In 2008, Cordeiro began serving as U.S. Soccer treasurer and became vice chairman of the USA Bid Committee chaired by Gulati to bring the men's World Cup to the USA in 2018 or 2022. In 2016, Cordeiro ran for U.S. Soccer vice president and defeated incumbent Mike Edwards and Kevin Payne.Cordeiro announced in November 2017 that he would run for U.S. Soccer president. Before the U.S. men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup with a 2-1 loss at Trinidad & Tobago on Oct. 10, 2017, only Steve Gans announced he would challenge Gulati, who had been president for 12 years. A month after Cordeiro joined the race, Gulati said he would not seek a fourth term in the February 2018 election.
In an eight-person race — against Paul Caligiuri, Kathy Carter, Gans, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo, Michael Winograd and Eric Wynalda — Cordeiro, boosted by the unanimous support of the Athlete Council, won on the third ballot.
In March 2018, one month after winning the U.S. Soccer presidential election, Cordeiro was named co-chair of the 2026 United Bid Committee — along with Steven Reed and Decio de Maria, the presidents of the Canadian and Mexican soccer federations — replacing Gulati, who continued to serve on the bid committee board. (In June 2018, the United bid succeeded with a 134-65 vote over Morocco at the FIFA Congress in Moscow.)
Two years and a month into his presidency, Cordeiro resigned following the backlash from the filings by U.S. Soccer in its lawsuit with members of the U.S. women's national team. He was replaced by vice president Cindy Parlow Cone on March 12, 2020, a day before Covid-19 was declared a national emergency. (Parlow Cone had been elected vice president in 2019 while endorsed by Cordeiro to succeed him in that position.)
After resigning, Cordeiro stayed on as a member of the U.S. Soccer board (as immediate past president), Concacaf Council (elected as member) and the FIFA Stakeholders Committee (until January 2021).
Since September 2021, he has been an unpaid senior advisor to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. He is no longer on the U.S. Soccer board or Concacaf Council as a member. (In October 2021, Canadian Nick Bontis was elected to the Concacaf position Cordeiro previously held.)
Shortly before the Jan. 4 deadline to run in the 2022 U.S. Soccer presidential election, Cordeiro announced his candidacy for the 2022-26 term. He is the only candidate challenging Parlow Cone, who was unopposed in the January 2021 election to complete the remainder of Cordeiro's original four-year term. This year's election will take place on March 5 at U.S. Soccer's National Council Meeting.
SOCCER AMERICA: In your letter to members about your running again, you referred to being president as "a job I loved.” What was it about the job you loved?
CARLOS CORDEIRO: "Soccer has always been an important part of my life. I've seen the power of soccer bring people together. I came to America as an immigrant. I was 15 at the time, played a little bit of soccer in school. It helped me fit in and make friends in a new country. Volunteering at U.S. Soccer for 15 years, I've seen the power of what volunteers can do. During the campaign, it was all about bringing people together, which I think I did, particularly the grassroots, in the short time I was there.
"Winning the [2026 World Cup bid] was a huge effort. Obviously, a collective team effort involving us, and a large group of folks in Canada and Mexico. As president it was really, really inspiring for me to see our players come together across different backgrounds. Now [we have] 2026 in our sights, and hopefully maybe even a Women's World Cup, to inspire the next generation. So all of that taken together is why I really love the job and a large reason why I want to come back."
Cordeiro was born in India to a Colombian mother and Portuguese-Indian father in 1956 and immigrated to the USA with his widowed mother. He graduated from Miami Beach High School, Harvard College and Harvard Business School. He spent 26 years as a partner and managing director for investment firm Goldman Sachs, working extensively in Asia, before retiring in 2001.
SA: If you loved the job so much, why did you resign?
CORDEIRO: "Resigning was very difficult. It was a deeply humbling experience. Something I've never been through before. I put in multiple layers of oversight that were meant to catch the sort of mistakes that occurred. But when those layers of oversight failed, resulting in the filing that was so offensive, I felt that it was the right thing to do then. I took responsibility for that. Given the severity of what happened, words of apology were not enough at the time. And as president of the Federation, I felt it was very, very important to take responsibility and to allow the Federation an opportunity to move past that at a very difficult time."
SA: Why do you think the constituency would welcome you back after you quit in the middle of your term?
CORDEIRO: "I'm running because many, many members across the federation over the last six months have been coming to me and have asked me to run. Many of them nominated me in writing — letters of nominations that went the federation, expressing deep concerns about being ignored, being marginalized, a lack of respect. Listening to all of that and, frankly, given the opportunities that are in front of us for 2026 which are potentially transformational for the game and for the federation, I took the decision to come back. I think our members themselves are asking me to come back. I didn't think that the events around 2020 were going to be an issue. And frankly, I think just about everyone I've spoken to has moved past that and respect the decision I took."
In October 2018, the Washington Post reported that Dan Flynn would at some point step down as CEO. He stayed on until September 2019. After that, there were six more months before Will Wilson was hired, shortly after Cordeiro resigned. One of the things that came up in 2019 were the Glassdoor postings that U.S. Soccer employees made with their concerns about the state of the leadership at U.S. Soccer House.
SA: Why did it take so long to hire a CEO?
CORDEIRO: "I announced [Flynn's intention to retire] in February of 2019, and we immediately put in place a board committee to oversee the search. We brought in an outside consultant, a search firm, all within a few weeks. But remember we were hit with a lawsuit in March and when that happened, it completely upset the plans. The search firm just didn't generate a quality list of candidates considering we were going through a very, very uncomfortable, difficult situation with our players. That really, unfortunately, impacted the search, We had two candidates, internal candidates. They were both good, but we, the board, felt that we should look broadly and widely considering this was an important position. Given the fact that Dan had been there a long time, we wanted to have the benefit of knowing what was available. The Glassdoor experience was obviously very unfortunate. I don't really want to say too much about it, but it was clearly a consequence of a certain amount of jockeying going on internally.
"The whole lawsuit did unfortunately give us a backdrop that was not constructive to bringing someone in from the outside. And when I stepped down in March 2020, this was now a year later. Dan had at that point stepped down. We had put Brian Remedi in as the chief administrative officer, and in fact, we brought in a second search firm to try and widen the search and see if we'd find some additional candidates. And we were in the process of reviewing all of that when I stepped down.
"I have served on multiple boards, some large corporate boards. I've served on nonprofit boards. Searches can take a long time to get the right person in the right seat, particularly given the challenges at U.S. Soccer."
Nine of the best U.S. women's players of their generation recently wrote Parlow Cone and Cordeiro, demanding accountability from the federation and immediate action for abuse in women's and girls soccer and charging that the federation leaders allowed "coaches and owners to rampantly abuse players. This unchecked and unpunished power endangered the safety, well-being, and careers of far too many women and girls. We suffered so that you could protect your bottom line.”
The open letter came a day after a report in the Washington Post that Rory Dames, the former Chicago Red Stars coach, had been accused of misconduct with youth players decades earlier at his Illinois youth club, Eclipse.
In 2018, Christen Press, who played four seasons with the Red Stars, filed a formal complaint against Dames to U.S. Soccer, which was Press' employer as a member of the national team. An investigation was conducted, but Dames continued to coach the NWSL team. The nature of the investigation — who conducted it? who was interviewed? — and its findings have never been revealed. In a statement to ESPN, Cordeiro said he did not know about the federation's investigation until the Washington Post's initial report about Dames that was published in November, hours after he resigned as head coach.
SA: Do you know anything about the scope of the investigation or how often the federation has conducted other investigations like this?
CORDEIRO: "In the interest of player privacy, such complaints all would typically be handled by appropriate staff at U.S. Soccer, not by the board of directors.
"I expect that the [Sally] Yates investigation will examine all of this. Obviously, we need to know how those allegations were handled when they came into the federation, whether existing policies and procedures were followed or not followed and, frankly, how those practices — and that's what's most important — can be strengthened to protect players in the future so this never happens again."
In a letter dated Sunday, Cordeiro outlined those steps he would take as president, including the appointment of a senior official at U.S. Soccer dedicated solely to the focus on player health and safety at all levels and convening a Player Safety Summit.
"The players asked for immediate action," he said. "And I agree with them. I don't know why U.S. Soccer has to wait for an investigation to complete. I'm not in the federation now, but they could certainly take steps immediately to start reforming the process if need be. That hasn't happened.
"The federation has a responsibility as the governing body to take strong leadership, working across the country with all our clubs, all our leagues. Frankly, it's women and men, it's not specific to women necessarily to build a culture that increases more awareness, strengthens our protections for players. These are all things the federation should be doing and ultimately preventing abuse of this kind at all levels so it never happens again. I think when it comes to player safety, U.S. Soccer and this country, given where we are in the world, we should be a global leader."
At the 2021 National Council Meeting, Cone announced plans to convene a Governance Task Force to propose amendments in U.S. Soccer's by-laws to comply with a new federal law requiring that athletes’ representation on National Governing Bodies (voting membership and board and committee composition) increase from 20% to 33.3%. For the federation, it was a politically charged process with Cone, the Athletes' advisor in 2018 when they swung the president election in Cordeiro's favor by their unanimous vote for his candidacy, leading the process to give the Athletes even more power.
That task force met through the summer in an attempt to reach an agreement. In October, the National Council approved sweeping changes, increasing the Athletes' share from 20% to 33.3% and reducing the shares of each of the other three councils (Pros, Adults and Youth) from about 25% each to 20%. (The other 6.7% goes to at-large members, board members, past presidents and life members, among others.) A compromise was reached on the new board's composition under the terms of a sunshine provision that will need to be revisited in 2023. The task force exposed the distrust that exists among members of different councils, and criticism of Cone's handling of the process has fueled intense opposition to her candidacy that exists in the Adult and Youth ranks.
SA: How would you have done things differently? And how do you think you would've been perceived differently, given the fact that the Athletes' support for you, as a bloc, in 2018 was a big factor in your victory?
CORDEIRO: "Governance or the management of governance might have been one issue, but there are other [concerns] as well. There were multiple things, just a lack of, I think people would say, not [being] treated with respect or forgotten.
"How would I do it differently? I ran on a campaign four years ago, really as an independent. I don't come out of the Youth, the Adults, the Pros or the Athletes, I came at it with a very independent perspective to do whatever it took to that was in the best interest of the Federation. And I had to tackle some very tough, difficult decisions.
"Obviously, the [World Cup 2026] bid was paramount because it was in my face, and we had a deadline and we knew things were going to happen. And this potentially could transform the landscape for us for a long, long time. The No. 1 priority. But I also inherited a board at the time that was challenged. We had a lot of issues. You mentioned succession. We had other issues as well. One of the big campaign themes four years ago was conflicts, right?
"I've served in other boards. U.S. Soccer boards are not hand-picked. I'd love for them to be hand-picked, but they're not. They're all volunteers who've given years and years of their adult lives to U.S. Soccer or to their respective organizations. And ultimately they get selected or elected to these positions, but they come at it with different perspectives and histories. And the challenge in managing a board like that is it's a living organism. It's very, very complex on any given day or at any given meeting. We've got some very tough decisions to make.
"I would've found compromises. I would've found ways to collaborate. When I was president, there weren't any decisions we took on that board that actually were split because I worked very hard behind the scenes to forge compromises so then ultimately we came together, didn't have to take a vote. Everybody realized sometimes you get things your way, sometimes you don't, you have to adjust.
"I would've begun with a very different discussion at the board level because the original ideas on governance came to the board. At one point, there was a discussion to eliminate the role of president and vice president, not have any more presidents and vice presidents. Why? Select the president from amongst the board, right? That was floated out to the membership and the membership pricked those balloons. That was the end of that. There were all kinds of discussions that were not fully baked, fully discussed. So those got out and it got a sense that this was them vs. us. And I think that was how that went. I would've handled it very differently and that's just my style. I'm more inclusive. Maybe I'm overly deliberate. I'm very careful. I spend hours behind the scenes talking to people, getting them to adjust and accommodate.
"But this is not about being the Athletes or anti-Athletes. The reality is, it was Congress-mandated, these changes. We have to accept them: a third of the board, a third of the votes are with the Athletes. And that's just a fact. And it should never have been as contentious, sadly, as it is. And we now have a board which sunsets in barely 12 months from now, so we have a temporary structure for the board and whoever becomes president on March 5 is going to have to manage yet another governance discussion. It is unfortunate. I do think, by the way, because I wasn't part of that discussion — I was left out of that task force — I can come in with a mandate. I think I can get this thing done very quickly because I'm a governance guy in my current role at FIFA. One of my roles is advising the FIFA president on governance."
SA: What were some of the other concerns and how do you propose solving them?
CORDEIRO: "I would start by saying we've got to treat every member with respect and the support that they deserve. That has not always been the case in the last two years, and not specific to governance. I would rebuild and strengthen the membership department. It has been marginalized in the last two years. I'd have a director there reporting direct to the CEO, someone would have accountability, would have the access obviously, would be able to make things happen. The single mission of that department is to serve our members better. There is a sense that they serve us. We serve them. U.S. Soccer has members. We should be serving them.
"The second thing is — and I don't think the pandemic has been helpful — but our registrations have been at best stagnant. Over 20 years, the country continues to grow population-wise, and we're 3.5 million million kids. All inclusive, this year, it's about 3 million. This is USYS, U.S. Club and AYSO. I wouldn't use the word disgraceful, but that's not acceptable. We have 60-odd million youth under the age of 18, so 3 million are in registered soccer programs that we sponsor. It's way too little. It's 5%. It's probably five times below where our European counterparts are. So we have to figure out how we can get more kids kicking the ball, playing recreational soccer, and hopefully some of them going up the ranks. Let's set some vision to grow our ranks, double our registration. As bold as that sounds, ambitious as it is, I think it's readily achievable.
"How do you get there? The federation can help the states with programming and staffing and with the Innovate to Grow program. Use program grants to help them grow. We need easily scalable projects. I've been following the futsal in schools that Dave Guthrie has been piloting in Indiana. It's fantastic. You go to elementary schools, you take over a basketball court, put two nets on either side, bring in a bunch of balls and cones. You get the PE teachers who are obviously certified to work in those environments, give them a tutorial online on futsal and voilà! We've got to think, how can we use our schools?"
SA: Upon announcing your aim to regain the presidency, you criticized U.S. Soccer's shutdown of the Boys and Girls Development Academies. How do you think it should have been handled? Or do you think U.S. Soccer shouldn't have ended the DAs?
CORDEIRO: "One of the concerns that members have brought up with me wasn't that specifically, but just this sense of lack of consultation and lack of collaboration. Something as massive as that — that kind of a decision that had such knock-on consequences across the entire country — happened literally overnight, with no debate at the board. And I suppose with no consultation with the members that matter, who are out there engaged with those programs. I would say it was more about the process than necessarily the result.
"I know the reasons cited were cost and so on, but it was a cost that we could have deferred because of COVID. By the time that decision was announced [April 15, 2020], we were already a month into COVID, so no one was playing anyway. The whole thing could have been put on hold, and there could have been more discussion and consultation. Maybe, they would've arrived at the same decision, but it was the way it was handled I think that got people upset, and I understand that."
SA: What can you point to during time your time as president that indicates the U.S. Soccer would be in good hands soccer-wise if you return to leadership? For example, there were an extraordinary number of youth national team coach vacancies during your tenure, when relocating to Chicago became a requirement. One of the hirings that was finally made, Raphael Wicky for the U-17 boys two months ahead Concacaf qualifying, ended with one of the worst U-17 World Cup performances by the USA and he left soon after.
CORDEIRO: I ran on a platform where I said that soccer operations should be run by soccer experts, and that had never been the case, with no disrespect to my predecessor or anybody else. We didn't have a technical department at U.S. Soccer. I always believed that soccer operations should be run by soccer experts and that's why we created the [Technical Development Committee]. That's why we hired our first ever sporting director. Actually, he came in as a GM and then he was moved up to sporting director. That's why we have two general managers ...
SA: You're talking about Earnie Stewart?
CORDEIRO: "Yeah. Earnie and Kate [Markgraf] and Brian [McBride]. That all happened on my watch. And that hire was made by our technical board committee that oversaw that recruit."
SA: Why was Earnie put in charge of overseeing the men's and women's program when he had no experience on the women's side?
CORDEIRO: "I think you're looking at it in a too clinical way. Earnie was hired initially by the technical committee of the board, not by me, but by the board committee that was given that responsibility to bring in a men's general manager. That's [how] Earnie came in. At the same time, we were preparing to compete in the Women's World Cup and the collective view was that we would hire the female GM for the women's team at the conclusion of the cup, not before, just for team reasons.
"So Earnie had sort of a headway of some several months in that seat, and I think the conclusion of the technical committee, and at the time, Dan Flynn, who was then the CEO, was that there was a reason to have one person on top coordinating everything, but yet to have two general managers below that person.
"Yeah, you could have had half a man and half a woman and you would've been perfect, but that doesn't exist. So Earnie by virtue of his long experience as a coach, as a technical director, working in Europe and working in the U.S. was given that responsibility.
"And then Earnie proceeded to bring in the two general managers, again working very closely with the technical committee of the board. Now, all those decisions you're referring to on the youth side were made by those folks, not by us. And it was a function of availability. Who was playing what cycle, what tournament, the priorities. You can't just go hire 20 people overnight. So there's a process you follow for all of these positions. I would say for the first time ever our technical department in U.S. Soccer, run by technical experts, ran that process."
SA: There's been a proliferation of adult amateur teams. What role should U.S. Soccer play in uniting the top amateur teams playing currently in competing leagues? Do you support a single national amateur pyramid? And if so, how to you propose it to happen?
CORDEIRO: "If you're asking if should there be a mandate, I don't necessarily believe there should be a mandate. But ... I met with a number of these leagues and with the USASA [U.S. Adult Soccer Association] president [John Motta] in Kansas City on the sidelines at the coaches convention. It was a very amicable meeting. People were talking about, how can we grow the game? Listen, for first time we've got thriving leagues, women and men.
"What the WPSL is doing is phenomenal. What Alec Papadakis and the USL are doing is phenomenal. We couldn't have imagined this possible just a few years ago. This organic growth is fantastic. Can the federation come in and provide some kind of broad framework to help them manage, why not? That's why I was invited into that meeting. But I didn't see this as a contentious thing. Inevitably there are going to be people bumping into each other. That's natural. We're a big country. The best amateur leagues might aspire to coming into a NISA or USL. That's fine. That's organic growth. The more folks we have out there playing the game, the better."
SA: Hosting the World Cup in 2026 is a great opportunity and responsibility. How do you feel that your leadership will be able to take the best advantage of it and will be better than what Parlow Cone has proposed?
CORDEIRO: "I have a very unique position on FIFA, which obviously I would step down from if I won, but that position has given me a tremendous visibility around the world. I believe that access is not going to disappear just because I come back here. And I think that both at Concacaf and FIFA, I'm extremely well respected. What we need is somebody in the leadership of this organization who's well respected, well known and who they feel comfortable working with. And that's what I built for 15 years. This is not something I've just discovered overnight.
"We have this responsibility — it's their tournament — but there's a lot of detail that hasn't been discussed. They're talking about 100,000 volunteers. Where are these 100,000 going to come from? Ads in papers? No, it's the state associations that will go find us those young professionals or those retired folks who want to be greeters at the airport, running the fan fests, working in stadiums. There's just a lot of stuff that we can do as a federation to make this a successful thing. Forty-eight teams? Has anyone thought about what 48 teams means? That's 48 base camps, multiple fields, medical center, a communications hub, hotel, friends, family. We're talking about 60-plus communities around North America, mostly in the United States, participating in this, not to mention the 16 competitive venues. This is a massive undertaking. My point is, you need a leader who has relationships, who has experience, who's trusted, has the confidence of all of these folks, not to mention in the United States.
"Now we've got our commercial business in house. That's not an accident. I introduced the committee back in 2018. Why? In response to all those discussions about conflicts of interest. So we had a commercial committee, run by an independent director, which oversaw all of those discussions. And they unanimously recommended that we bring that business in house. I think this is going to change the way we look at the commercial side and the marketing of U.S. Soccer and the brand. We'll look in 10 years and say, yes, the last 25, meaning backwards from today, was great, but this next 10 will be even greater, and we've got to use 2026 to make that happen. It's transformational and we can bring a Women's World Cup behind that. We'll extend that runway another few years."
SA: How do you win?
CORDEIRO: "This is now my third election. I ran for VP against the-then incumbent [Edwards] and another well known executive [Payne]. And I won the first ballot in a landslide. I ran for president. Yes. It was complicated. There were eight candidates. No one could possibly win in the first one or two ballots. By the third ballot, I had a number in the mid-60s [68.6% of the vote].
"I did my calculus. I wouldn't be running if I didn't think I could win. So absolutely I think I can win. I wouldn't put myself through all of this just for the exercise and so if I didn't think I could win, I wouldn't have run. People across the federation have been coming to ask me to run for all the concerns. Many have nominated me, many more than I needed. Since I announced, many more have come out supporting me. And I'm talking to folks, one on one, I'm doing zoom calls until late at night, and traveling the country. At the end of the day, I am very confident that I can build a broad coalition, which is what you need across this federation to win. And you can't win by just having one bloc or two blocs if anyone votes as a bloc."
SA: Does that broad support include Athletes?
CORDEIRO: "I just said, I believe I can build a broad coalition that will be necessary to win. I think whoever wins will have a broad coalition. You can't win just on the back of one or two groups."
Photos: Brad Smith/ISI Photos