The swing vote: Athlete Council as a bloc

By the time the U.S. Soccer presidential election was decided late on Friday night, Carlos Cordeiro says he was asleep. Perhaps he was confident of victory. Or he was the smart one in the bunch and got some sleep at the end of a week of frantic campaigning.

It was around midnight on Friday -- a few hours after U.S. Youth Soccer tipped its hand and endorsed Cordeiro -- when the Athlete Council -- the 20-member group that represents American athletes and accounts for 20 percent of the voting membership by Federal law -- finally agreed on how they would vote.

They agreed to vote as a bloc and to vote for Cordeiro. That vote was the counterweight to pre-AGM favorite Kathy Carter's support from MLS and the NWSL and swung the election.

If they had voted for Carter, she would have won easily on the first ballot. Even a split of the vote between Carter and Cordeiro would have given Carter such a huge advantage that she would have likely won on the second ballot. Only the individual vote of the athletes for which ever candidate they wanted might have resulted in a different outcome -- the long-shot possibility of a candidate other than Carter or Cordeiro winning -- or muddled the outcome.

The players had met for three hours on Friday afternoon, broke for a U.S. Soccer Foundation function and then dinner, then reconvened for four more hours. They needed to agree on voting as a bloc, and they needed to agree on a candidate.

Three names were on the board: Cordeiro, Carter and Kyle Martino, the latter so young some athletes had played with him.

Hope Solo, one of the other five candidates, said the athletes were pressured into voting as a bloc and ensuring the outcome by then picking an establishment candidate.

"I'm not surprised," said Solo, "because [the Athlete Council was] under a lot of pressure, and I've seen athletes time and time and time again crack under pressure, crack under fear, start to behave in a way that is very much a group-thinking mindset. And right now in this day and age, we need individuals, we need leaders that know how to unite people, but we still have to remember to think for ourselves as individuals. And with the bloc vote from the Athlete Council, it was very disheartening because they represent different people, different cultures, different strengths, different weaknesses. And they don't all have to think alike."

One of the issues with the Athlete Council was that only 12 of the 20 members were delegates. If they agreed to voting as a bloc -- ahead of time -- that did not matter. Whether one athlete or 20 voted, the outcome would have been the same.

Two MLS players -- Brad Guzan and Jonathan Spector -- had preseason games. Spector's was in Orlando on Saturday. He was at the AGM hotel for part of the deliberations on Friday. Lori Lindsey was at the Athlete Council meeting on Friday, then left because of a family situation. Leslie Osborne, who had been at the Athlete Council meeting in October, just had a baby and missed the election.

"I take a massive offense that someone would question our integrity," Stuart Holden said. "In fact, in speaking to all the members in the different groups around the room, everybody came up to me and said they were proud of the Athlete Council and how they conducted this from the beginning, from our questionnaires, from our transparency, to conversations that we had with candidates, to members."

Holden got quite emotional as he defended the deliberations and willingness of the athletes to agree to a bloc vote that might not have favored their candidate.

"That's one thing I'm incredibly proud of," he added, "the way and the process that we have gone about this from conference calls. We just sat in the room right now and said, 'If we can maintain this level of engagement going forward the sport is going to be in a better place.' I've been on the Athlete Council for seven years, and I think you heard that around the room tonight."

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