Sunil Gulati's Successor Must Solve These Six Issues
December 05, 2017
SUNIL GULATI will not seek reelection as president of U.S. Soccer, thereby ending a 12-year tenure and ensuring that the federation will be run under new leadership at many different levels. The news was first reported by ESPNFC.
Heading into February’s election, U.S. Soccer now has a lame-duck president and lacks both a head coach for the men’s national team and a technical director to oversee the soccer operations.
The prominence of soccer in the United States and the size of U.S. Soccer grew dramatically during Gulati’s tenure but the men’s national team struggled mightily in recent years under both Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena. The low point came in October when the team embarrassingly failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
With Gulati now out of the running, there are seven candidates to now running for the position:
Kyle Martino: TV analyst and former national team player
Paul Caligiuri: Former national team player and youth coach
Eric Wynalda: TV analyst and former national team player
Carlos Cordeiro: Executive Vice President of U.S. Soccer
Steve Gans: Boston-based attorney and founder of Professional Soccer Advisors
Paul Lapointe: Northeast Conference manager of the UPSL
Michael Winograd: New York-based attorney and former collegiate player
Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter has told both Sports Illustrated and ESPN that she is considering running. The deadline to file paperwork is December 12.
Gulati will not disappear from the scene from the scene entirely, as he will still be on the bid committee to host the 2026 World Cup along with Mexico and Canada. The Columbia University economics professor will also serve on the FIFA council.
So what will be the big issues debated among the candidates? Here’s a look what is likely going to be most relevant.
A hot topic right now is how to keep soccer affordable for young players. Martino and Caligiuri have noted that some players are priced out of the game due to heavy prices to play on top youth teams. As a result, some candidates strongly believe that potentially top players eventually stop playing the sport due to limited development pathways. The overall issue of finding more ways to make the game accessible is one of the most important issues.
U.S. Soccer has reportedly built a $100 million-plus reserve and how much of that money should be spent as part of an annual operating budget is likely to be a major issue. In particular, multiple candidates have pointed out the discrepancies of funding between the men’s and women’s game at the highest levels.
Most candidates acknowledge that better coaching is needed at the youth level but one impediment is the cost of coaching education courses currently offered by the federation. There is no shortage of youth players in this country but there are not nearly enough coaches. The cost to obtain USSF licenses is out of reach to many people who wish to coach the game.
U.S. Soccer has only had one technical director in its history and that was Jurgen Klinsmann at a time when he was also the head coach. But many candidates are saying that one is needed for the federation to carve out the decision making for soccer issues—such as running the national teams and youth national teams.
The national teams are the most visible components of U.S. Soccer but the job of the federation’s president entails a lot more than the national teams. Carving out the national team soccer portion of it and leaving it the hands of a soccer visionary is something that some candidates have said is a priority.
This is an issue although it is not as big as some believe. Eric Wynalda is currently the most vocal about it while others have said they are willing to discuss the issue but acknowledge that the American sports landscape makes it either difficult or impossible.
Such a discussion would entail further exploration of the viability of lower-level teams to handle top-flight soccer, the single-entity structure of MLS, broadcasting rights, and sponsorship agreements.
Gulati's decision to not run for reelection might have less of an impact than those who seek radical change are hoping. A new president may or may not create change but if it happens, it is likely to be slower and more methodical.
That said, Gulati’s decision is a win for accountability. After the federation’s most visible failure, it is appropriate that the man at the top of the organization take responsibility. A heathy organization is an accountable organization and it is good for the culture within U.S. Soccer to know that there are specific goals that must be met.
Before the election, all the candidates are likely going to discuss their vision in a broad context but at some point, those in the media are going to have to make them be specific. Where do they want U.S. Soccer to be in four, five, or even 10 years from now? What benchmarks will constitute success and what will constitute failure? Obviously qualifying for the World Cup is the bare minimum, but there should more benchmarks. Then the winning candidate should be measured against those benchmarks to keep his or her job.