Five lessons from U.S. Soccer presidential election

Here are a few things to take away from Saturday's U.S. Soccer presidential election.

1. Bloc voting is power. The decision of the Athlete Council to vote as a bloc -- and to vote for Carlos Cordeiro -- decided the 2018 U.S. Soccer presidential election. There was a lot of push-back from talk about industry pressure being placed on athletes to support Kathy Carter, but the members of the Athlete Council clearly understood that to vote as a bloc was the only way it could decide the outcome of the election.

The Athlete Council's 20 percent share was a counterweight to the bloc vote of MLS and NWSL -- 19.6 percent -- that allowed Cordeiro to pull ahead of Carter just so slightly on the first ballot and then gain momentum to win on the third ballot. If the athletes had gone for Carter as a bloc, she would have won easily on the first ballot.

The path to victory for Kyle Martino or Steve Gans -- the other two candidates the players are reported to have seriously considered -- wouldn't have been easy even with Athlete Council's bloc vote but it would have left Carter where she was -- stuck in the mid-30s -- and dropped Cordeiro back into the pack.

The reality is that the Athlete Council's vote -- plus the bloc votes of MLS, the NWSL, U.S. Club Soccer and AYSO -- accounted for more than 50 percent of the vote, and when the big five all went to Cordeiro or Carter, as they likely did, that effectively blocked one of the outsider candidates from sweeping to victory. One of the gang of six could have gotten every vote in the U.S. Youth Soccer and U.S. Adult Soccer ranks and he or she would have still not reached 50 percent.

One of the only groups to publicly take a position in the election was U.S. Youth Soccer, which endorsed Cordeiro late on Friday night. It's been suggested that it was a signal to the Athlete Council, still deliberating about its decision, that it, too, should come out in favor of Cordeiro.

The vote in U.S. Youth Soccer was likely split rather evenly among five candidates: Cordeiro, Carter, Martino, Gans and Eric Wynalda. Even pushing a few states in Cordeiro's favor would have moved him ahead of Carter. But the bigger point is that the U.S. Youth leadership was under pressure to come out with a statement -- do something -- as it was otherwise powerless to have an influence on the election because of the split of its membership, in contrast to the the bloc votes of its youth rivals, U.S. Club Soccer and AYSO.

Because of weighted voting, blocs usually decide U.S. Soccer elections. In 1990, the indoor Major Soccer League -- with its chairman Earl ("We don't give two s**** about outdoor soccer") Foreman -- voted as a bloc -- one-third of the vote -- and swept Alan Rothenberg into power. Four years later, the USISL voted as a bloc for Rothenberg, instead of splitting its vote between Richard Groff and Rothenberg, as Groff suggested, and that was the difference between Rothenberg beating and losing to Groff.

2. An outsider has almost no chance.
Rothenberg, a Los Angeles attorney who had worked in soccer but had little contact with the federation in the years leading up to his election in 1990, is the only outsider who has ever been elected U.S. Soccer president. But without that support from MSL, Rothenberg would have finished behind Werner Fricker in 1990.

Cordeiro was the only candidate in the 2018 U.S. Soccer race who had been in a race before, having won the 2016 vice-presidential race. His 11 years in the federation gave him a huge edge over his seven opponents in terms of knowing the delegates. Carter might have been an establishment candidate but she was a federation outsider, and that was a hurdle she could not overcome in her two months in the race, perhaps even bigger than the criticism of her ties to SUM and MLS.

Gans had been running since last May and attended multiple soccer events in the nine months before the final rush in Orlando. His campaign staff estimated he had talked with delegates accounting for 80 percent of the vote, but that was still only one-third of the delegates at the AGM.

Wynalda and Gans both spoke at the U.S. Adult Soccer mid-year meeting in Lake Tahoe, and other candidates joined them at events in Florida ( and Chicago (U.S. Club Soccer). Cordeiro didn't even do a one-on-one session at the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia, but it did not matter. He knew where to find the pockets of support he needed to get over 50 percent.

3. Meddlers have little influence.
Three candidates were supported by Rocco Commisso, the New York Cosmos owner and chairman of the NASL board of governors who has been feuding with Gulati and MLS since the board decision in September 2017 not to extend Division 2 sanctioning to NASL in 2018, but they combined for little more than 10 percent of the vote on the third and final round.

It isn't the first time a business feud was an undercurrent to a presidential election. In 1994, adidas' Robert Louis-Dreyfus tried to defeat Rothenberg after the federation cut its ties with adidas and signed with Nike. Louis-Dreyfus tried to buy off state associations with sponsorship deals, but most voted for Rothenberg any way.

In 1990, FIFA wanted Fricker out, in part because he signed a commercial deal with a marketing firm that was a rival to FIFA's ISL. That deal survived Fricker's ouster -- but Rothenberg won because of the MSL support -- the bloc vote -- not any outside influence.

4. Federation should have nothing to hide. The feeling of the gang of six was that the deck was stacked against them. In the end, the best candidate in the eyes of the membership won, but everything would have gone smoother if the entire election process -- the rules about what support was needed, what was the entry deadline, what were the contingencies if someone dropped out -- had been decided a year ago, not over the last six months.

At her post-election talk with the media, Carter admitted one of the lessons of the election was that U.S. Soccer needed to do a better job of explaining its relationship with SUM.

On Friday morning, the board of directors met in open session for more than three hours, drawing more then 50 guests. One could not help come away from the session but be very impressed by the work of federation staff on a host of projects, in particular their work identifying reasons why youth participate or not participate in recreational and competitive soccer and plans to promote the women's national team and its players at the 2018 SheBelieves Cup and 2019 Women's World Cup.

It sounds simple, but the more the federation opens itself to explaining its thinking, the faster it will improve its relationship with its members. Every board meeting should be promoted as an opportunity for the soccer public to get an update on federation activities.

5. Candidates should double-check their travel plans. The presidential campaign was a grueling process with candidates crisscrossing the country to meet with federation members. Air travel did not always go as planned.

One candidate got on a flight he thought was headed to a Midwest city to meet a state association group and became concerned when the flight did not descend at what was the scheduled arrival time. He asked a flight attendant what was the problem and received the bad news that he had somehow boarded the wrong plane.

Another candidate was invited to meet a delegate at a city in the Southwest. They agreed to meet at baggage claim. The candidate headed to baggage claim; the delegate was at baggage claim but couldn't find the candidate. He called and said, "I don't see you." The candidate had flown to a different city in the same state.


2 comments about "Five lessons from U.S. Soccer presidential election".
  1. Goal Goal, February 13, 2018 at 10:22 a.m.

    Good thing neither of these two travelers got elected they would have never made it to a meeting.  Kind of scary.

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, February 13, 2018 at 10:58 a.m.

    Every business traveler has at least one booking horror story to tell. Murphy's law applies to competent travelers too.  

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