Who's who in the race to be the next U.S. Soccer Federation president
This is an updated version of a feature that was originally published on Oct. 25.
For the first time in more than a decade, the election for the presidency of the U.S. Soccer Federation will be contested.
The reason why is simple math. In the past, Sunil Gulati had votes from the Pro Council, Athletes Council, life members and board members locked up, getting close to the threshold needed to win. It never required much more support to push him into an unassailable lead; not so anymore.
In the wake of the failure by the men's national team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Gulati's base of support has eroded within the USSF National Council, the group that will actually vote in the election. Just how much remains to be seen, but it has created an opening whereby candidates have stepped forward to challenge him.
The current list of candidates seems to fall into two categories: Those with high-level playing backgrounds but little business experience and those with more modest playing careers but greater involvement in business and administration.
Here's the latest on a fluid field.
The incumbent: Sunil Gulati
In the wake of the failure by the U.S. men to qualify for the World Cup in Russia and manager Bruce Arena's subsequent resignation, Gulati has become public enemy No. 1. Given the reported USSF surplus of $130 million, the financial side looks to be in good shape, but it is Gulati's judgment on the playing side -- in particular his hiring of coaches -- that has been called into question.
Gulati still has yet to declare his intentions, though he has been politicking in the background, meeting with various constituencies and working to secure the three required declarations of support.
The entry of USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro into the race complicates matters for Gulati, since they would presumably be going after many of the same voters. But Gulati is the incumbent and has the advantages that title brings. Assuming he runs, he knows how to win elections and has an entrenched base, especially on the Pro Council, as well as elements of the USSF Board.
Chances of winning: 25 percent (unchanged)
The heir apparent: Carlos Cordeiro
Cordeiro's candidacy offers advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, he's not Gulati, but his close association as a member of the hierarchy means he'll have to explain how he would do things differently. Cordeiro has been heavily involved on the business side of the USSF, serving as the organization's treasurer since 2008 and on the budget committee. He joined as an independent director the year before that.
He has also won USSF elections and, like Gulati, will be well versed in the politics needed to secure votes. But he has no known experience of dealing with the playing side of the house and, given its emphasis in this election, that will be a difficult gap in his resume to overcome. Cordeiro has vowed to take less of a hands-on role, be more inclusive and transparent and will allow a technical director to decide the next manager of the men's national team.
The crowded field could see the protest vote against the establishment splinter, aiding his candidacy. At some point, however, either he or Gulati will need to become the standard bearer for the establishment wing.
Chances of winning: 25 percent (unchanged)
The firebrand: Eric Wynalda
Wynalda has long been the U.S. soccer community's resident gadfly, willing to say just about anything, regardless of the subject matter. That persona has tended to obscure some of his ideas about the game and without question, he is taking a populist approach to his campaign.
He is a staunch advocate of promotion/relegation, though by his own admission, he admits it doesn't fit within the current system. He will "tear up" the recently agreed CBA between the USSF and the union representing the women's national team in a bid to give them equal pay. His proposed changes for MLS involve moving to a fall/spring calendar in line with that of Europe, as well as a media-rights deal for all divisions similar to what MP & Silva proposed in September.
Such views make Wynalda a polarizing figure. His lack of business experience is also something he'll need to address, which in part explains his praise for current USSF CEO Dan Flynn. Name recognition alone gets Wynalda in the running, but he'll need to sell his ideas -- and temperament -- to constituents, who might be concerned by what he'll do to the system.
Chances of winning: 18 percent (down from 20 percent)
The all-rounder: Steve Gans
Gans will likely be viewed as a safe candidate and boasts a strong business background, having been a COO as well as a lawyer, who has advised youth and Premier League clubs on various aspects of their business. He engaged in what he calls a "listening tour" of people associated with the youth and amateur game and said he has found great dissatisfaction. His biggest challenge is convincing people he's also a "soccer guy," so he's been bringing up his long affinity for the game as well as the fact he played professionally in the MISL.
Among his ideas is to use the USSF surplus to address the pay-to-play issue in youth soccer. He has also said he will work to make the youth soccer landscape "less fractured" and, as a parent of two Development Academy players, he has seen it up close. Gans has also vowed to improve the working conditions of the U.S. women's national team, who even after agreeing to a new CBA, have been subjected to playing games on artificial turf.
On the business side, Gans said he wouldn't change much, noting that he things there are a lot of good people working for the USSF already.
Chances of winning: 15 percent (unchanged)
The idealist: Kyle Martino
Martino insists his entry into the race is not "a person for a person" and that nobody alone will save U.S. Soccer. He made that comment as it relates to Gulati, but his presence seems to make him the anti-Wynalda. Martino may not have had such an illustrious playing career, but his knowledge is not in question but what he offers is a candidate with many of the same qualifications as Wynalda, but one who is less controversial. That might appeal to voters less inclined to big changes.
Martino's platform consists of three planks. The first involves making the USSF more transparent, while making the president a paid position. He is also emphasizing equality, which includes making the game more accessible for kids from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as better treatment of the women's national team. The third is loosely titled "Progress" and includes setting up training centers around the country that would be free of charge to players, as well as creating an advisory board to aid with the selection of national team coaches and technical directors.
Martino has some catching up to do in terms of establishing relationships with voters and he'll need to find a way to expand his base beyond the anti-establishment crowd. However, Landon Donovan's decision not to run boosts the candidacy of Martino, whose skill set has a lot of overlap with that of Donovan.
Chances of winning: 13 percent (up from 8 percent)
The outsider: Mike Winograd
A corporate attorney, who played professionally in Israel and coached at the youth and collegiate levels, Winograd has a skillset that allows him to bridge the business and playing sides. He has touted his experience in legal negotiations as proof of his ability to build consensus but it looks like he has too much ground to make up to win the election.
Winograd is not of the opinion that everything in the system needs to be burned to the ground and his platform contains three major planks: Transparency by which critical decisions are made, addressing the inequities that the women's national team faces, and tackling the costs affecting coaching education and youth soccer.
He "would love to see" promotion / relegation but stopped short of saying he would implement it full bore; instead he is interested in a more incremental approach. He is a big supporter of training compensation / solidarity payments and feels that is a piece to the puzzle of funding youth development. He would also leverage his experience in the corporate world to create more avenues of funding, as well as make use of the USSF's reported surplus.
Chances of winning: 2 percent (unchanged)
The legend: Paul Caligiuri
The 53-year-old, best known for scoring the goal that clinched a place for the 1990 World Cup, is banking on his lengthy playing career to set him apart from other candidates; given the presence of old teammate Wynalda and Martino, that could prove difficult. That said, he could weaken support for his other ex-players.
Since his 15-year professional career ended, his time has been spent coaching collegiately at Cal Poly-Pomona and with Orange County FC in the NPSL. He has also served on the USSF Athletes Council and on the USSF Board of Directors. His "Goal 2019 & 2022" plan aims for the women's national team to defend its World Cup title in 2019 and the men to win the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Caligiuri's plan so far is light on details, but he is in favor of promotion / relegation and said two other areas of emphasis would be culture and values. In terms of the business side, he emphasized that he's there to chair the committees, not be a day-in, day-out person to run the business. Instead, a "qualified CEO" would be in charge of that.
Chances of winning: 1 percent (unchanged)
The lifer: Paul Lapointe
Lapointe has a long history of playing in various indoor and outdoor leagues, then working in the game at youth and amateur levels. He is currently the Northeast Conference manager of the amateur UPSL. In his professional life, he has worked in the automotive industry, owning car dealerships and tire stores after working for Goodyear.
Easily the biggest plank in his platform is his idea for instituting promotion / relegation at every level except MLS and then, after a period of time evaluating how well it works, for the full conversion to happen naturally.
In terms of youth soccer, Lapointe would like a more clearly-defined path to the national team and believes the Development Academy doesn't reach enough kids. In terms of the women's game, he believes that having a women's version of the U.S. Open Cup would be a way to further market that side of the sport.
Chances of winning: 1 percent (unchanged)
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.