U.S. Soccer presidential race: Governance changes make Cone the favorite, but historically close vote possible

U.S. Soccer's membership will elect a president on Saturday at its National Council Meeting.

The Annual General Meeting will be a mostly virtual event for the second year in a row after plans for an entirely on-site event in Atlanta were scrapped due to the Covid-19 pandemic. About 100 attendees and federation staff have gathered at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, though, so many meetings at the AGM will be hybrid events -- including Friday's Board of Directors meeting.

Annual General Meeting: Schedule
National Council Meeting: Streaming

Two months ago, there was no evidence that the 2022 presidential election would even be contested, But that changed on Jan. 5 when former president Carlos Cordeiro announced he had met the Jan. 4 deadline to submit his candidacy and challenge his successor, Cindy Parlow Cone.

It was a stunning move, given Cordeiro had resigned as president on March 12, 2020 -- the day the sports world shut down due to the growing pandemic -- in response to the backlash to the filings by U.S. Soccer in its lawsuit with members of the U.S. women's national team that contained sexist and misogynistic language, arguing that women's players didn't have the same skill, ability and responsibility as the men.

It's been suggested by many inside the federation, both Cordeiro supporters and those who oppose him, that he did not have and should not have had to resign, but he did.

"Given the severity of what happened, words of apology were not enough at the time," Cordeiro said in his election interview with Soccer America.

By resigning, Cordeiro -- a 65-year-old male -- became the face of the federation's misogyny. It didn't matter the circumstances of the filing or the outcome of the lawsuit -- the federation was awarded summary judgment on the equal pay portion of the suit, and the federation and players have recently reached a settlement -- the enormity of Cordeiro's resignation would have seemed to disqualify him from making a comeback.

But that hasn't been the case. Cordeiro has run at the urging of the majority of state associations -- adult, youth and joint.

"I didn't think that the events around 2020 were going to be an issue," he told Soccer America. "And frankly, I think just about everyone I've spoken to has moved past that and respect the decision I took."

As contested elections go, the Cone-Cordeiro battle has been tame, lacking the intrigue of the elections in 1990 when FIFA, unhappy with Werner Fricker and the federation's choice of commercial partners, backed Alan Rothenberg, who had headed the highly successful 1984 Olympic soccer competition, or in 1994 when Frenchman Robert Louis-Dreyfus, then-adidas CEO, tried to orchestrate a defeat of Rothenberg, then the incumbent, for moving the federation's uniform sponsorship from adidas to Nike. The current election has lacked the fireworks of four years with its eight-person race and well-known and outspoken former players in the campaign.

U.S. Soccer: Contested presidential elections (1990-2018)
1990 1st ballot: Rothenberg 59.0%, Fricker 29.1%, Stiehl 11.9%.
1994 1st ballot: Rothenberg 48.9%, Groff 46.9%, Des Bordes 4.2%.
• 2nd ballot: Rothenberg 53.6%, Groff 46.4%.
1998 1st ballot: Contiguglia 57.6%, Monaco 42.4%.
2018 1st Ballot: Cordeiro 36.3%, Carter 34.6%, Wynalda 13.7%, Martino 8.6%, Gans 4.1%, Solo 1.6%, Winograd 0.6%, Caligiuri 0.5%.
• 2nd Ballot: Cordeiro 41.8%, Carter 33.3%, Wynalda 10.8%, Martino 10.2%, Gans 2.4%, Solo 1.5%.
• 3rd Ballot: Cordeiro 68.6%, Carter 10.6%, Martino 10.6%, Wynalda 8.9%, Solo 1.4%.

Neither Cone nor Cordeiro is a flame-thrower. Far from it, Cone is soft spoken and Cordeiro is media-averse. But behind the scenes, supporters for both candidates have exposed the hypocrisy that is U.S. Soccer politics. You'll hear pro-Cone folks make snide remarks about how little Cordeiro follows soccer when that didn't stop them from backing him when he was elected vice president in 2016 or helping him win the 2018 election for president. On the other hand, you'll hear Cordeiro supporters suggest Cone lacks the business acumen to run the federation when many of them supported candidates with less experience in 2018.

The irony is that Cone and Cordeiro go back many years together behind the scenes in federation work. The Athletes' Council turned to Cone's experience, making her an advisor -- most of its members, former national team members, have little experience in federation matters -- and it ended up voting as a bloc for Cordeiro in 2018 to give him the edge in the first two ballots before Major Soccer League switched its support from SUM president Kathy Carter to Cordeiro in the third round, giving him a decisive margin of victory.

With a much larger weighted vote in 2022 following the federation's Extraordinary National Council Meeting in October 2021, which was held to enact federally mandated changes in athlete representation in the governance of national governing bodies, the Athletes' Council's support for Cone makes her the favorite this time, just as it decided the 2018 race in Cordeiro's favor.

Cone will need the support of the vast majority of the Athletes to counter the support of the Adults and Youth for Cordeiro, underscoring how hopelessly divided the federation is. For years, the dissatisfaction of the grassroots -- members of the Youth and Adult Councils -- with the federation -- its elected officers, board and management at U.S. Soccer House -- has been an issue: how much input they had on policy decisions, in the budget process, communication and the like. It's been a huge issue since key executives with decades of experience left, beginning with Sunil Gulati, who decided not to run for a fourth and final term as president in 2018 after the USA did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup. And it took on greater significance when the federation went through the process of dramatically changing the voting structure.

At the 2021 National Council Meeting, Cone was forced to withdraw proposals she and the board submitted and she 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.

Cone, the Athletes' advisor in 2018 when they swung the presidential election in Cordeiro's favor by their unanimous vote for his candidacy, was in charge of leading the process to not only increase the Athletes' representation  from 20% to 33.3% -- but decrease the shares of each of the other three councils (Pros, Adults and Youth) from about 25% each to ultimately 20%.

2022 U.S. Soccer election votes:
500 Athletes
300 Adults
300 Pros
300 Youth
100 Other (board members, past presidents, life members and affiliates)
Total: 1,500 (majority wins).

Cone was in a tough spot, but she came in for very sharp criticism for her lack of leadership in the process that ended in a sunset provision being passed last October, requiring the by-law amendments be revisited by the National Council at its 2023 meeting.

Cone told Soccer America in her election interview that she wasn't surprised how difficult it was for the Governance Task Force to try to come to a resolution on the restructuring.

"I really wasn't because I get where the members are coming from," she said. "No one likes to lose their percentage of vote, regardless of who you're losing it to. The governance process was really hard, but it was something that needed to be done."

Said Cordeiro, "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."

The timing of the changes -- they had to be implemented by the end of 2021 -- could not have come at a more impactful moment -- four months before a presidential election.

To show how the new governance structure could affect Saturday's election, here's a breakdown of one scenario related to support for Cone from four groups.

-- the Athletes (as a bloc);
-- MLS (Commissioner Don Garber recently praised her for navigating U.S. Soccer through the Covid-19 pandemic and reaching an equal-pay settlement);
-- NWSL (she encouraged Marla Messing to step in as interim commissioner); and
-- U.S. Club (its chairperson, Gary Buete, is the CEO of North Carolina FC Youth, where she works).

Cordeiro could win the support of every other voting member, and he would still lose to Cone, in a swing of almost 9 percentage points from the governance structure in place before October 2021.

The new math (possible Cone support)
Athletes (all on the floor) 33.33% (20.00%)
MLS 8.89% (11.21%)
NWSL 4.44% (5.60%)
U.S. Club (Youth Council) 2.62% (3.30%)
U.S. Club (Adult Council) 0.54% (0.69%)
Board members 0.27% (0.35%)
Total vote 50.09% (41.15%)

(The percentages here are the percentages these organizations would hold in the overall vote in 2022 and the percentages in parentheses are those they would have held in a pre-October 2021 election. For MLS, the NWSL and U.S. Club, their voting strength is based on the voting strength in their councils as reported in the 2021 National Council's credentials committee report. As an example, MLS had 8/18 votes in the Pro Council in 2021.)

Now a little inside baseball ... There is no assumption that the 24 Athletes will vote as a bloc, which they did in 2018, or that they even want to. On Wednesday, the Athletes' Council issued a statement that each individual is welcome to vote for whichever candidate he or she thinks is best. (It went on to say that a three-person committee was appointed to do research and interviews and make a "recommendation.")

If they were going to vote as a bloc and leverage their votes -- 507, not 500 -- the seven Athlete Council members on the board of directors -- increased from three as part of the restructuring -- would vote as board members, not council members. (Delegates can only vote in one capacity.) Whether one Athlete shows up to vote or 17 or 24, the Athletes' Council still holds 33.3 percent of the vote. But there's a good chance the  Athletes' Council will move its seven board members to the floor, so all 24 members will vote as members of their council. Each Athlete's vote would be diluted from having 1.96% of the total vote in the National Council to 1.39% but that would cushion the impact of a split Athlete Council vote, say 16-8, about the number Cordeiro probably needs to have any chance.

The sleeper vote: U.S. Armed Forces, United Soccer Coaches, SAY Soccer, USSSA and the futsal and disabled service organizations, among others. In past elections, they had one vote each, a tiny amount. In 2022, they'll have about 5 percent of the total vote. And an increased share of the 100 votes if the Athletes' Council board members don't vote as board members

Who will win?

Given the structural advantages, Cone should win easily. She is favored, but it shows how divided the federation is that a close vote is possible.

The final margin of victory in the four contested elections dating back to 1990 range from 58% (Cordeiro in 2018), 30.1% (Rothenberg in 1990), 15.2% (Dr. Robert Contiguglia in 1998) to 7.2% (Rothenberg in 1994). The margin of victory in the Cone-Cordeiro race could be smaller.

9 comments about "U.S. Soccer presidential race: Governance changes make Cone the favorite, but historically close vote possible".
  1. Wallace Wade, March 4, 2022 at 10:01 a.m.


  2. frank schoon, March 4, 2022 at 11:19 a.m.

    Unbelievable, this is choice the we have between these two.....

  3. cony konstin, March 4, 2022 at 11:41 a.m.

    Soccer in the USA uses a helter Skeltor approach. They call it free enterprise and a capitalistic approach but it isn’t. It’s a free for all. Its the wild Wild West at best. It’s all divided and chaotic and the number one focus is buying and selling minutia. And it’s set up that way so there is no oversight accountability and transparency. We need radical change. We need a 21st century master plan and we need unorthodox leadership. Basically we need Wyatt Earp to clean up tombstone.

  4. Santiago 1314 replied, March 4, 2022 at 12:17 p.m.

    What about Ricky Davis or Kyle Rote Jr.???

  5. R2 Dad replied, March 4, 2022 at 2:57 p.m.

    No, no, no. Carlos will make sure there is plenty of money to appease the soccer masses and make their pain go away. /S

  6. frank schoon replied, March 4, 2022 at 6:21 p.m.

    Yes,Wyatt Earp and the whole Tombstone cast and including the Clantons......

  7. Santiago 1314, March 4, 2022 at 12:23 p.m.

    Look for "Tentative"(Meaning; If Cindy wins the Election) SPONSORSHIP agreements to Drop,,,
    In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1,.... 
    That way Cindy can say she has Good Business Acumen... and support of Sponsors
    She has been playing a Good Political "Game" so Far. 

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, March 4, 2022 at 4:41 p.m.

    She does have support of the sponsers. It was sponsers that forced Carlos to resign. How quick we forget.

  9. John Soares, March 5, 2022 at 5:43 a.m.

    I think Cone deserves a chance.
    Cordeiro came in on a positive note but blew it.
    Had his chance.... at this point would come in with a *#×%load of baggage. Time/Need to move on. 

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