U.S. Soccer's 2019 Annual General Meeting bears little resemblance
to last year's event, beginning with the location.
This year's event is being held at a quiet resort in a desert community below the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona, a far cry from last year when the event was held at a monstrous chain hotel in the heart of Orlando's theme park corridor.
And the 2019 AGM lacks the drama of last year's meeting that featured a contested presidential election triggered by the USA's failure to qualify for the World Cup.
The fall-out from Couva included the decision of Sunil Gulati to not run for a fourth term as president. And from that a free-for-all followed. The presidential election featured seven candidates, including the greatest women's goalkeeper of all time, Hope Solo, and three former men's national team players-turned-television analysts, Eric Wynalda, Kyle Martino and Paul Caligiuri, who helped turn the race into a national debate about American soccer played out through social media.
Not for the first time in federation politics, a business feud was an undercurrent to a presidential election -- in this case, the support by cable billionaire Rocco Commisso, the New York Cosmos' owner, of multiple outsider candidates in response to a board of directors decision to not to extend Division 2 sanctioning to the NASL in 2018. Adding to the tension, no one came to Orlando knowing who would win -- and it took three rounds for the winner to emerge.
The winner was the stealth candidate, Carlos Cordeiro, the former Goldman Sachs partner who joined the federation's board as its first independent director in 2007. He rarely talked to the media during his campaign -- and rarely does today -- but he used his experience from more than a decade as a federation insider -- and 2016 election as vice president -- to know where the votes were and gain majority support in the federation's complicated weighed voting system even if he did not win the support of a majority of the federation's voting members.
A year on, the Scottsdale AGM will conclude with Saturday's National Council Meeting at which an election will be held -- this time, an uncontested election to fill Cordeiro's remaining term as vice president. National Soccer Hall of Famer Cindy Parlow Cone, who started for the USA when it won the 1999 Women's World Cup and captured gold medals at the 1996 and 2004 Olympics, will become the first woman to serve as U.S. Soccer president or vice president. She previously served on the board and as the elected adviser to the Athlete Council, whose unanimous support for Cordeiro powered him to victory.
The National Council will approve a budget that has grown to $136.6 million for the federation's fiscal year 2020 that begins on April 1. Ten years ago, federation operated on $43.5 million. Even three years ago, its operating expenses were only $97 million. Spending on national teams -- the biggest item -- will have gone up 50 percent since 2017 and spending in the coaching department will have doubled. No, the federation doesn't lack for money, which explains how it's projected operating losses of $13.9 million in fiscal year 2019 and budgeted a loss of $14.3 million in 2020.
The growth in spending has been triggered by huge increases in revenues from national team games (men and women) and sponsorships (SUM and Nike). The federation has not yet posted its audited financial statement for last year's fiscal year but its net assets through FY2018 should exceed more than $150 million, up more than $100 million in a decade. A huge chunk of that came from a one-off event: the 2016 Copa Centenario the federation took on -- very reluctantly, by many involved in the decision-making process -- with DOJ approval after the event being planned by Conmebol and Concacaf turned out to be part of a criminal enterprise created for the primary purpose of lining the pockets of South American federation and confederation presidents to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. The Copa Centenario generated revenues in excess of $200 million -- and profits now approaching $70 million for U.S. Soccer.
AGM: Book of
The federation will likely never get another chance to reap a windfall like it did with the Copa Centenario or before that, the 1994 World Cup, for which $60 million in profits went to start the U.S. U.S. Soccer Foundation. It will be tackling how to best take advantage of the biggest opportunity American soccer will have had in the last 30 years -- the 2026 World Cup that it will co-host with Canada and Mexico.
As part of his election campaign, Cordeiro stressed the need to grow the federation's revenues to $500 million if it is to have the resources to pay for some of the big-ticket items it needs (national training center) and tackle some of the systemic challenges soccer faces.
At Friday's open board meeting, a great deal of time was spent covering development programs -- the money U.S. Soccer gets from FIFA for operations and projects and the money raised from donors. The latter business has grown in the last five years from $33,000 to $4.4 million, but that is still a drop in the bucket compared to the moneys needed to put the federation at the $500 million mark -- goes to the heart of the surprise lawsuit filed by the Foundation in 2018 seeking declaratory judgment over ownership to the Foundation's trademarks.
These issues U.S. Soccer faces -- along with the task of running a $60 million national team program -- are far from the realities of most of its member organizations -- the national and state associations that make up the Youth and Adult Councils. How to address stagnant or declining registrations and how to comply with the federal SafeSport Act -- the National Council will vote on policy 212-3 already approved by the board -- are much more pressing issues.
In the aftermath of the sex-abuse scandal that engulfed USA Gymnastics, the SafeSport Act has gotten a lot of attention and is just one of the topics the Youth Task Force that Cordeiro formed is starting to address. It remains to be seen how effective the Youth Task Force and its working groups will be in breaking the jealousies and turf wars that exist at the youth level, where soccer has devolved into a zero-sum game.
Scottsdale is not just a long way from Orlando and the drama of a once-in-a-lifetime election, it's far away from all the election talk about solving such issues as the prevalence of pay-to-pay and lack of access to programs young players have in many areas.