US Soccer has a new president, yet those demanding radical change following the failure to qualify for this summer’s World Cup were left deflated on Saturday.
Carlos Cordeiro, the federation’s vice-president, was elevated to replace the outgoing leader, Sunil Gulati, after winning a majority verdict following three ballots in a crowded field of eight.
Gulati fell on his sword after watching Bruce Arena’s side miss out on reaching the Russia 2018 World Cup and was given a standing ovation at the culmination of his 12 years in the role.
Yet Cordeiro’s triumph will not be welcomed by all.
The 61-year-old, who earned a scholarship at Harvard before working as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs, saw his vast experience and managerial knowhow ultimately prove key, although those accusing the Colombian of being too close to the current regime to advocate change came away angry.
It was hoped the former national team players Kyle Martino, Eric Wynalda or Hope Solo would provide a fresh outlook to help the US recover from missing out on this summer’s World Cup and its deep-rooted failure when it comes to nurturing talent.
All three failed badly, however, ultimately winning just over 20% combined from the US Soccer National Council, which is made up of more than 100 organisations representing youth and adult leagues as well as athletes and board members.
After the first ballot the Colombian citizen – who was born in India but lives in Miami – was on 36%, with Kathy Carter, the president of US Soccer’s marketing company Soccer United Marketing, two points behind him.
Cordeiro, who represents US Soccer on the Concacaf council and Fifa Stakeholders Committee, reached 41.8% at the second time of asking with Carter on 33.3%.
“I am so humbled. I will bring everyone together,” Cordeiro said afterwards.
Going into the election, which included two votes from fans – believed to be a first in soccer federation governance – Carter was emerging as a strong front runner.
Her closeness to Don Garber – he is the CEO of SUM and Major League Soccer owners have all had ties in the company since 2002 – had left the rest of the field suggesting a serious conflict of interests. Both MLS and US Soccer, a non-profit organization, are in healthy financial positions because of their marketing arm.
Cordeiro, who became vice president in 2016, was also accused of being too close to the current regime, although he stressed his initial role as an independent advisor which started 10 years ago meant he was very much his own man.
“I am not surprised,” said Solo after the result was announced. “From day one we knew it would be very difficult to overthrow the establishment. We knew they [Carter and Cordeiro] would be the top two candidates.”
Solo has accused US Soccer of neglecting the women’s game and launched legal action last month. “Change doesn’t happen overnight but we are here to stay,” she said. “I filed my complaint and that’s not going away any time soon. Carlos knows it is serious and could end up in federal court.”
On Friday night, US Youth Soccer urged its 313 delegates to vote for Cordeiro, in hopes of boosting efforts to reinvigorate the game at the grassroots level.
“Elections are messy,” said Gulati during a 45-minute address before the electronic votes were cast on cellphone-sized voting pads that caused a fair amount of head-scratching in amongst the electorate. User error caused the first ballot to be scrapped and redone, with only 80% able to make their decisions.
US fans who were so dejected after the national team embarrassingly failed to qualify for this summer’s World Cup have urged change for months. Ex-players such as Wynalda, Caliguiri and Solo, as well as the savvy Steve Gans and his fellow attorney Michael Winograd, who dropped out a the end of the second round with a 0% share, had offered some hope.
Most of the the rhetoric in the lead-up to the most contentious election in US Soccer history focused on an innate failure at the grassroots to produce the kind of players who would help to build on a dream of winning the World Cup, potentially at home, in 2026.
Soccer is the most expensive sport for children to play – some US Soccer-affiliated teams charge $4,000 per season for players to take part – leaving talented youngsters priced out.
Ensuring the World Cup bid for eight years’ time succeeds as well as staging the women’s tournament in 2027 is also high on the to-do-list as well while finding a coach to replace Arena who quit in the wake of that nightmare in the Caribbean has to start soon. The women’s game – the push for equal play for national team players and the problems facing the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) – needs looking at too.
Staging the World Cup for the first time since 1994 would spark a huge financial boom for US Soccer and help solidify the game’s place in the American sporting psyche.
“It will be remembered for generations,” a promotional video stressed. The bid – which would see the US host 60 of the 80 games with Mexico and Canada taking up the slack – is due in 34 days.
Legal action being launched by the North American Soccer League (NASL) – claiming that the relationship between Major League Soccer (MLS) and US Soccer has created a closed shop that has blocked any opportunity for teams in the lower leagues to progress – is another huge headache for the new incumbent to deal with. Gulati, the outgoing president, faces a lawsuit, as do Garber and 13 board members.
“At times this [election] has been like a fight,” said Wynalda. “We need to be together.”