First order of business: It is vitally important that you read my story for The Guardian on Carlos Cordeiro’s surprising candidacy for US Soccer president.
Done? OK, let’s move on …
You read a lot about the Cordeiro record in that piece. To wit …
- Business relationships turned sour.
- He failed to assemble a management team and left a void, which may partially explain how the legal brief that forced him to resign got through. You could make a case that the USSF president, an unpaid volunteer, should be more focused on vision-setting than day-to-day work like reading legal briefs. But Cordeiro didn’t delegate well, according to many of my sources, and even if he wanted to, he didn’t have people in place to help out.
- His public statements were tone-deaf. When he was vice president, that wasn’t an issue. But the presidency is a public-facing job. Maybe the federation doesn’t want another outspoken person like Sunil Gulati, but the president has to be able to communicate with the masses.
- He didn’t settle any part of the lawsuit with the women’s national team. Cone did.
- According to the US Soccer Foundation, he picked an unnecessary fight with them that wound up in court. And he didn’t settle it. Cone did.
So you may still be wondering why state associations are supporting Cordeiro.
First, let’s give credit where it’s due. State associations train coaches and refs. They run player development programs. They run TOPSoccer for players with disabilities. They maintain lists of suspended coaches and players. All of this is important, and it’s only getting more complicated as other organizations come in with competing programs, the vast majority of which are designed for the “elite.” My experiences with Virginia’s youth association have been overwhelmingly positive, as have my conversations over the years with representatives from other states.
So when they complain that their needs aren’t being met, those complaints deserve a hearing. Whether Cone is hearing them is difficult to judge from afar.
But what I can tell you is that some misinformation is affecting some states’ judgment, and I’m a bit confused in some cases about what the states want.
Grant programs: The Innovate to Grow program is relatively new. It started with $467,303 in FY 2018 and grew to $3m annually.
Dave Guthrie from Indiana Soccer says that program was cut. Cindy Cone says it was redirected to COVID relief and is now back in place.
Either way, one thing to consider is that if sponsors bail, programs like this will be more difficult to fund.
General programming: Spending on players, coaches and referees increased under Cordeiro. But this was planned before Cordeiro took office — in fact, he mentioned it during the 2018 campaign.
Development Academy: Guthrie also pointed to the DA as something that was cut with no warning and left states in a lurch. The communication angle of it is worth questioning. Cutting the program — to me, at least — was a no-brainer. It wasn’t working on the girls’ side because the ECNL was already so firmly entrenched, and having a big program for boys without a comparable program for girls … well, that’s not going to fly.
And the DA undercut a lot of other programs and added to a plethora of “national” leagues and tournaments — which, coincidentally, I just wrote about. (Not yet published.)
Voting power: This is a case of misinformation and mistrust, and Alan Rothenberg said he thinks Cordeiro is tapping into resentment over something that was forced by Congress via the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
Athletes need to have 33.3% of the vote. Congress still hasn’t updated archaic language referring to national team players as “amateur athletes,” and I have indeed encountered some people who think “amateur” means “over-30 player for the Milwaukee Bavarians” rather than “recently retired women’s national team player” or “Paralympian.” In any other context, yes. In Congress, no.
Let’s run through USOPC bylaws, shall we?
ee) “10 Year Athlete” means an athlete who has represented the United States in a Delegation Event, World Championships, or another event designated by the USOPC (together with the AAC) and the relevant NGB (together with that NGB’s athlete advisory council) as an elite-level event for purposes of this definition, within the previous 10 years; and
ff) “10 Year+ Athlete” means an athlete who has represented the United States in a Delegation Event, World Championships, or another event designated by the USOPC (together with the AAC) and the relevant NGB (together with that NGB’s athlete advisory council) as an elite-level event for purposes of this definition, but not within the previous 10 years.
i) Athlete representatives will equal at least 33.3% of all NGB boards of directors, executive Boards, and other governing Boards.
a. At least 20% will be 10 Year Athlete representatives; the remaining will be either 10 Year or 10 Year+ Athlete representatives
“Delegation Event” means, individually or collectively as applicable, the Olympic Games, the Olympic Winter Games, the Paralympic Games, the Paralympic Winter Games, the Pan American Games, and the Parapan Am Games;
So there’s no wiggle room to define an “athlete” as you or me (unless you’re a former national teamer, in which case, hi and thanks for reading).
Yes, there’s some squabbling over the remaining 66.7%. For the National Council, the main voting body, the Youth Council, Adult Council and Pro Council were equally whacked, down to 20% each.
Some states would be happy to cut the pros down a bit more. I think that’s a hard case, though you could (and the progressive association in West Virginia did) make a case that the men’s and women’s Division 1 leagues should have an equal share of that vote.
The elephant in the room, frankly, is the Adult Council vote. Barring a Vardy-esque ascension from the UPSL to the national team, no elite-level players will come from this group. Elite players come from the youth ranks, as do the lion’s share of recreational players. Registration revenue from the various youth associations runs roughly five to eight times that of the adult associations.
So why does the Adult Council have an equal vote to the Youth Council? Why don’t state associations have 40% of the vote, allocated to each association (whether youth, adult or combined) according to number of registrants?
But I digress. There are two more quotes from Guthrie I’d like to share:
On whether some issues were more of an issue with the CEO, or lack thereof: “The President of U.S. Soccer sets the vision, the strategy, the plan and the priorities. A lot of members are very frustrated with Cindy because she’s basically ignored us. We don’t seem to be part of her vision. She clearly doesn’t see us as a priority. Just look at how she cut the DA and gutted grants for youth and adults. Even worse, in the debate over the board structure, we were made to feel like we didn’t belong. We deserve a president that includes us, and that’s why we’re backing Carlos.”
On whether sponsors would bail if Cordeiro is elected: “Actually, we should thank Carlos. He was the one who created the Commercial Committee under an independent director, which ultimately recommended that the commercial rights be brought back in-house. That means 2026 will bring huge opportunities for the Federation. We believe that, given his business background, Carlos is the best person to drive our commercial strategy over the coming years. I haven’t heard of a single sponsor getting involved in this election and, frankly, I don’t think it would be appropriate for them to get involved. The decision of who is our president belongs to the voting members. Our Federation is bigger than any one person, and all of us—including Carlos—are focused on one thing: making sure 2026 is a huge success.”
Women’s national team and sexism
Is sexism playing a role here?
It’s difficult to dismiss, especially when states that supported Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino are suddenly saying USSF needs someone with “business acumen.”
Is resentment toward the WNT playing a role here?
Obviously, no one’s going to say so publicly. Maybe some voters have done the math and are concerned that their programs will suffer more cuts if the federation has to shell out a massive settlement, or they’re concerned that they’re already being cut because the federation has to pay for lawyers to face off against the armada of lawyers the women have assembled.
But this much is clear: The WNT does not hold sway over the rank-and-file of US Soccer. If it did, no one would’ve called Carlos Cordeiro to come back.
Cordeiro has never been at ease with the media. I’ve certainly seen it first-hand. I had to work pretty hard to get comments from him for my story, and I’ve seen complaints elsewhere that he hasn’t talked with other reporters.
That said, I got no response whatsoever from the women’s national team’s players association or a PR rep from an NWSL team. None. We’re talking about people whose job it is to respond to such queries. And this was an opportunity for these people to tee off on Cordeiro. (Or to surprise me and say they suddenly support him.)
Bottom line: People in soccer are getting more and more brazen about choosing sympathetic, unquestioning audiences. It’s one thing to do that when you have deeply personal stories to tell, and you’re more comfortable telling someone who can more directly empathize for reasons of age, gender or any other commonality. It’s another when it’s your job to be held accountable.
Cordeiro touts his relationship with FIFA — he’s FIFA’s senior advisor for global strategy and governance — and how that would help with the World Cup. Rothenberg argues that Cordeiro is essentially FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s right-hand man, and that’s more of a conflict of interest than an asset.
Cone says her priority is wrapping up the selection of host cities, which she expects in the second quarter this year, and then working with those host cities on the goals of growing the game. FIFA is taking a more active role in overall organization of World Cups than it used to, regardless of the host.