Commentary

U.S. Soccer members gather in Nashville with vice presidential election and reform-driven proposals on agenda

After a quiet year following the 2018 U.S. Soccer presidential election, the tug of war between the youth soccer establishment, MLS and would-be reformers is back in full swing.

The votes at the National Council Saturday in Nashville may not change the status quo. But they’ll send a message that some U.S. Soccer members have questions and concerns that haven’t been answered halfway through the presidential term of Carlos Cordeiro.

2020 AGM: Book of Reports

Reformers’ issues are largely the same as they were two years ago. In some eyes, MLS wields too much power. Exponential growth in revenue and marketing -- which, it must be said, surely is partly attributed to Soccer United Marketing -- hasn’t trickled down to the grassroots, where registration figures are flat and youth national teams are losing.

The most notable vote is the vice presidential election. Last year, Hall of Fame player Cindy Cone won the right to finish the term Cordeiro had started before his elevation to the presidency. The vote was unanimous, but with some caveats. Chris Kessell of West Virginia -- the state affiliation will come up again later -- announced a campaign but was frustratingly unable to get the required nomination letters. The letters didn’t arrive because Cone’s candidacy was seen as a fait accompli, a fact that also kept a couple of rumored and undeclared candidates from declaring. As qualified as Cone is, given her history of serving on many U.S. Soccer committees, a unanimous vote kept us from having meaningful conversation about the issues.

This year, the election will be contested. John Motta, who upset Sunil Gulati in 1998 to serve two years as vice president, is running for the same office with an ambitious platform he announced in a tweet that also gave out his email address and cell phone number for maximum transparency.

Motta’s platform includes a few understandably vague but important points of emphasis such as improving national team programs, examining the federation’s referee programs and avoiding the gaggle of lawsuits plaguing the federation, but he also takes a stance on continuing support for the National Women’s Soccer League “with the caveat that they need to stand on their own.” A novelty in his platform is the notion of a Concacaf-wide Amateur Cup.

Two planks in Motta’s platform hit at the heart of many concerns in the soccer community:

1. Following the embarrassing revelation that the new Youth Task Force had neglected to include men of Latin American descent, Motta proposes a specific Latino Task Force.

2. Motta suggests smashing the silo of U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy, which has been the top program for boys for more than a decade and is wrestling with the ECNL to claim similar status in girls’ soccer, with a national competition that would pit DA teams against other talent-identification programs such as U.S. Club Soccer’s id2 and U.S. Youth Soccer’s once-mighty Olympic Development Program (ODP).  

Motta might not have much of a chance of winning. The Athletes Council, which is guaranteed 20 percent of the federation vote by federal law, isn’t going to turn against Cone. She’ll surely also have the support of the powerful Pro Council, in which MLS holds most of the votes.

And the Pro Council is a good place to start with the bylaw and policy amendments facing voters:

1. The West Virginia Soccer Association, Kessell’s association, wants to grant men’s and women’s leagues in the same tier (for example, MLS and NWSL in Division 1) the same number of votes within the Pro Council. The Rules Committee thinks the suggestion should be an amendment to the bylaws, not policies, but West Virginia has submitted a revised proposal. No matter the vote, it’s a reminder that members don’t want MLS to be the de facto Pro Council.

2. The Metropolitan DC-Virginia Soccer Association wants to slash registration fees across the board, except for pro leagues. Organizations would pay $5,000 rather than $10,000. Youth players’ fees would be 10 cents, down from $1. Adult fees would get a similar cut, from $2 to 20 cents. A decade ago, registration fees used to account for more than 10 percent of U.S. Soccer’s revenue. Now, they’re barely 5 percent. And they’re flat, reflecting a lack of growth. The MDCVSA argues that many unaffiliated leagues are remaining unaffiliated because of those fees.

MDCVSA has offered a second policy amendment that would allow amateur players to play for more than one team, which might be controversial, and to register electronically, which shouldn’t be.

3. United Soccer Coaches and the Armed Forces Sports Council want organizations such as theirs to have votes in the election of the “at-large” representative to U.S. Soccer’s board (currently Mike Cullina, chairman of US Club Soccer's board of directors). That seems like a no-brainer, but it was defeated by a close vote last year after some wrangling over whether the Rules Committee’s concerns were (a) valid and (b) raised in time.

This year, the language in the proposal doesn’t mince words:

“The opportunity to have a voice in who represents us is fundamental to our American way of life. Our country’s founding generation fought a war because those in control refused to allow our founders fair representation in England’s Parliament. More recently, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act ensured that racial minorities who had been denied the opportunity to vote would be allowed to exercise that fundamental right.

“As the governing body of soccer in the United States, the United States Soccer Federation represents all stakeholders in the game. Under the Federation’s current bylaws, however, only two members of the Federation are denied the right to vote for a representative on the Federation’s Board of Directors. Ironically, one of those members is the United States Armed Forces Sports Council, which represents the men and women who defend our country and our right as citizens to vote for our leaders. The other member currently denied the right to vote is the United Soccer Coaches Association, which represents one of the essential stakeholders in the game: coaches. The proposed bylaw amendment, sponsored jointly by the U.S. Armed Forces Sports Council and United Soccer Coaches, would correct this injustice.”

(Disclosure: United Soccer Coaches CEO Lynn Berling-Manuel served many years with Soccer America.)

Then we deal with one of many elephants in the U.S. Soccer boardroom -- a lawsuit by the North American Soccer League, which claims the federation kept moving the goalposts in a concerted effort to keep the NASL from attaining the first-division status it coveted. The Illinois State Soccer Association, which vociferously supported reformer Eric Wynalda in the 2018 election, wants to get people to talk about those goalposts -- the Professional League Standards.

U.S. Soccer hasn’t touched those standards in a few years -- understandably so, given the legal action still in progress. The federation still lists a task force on its site, but budget reports show no spending from the task force since an entry for $250 in fiscal year 2017. The latest standards are from 2014. A 2015 proposal was withdrawn under heavy pressure from the NASL.

The Illinois association, through a proposed bylaw change, wants to switch oversight of those standards from the board of directors to the general membership. For good measure, Illinois also proposes new standards that push back some of the more controversial items -- for example, a Division 1 men’s league’s requirement that 75 percent of its teams must play in metro areas of 1 million people is reduced to 50 percent in metro areas of 750,000, and the requirement of a principal owner with a net worth of $40 million is struck down in its entirety. The latter is particularly close to the heart of those who want to create fan-owned professional clubs.

(Even with the reduced standards, the NWSL would require a waiver -- the women’s league will soon start its eighth season with nine teams, just shy of the requirement to have 10 teams by year four.)

U.S. Soccer’s Rules Committee has recommended, on the advice of outside counsel, that the membership should not pass the bylaw and policy due to the NASL lawsuit. That lawsuit, by now driven more by a clash of personalities than policies and featuring 14 lawyers representing the league, isn’t likely to be dropped or settled in the next few days. But this should be a lively -- and overdue -- discussion at the meeting this year.

Speaking of other pro leagues, the National Council will vote to approve the membership application of NISA, and the league’s detailed policies include some interesting tidbits about the diversity of rosters they’ll allow:

“NISA clubs are allowed to have 6 amateur players on their roster provided they are under the age of 21 years at the end of the calendar year and that they are domestic players (as defined in section 2.1.1). Additionally the player must be registered with an academy, club or affiliate within the system of the NISA club.”

“Each NISA Team is permitted a maximum of FOUR (4) MLS Players [on loan] on its Active Roster at any time. There is no limit on the total number of MLS Players which compete on a given NISA Team during the course of the Annual Season.”

Membership applications tend to get rubber stamps from the National Council, so we’re almost certain to see Cerebral Palsy Soccer, which supports the 7-a-side game in which the U.S. excels, join the federation. The other applicant is United Futsal, which will join U.S. Futsal and U.S. Youth Futsal as members, raising the question of how many futsal organizations it takes to change a light bulb.

The National Council also usually rubber-stamps nominations for independent director. This year's nominee was only announced on Monday: Argentine Juan Uro, a partner at Ernst & Young and former NBA executive vice president (league finance & global strategy).

Also on the agenda:

• The Athletes’ Council wants to amend the bylaw on grievance hearings to include athletes on panels hearing those grievances. U.S. Soccer doesn’t really have a choice. (The absence of an athlete representative on grievance panels resulted in Hope Solo winning her appeal in her 2018 complaint before the USOC against U.S. Soccer. Solo was correct in charging the U.S. Soccer grievance process is legally flawed because it used a single-arbiter from the American Arbitration Association and no athlete in violation of the USOC mandate under the Stevens Act that “panels” have 20 percent athlete representation.)

• Cal North has a transparency-related policy proposal that would require more detail in U.S. Soccer board and committee minutes. Those of us who study such things would like to register a “yes” vote.

• Illinois State Soccer Association has another transparency-related policy proposal, this one on procurement. The language is a little befuddling, as the Rules Committee states: “However, the members of the Rules Committee found this particular policy proposal extremely confusing, and the Rules Committee has concerns about whether anyone would be able to understand the policy in order to comply with it.”

Granted, you could say the same thing about much of the content in the Annual General Meeting book. But it’s the starting point for the discussions that need to happen.
2 comments about "U.S. Soccer members gather in Nashville with vice presidential election and reform-driven proposals on agenda".
  1. R2 Dad, February 11, 2020 at 12:24 a.m.

    "Motta proposes a specific Latino Task Force." Yeah, this is just cover for USSF management to claim they "are doing something" about the ommission of Hispanics. A separate Task Force is not needed, this is a talking head solution. What's needed is to include outside personnel--of which Hispanics are one group not represented--into the everyday thinking and operating of USSF. Everything else is just virtue-signalling to cover their business-as-usual.

  2. David Borts, February 11, 2020 at 10:01 a.m.

    At last years AGM the request of the Armed Forces Council was tabled and sent back to Committee despite the fair request and advocacy by an active Colonel who not only spoke on behalf of the resolution but spent 3 days prior to the vote meeting with numerous delegates. The "optics" of this failure to even permit a vote on the resolution by sending it back to committee thus failing to recognize the significant contribution to soccer by armed forces athletes is not dissimilar to the failure of our youth task force to have Latino representation. The USSF must recognize its obligation to the entire American soccer community if it is to lead us into a future of Amateur, Professional, and International soccer excellence

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