention, not a pause.

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