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The behind-the-scenes drama of the U.S. Soccer election

US Soccer

U.S. Soccer Federation presidential election - candidates to succeed Gulati

Herculez Gomez explains why he doesn't think Sunil Gulati's position as president of U.S. Soccer is at risk.
Former U.S. international Brian McBride reacts to U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati's decision to not seek re-election in 2018.
U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Kyle Martino joins ESPN FC to discuss the highlights of his platform ahead of February's vote.
U.S. Soccer Federation presidential candidate Kathy Carter answers your tweets on pay-to-play, the NWSL, the USMNT's search for a head coach and more.
The guys discuss the sluggish MLS Cup Playoffs, and Eric Wynalda calls in to discuss his run for U.S. Soccer president.

With president Sunil Gulati not running for re-election, the U.S. Soccer Federation is poised to have new leadership for the first time in more than a decade. On Wednesday, the official list of nominees was revealed ahead of the election on Feb. 10.

The list seems to divide 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 a look at the candidates:

Carlos Cordeiro

Chances of winning: 28 percent

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 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.

Cordeiro is among the beneficiaries of Gulati's decision not to run. Lately he has kept a lower profile than the competition, as a prior commitment kept him from participating at a recent candidates' forum in Chicago. Instead he is going about the business of attempting to woo voters on the down-low.

Kathy Carter's entry into the race represents a challenge to Cordeiro. That said, his decision to enter the race earlier looks like a smart play at this point. He has the advantage of additional time to build support, as well as letting her previous position with SUM take off some of the heat that comes with being an insider.

Eric Wynalda

Chances of winning: 23 percent

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 that which 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.

Wynalda's campaign appears to be gaining some momentum, as he continues to garner support among voters on the Adult and Youth Councils, where his platform had had some resonance. The politicking over the next two months will reveal the extent he can broaden his base.

Kathy Carter

Chances of winning: 17 percent

The president of Soccer United Marketing, Carter's entry adds another establishment figure to the race given that SUM is the marketing arm of MLS.

Her early statements indicate she is doing everything she can to convey the impression that she isn't beholden to the league or existing USSF hierarchy, but her previous position means she carries much of the same baggage as Cordeiro. Not only will that be tough to shed, but it will also make it difficult for Carter to expand her base beyond the Pro Council.

Carter played collegiately at William and Mary, so isn't lacking in soccer bona fides. But it's clear that her strength is her extensive business background, having worked for the likes of AEG, ISL United States, Envision, and MLS in its early years. In an election where the soccer side of the job is getting more attention, her resume isn't as much of a strength as it otherwise might be.

Carter does enter the race with a base of support, so her starting point is better than some other candidates. Beyond the Pro Council there are those who feel that it's time for a woman to be in charge of what has historically been a male-dominated organization. But her late entry into the race, relative to other candidates, means she has plenty of work to do.

Steve Gans

Chances of winning: 15 percent

Gans will 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 thinks there are a lot of good people working for the USSF already.

Gans was the first to enter the race last summer but, outwardly, gaining additional traction has been difficult to discern. As candidates begin to drop out, can he pick up the support they leave behind?

Sunil Gulati will be remembered for the recent qualification failure but his contributions to U.S. Soccer go far beyond that.
Eight candidates are on the final ballot to replace Sunil Gulati as president of the U.S. Soccer federation.

Kyle Martino

Chances of winning: 13 percent

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, 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 presidency 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.

He has some catching up to do in terms of establishing relationships with voters and will need to find a way to expand his base beyond the anti-establishment crowd. Name recognition is keeping him in the race but his biggest challenge is getting enough support among voters, who think someone with a strong playing background ought to get the job. Right now Wynalda seems to be carrying the day on that front, but there is still time.

Mike Winograd

Chances of winning: 2 percent

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 ripped up 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 totally; 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.

Paul Caligiuri

Chances of winning: 1 percent

The 53-year-old, best known for scoring the goal that clinched the U.S.' place at the 1990 World Cup, is banking on his lengthy playing career to set him apart from other candidates; given the presence of his old teammate Wynalda, as well as Martino, that could prove difficult. But Caliguiri could weaken support for 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.

Hope Solo

Chances of winning: 1 percent

Solo hasn't announced her retirement from playing, so has the distinction of being the only active player running for office.

The planks of her platform consist of creating a winning soccer culture, pushing for equal pay for the women's national team and all women in the USSF workplace, addressing the pay-to-play issue in youth soccer and making the game accessible to all. She is also pushing for organizational, operational and financial governance transparency.

At the time Solo announced her candidacy, she spoke powerfully about her own experience climbing through the youth ranks and struggling to pay some of the costs the system required. She also criticized what she described as the USSF's approach of valuing profits above all else.

Solo is a longest of shots to prevail and not just because she has been a lightning rod for controversy throughout her career. She has little to no business experience to speak of and, while her time as a player has exposed her to many aspects of the game, that is the sum total of her experience.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.


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