101317_isi_gualtisunil_usmntmt100617150 Mark Thorstenson/isiphotos.com
U.S. Soccer

Questions Linger as Sunil Gulati Refuses to Step Down

U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati addressed the media Friday and defiantly rejected all suggestions that he should step down given the national team's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
BY Franco Panizo Posted
October 13, 2017
1:15 PM

ONE OF THE FIRST STATEMENTS U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati made on his conference call with reporters on Friday was that he took “full responsibility” for the nightmarish disaster that had unfolded three days prior.

It sure did not sound like it, however.

Gulati spoke to reporters for almost on hour on Friday to talk about the direction and future of U.S. Soccer following the U.S. men’s national team’s elimination from World Cup Qualifying. He answered a stream of questions about what changes might be made to the program, mostly by saying that everything will be examined in the near future, but Gulati did not come off as someone who thought he was part of the problem.

He is wrong, of course, and you need to only look at the stagnation on the sporting side of U.S. Soccer in recent years for evidence of that—including the men's program's failure to reach several tournaments across different age groups. Like the 2011 Under-20 World Cup, or like the 2013 Under-17 World Cup, or like the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, or, most notably, like the 2018 World Cup.

Still, none of those damning realities stopped Gulati from doubling down by saying that he did not plan to resign.

“The first premise is not correct that most [federation presidents] around the world do that. Some do but it’s certainly not most,” Gulati when asked by American Soccer Now why he was not quitting. “We’ve got a lot of things on our agenda, including a World Cup bid that is due at the end of March and a decision in June, and so I don’t plan to [resign] and it’s not the case that most people around the world do do that.

“Most coaches do, but it’s not the case that most presidents do, and I’m not planning to.”

Gulati did not talk about whether he planned to run for reelection next February, stating that he would not make a decision for another few weeks. As with his mention of the timeline for the 2026 World Cup bid that he is spearheading, his responses to other questions seemed to reveal that he planned to stick around in his current capacity.

In fact, he even confirmed that he recently had petitioned to voting delegates to appoint him for another term.

“Yes, I have reached out to people about endorsing me or nominating me in the last few weeks,” said Gulati.

That sentence will make U.S. fans seethe given the anger, frustration, and severe disappointment that is lingering following the 2-1 road loss to Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday that shockingly ended the Americans’ 2018 World Cup dreams. Questions from supporters will also abound about the direction of the program after learning of Gulati's open lobbying for the position.

The fan base has every reason to be irate, skeptical, and critical. It is clear to most observers that change is needed in order to fix what is broken in the U.S. Soccer system, yet the person in charge of overseeing everything has made comments this week that speak to the contrary.

Where does this arrogance originate? Could it be that Gulati is drunk with power and attempting to cling onto every last ounce of it for as long as he can? It sure seems that way. Gulati has been U.S. Soccer president since 2006, and has gained significant influence at the executive levels of the sport, as evidenced by his appointment as a FIFA council member in 2013.

It is probably tough to leave all that behind, especially if the final chapter of your legacy is going to be a failed World Cup Qualifying campaign. Head coach Bruce Arena might have to make peace with that—he resigned on Friday morning—but Gulati does not want to share that fate.

“I don’t judge Bruce’s record on this last game but the totality of everything he has done,” Gulati said when asked why he deserved to be in charge for four more years. “If I look at the totality of where we’ve come from and where the game is generally now with our professional leagues, with player development, with our economic resources—all of those things—those things didn’t happen overnight and they didn’t happen on their own, so I think you can look at all of that.

“I‘ll make a decision and voting delegates can make a decision.”

Gulati’s decision to seek reelection seems to be a foregone conclusion. He will more than likely run again for U.S. Soccer presidency next year because he deems his contributions to be more positive than negative.

It might be tough to find someone to agree with that stance right now, at least as far as the sporting side of U.S. Soccer goes, but Gulati is convinced he has done a good enough job. 

“Because of everything: where the sport is now, and the role I’ve played it and the role I think I can play going forward if I choose to run,” said Gulati as to why he may want to run for reelection again. “Plus we have the World Cup bid. The sport is in a very, very different place than it was 10 years ago or 30 years ago when I first got involved so it’s all of that.”

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