RSD 14: The next U.S. Soccer president?

The problems in U.S. Soccer run deeper than the water that flooded Ato Boldon Stadium in Trinidad and Tobago before the U.S. men’s anemic performance and shocking exit from the World Cup on Tuesday night.

There’s an arrogance throughout the federation. There’s chaos in youth soccer, where the costs keep spiraling upward with no tangible results.

My guest on Ranting Soccer Dad: Episode 14 is out to change that. He’s Steven Gans, and he’s challenging Sunil Gulati for the presidency of U.S. Soccer. The election will be at the federation’s Annual General Meeting, Feb. 8-11 in Orlando.

He believes he can get better results from the country’s national teams. But he wants to devote a lot of effort at the bottom — youth soccer and the various volunteers he sees as being neglected and ignored today.

The interview took place Monday, when the U.S. men’s qualification campaign seemed to be in good shape.


About this story: How this weekend could shape US Soccer’s long-term future

Reminder: I’m off Twitter for a while aside from automated stuff like this. And the next one. And the next one. So if you want to chat with me about this story, why not chat here?

And this one has a bit of a back story, anyway. I’ve been working on this for months. One reason it took so much time is the staggering number of documents I read — financial reports, transcripts from annual general meetings (“Alabama … here … Alaska … here … OK, now the adult associations … Alabama … Alabama … Alaska … here …”) and so on.

Another reason might surprise you: A lot of people weren’t interested in talking. But I didn’t sense that they felt intimidated. They simply didn’t know anything.

I’m grateful that they admitted it. They’re not the Twitter pundits who think they have all the answers on reforming U.S. Soccer but have never even peeked at any of the information the federation puts online. A couple of people had nothing to add to this story but were looking forward to seeing it published.

So there’s a “put up or shut up” element to this story. Sure. If you really want to see some new people in charge, speak up now and over the next four years, because a lot of people may soon be term-limited off the board.

But I also hope it gives people a bit of a peek behind the curtain. Sure, anyone can read the same documents I did and maybe even talk to some of the same people I did, but it takes some time. If you understand U.S. Soccer a little better after reading this, I’ve done my job.

And if you have anything to add now, please do.

It’s an exciting time for soccer. The sport’s profile in this country has completely changed in the past 15 years. So what’s next?

Story: How this weekend could shape US Soccer’s long-term future | Football | The Guardian

Hey hey, ho ho, U.S. Soccer Bylaw 109(7) has got to go

The U.S. Soccer Federation is many things to many people. And you can’t please all of the people all the time. (Mitch Hedberg: “And last night, all those people were at my show.”)

When U.S. men’s coach Jurgen Klinsmann was dismissed last month, The New York Times felt compelled to point out that the man most responsible for hiring and firing him, Sunil Gulati, did not occupy a position from which he could be easily “fired.” He’s an elected official, like a school board chair or a member of Congress.

Sam Borden writes:

Because U.S. Soccer is a nonprofit body that oversees all facets of the sport in the United States — as opposed to a for-profit professional sports team or league — its most senior positions are elected posts held on a volunteer basis. Gulati’s primary job is being an economics lecturer at Columbia; on Sunday, in addition to weighing Klinsmann’s fate, he taught a makeup class.

Yes, there are procedures by which Gulati could be removed by U.S. Soccer’s board of directors, but such impeachments are highly unlikely and generally designed for situations in which a board member has done something illegal.

So that should make everything perfectly clear, right? “Stand Down Sunil” would be a much more apt rallying cry than … oh …

Yes, the Nutmeg News satirical piece this week (“Man Pretty Certain His Two Bedsheets Are Going To Change The US Soccer Federation”) was based on something that actually happened.

This display was, of course, not motivated by Klinsmann’s hiring or firing. Or the ongoing labor dispute with the U.S. women’s soccer team, for which I’ve been tempted to hang a couple of sheets saying “Someone answer my danged emails!” Or even the tension between the long-standing youth and adult state associations and these newbie professionals who have increased their power within the organization in the 20 years of Major League Soccer’s existence.

The second bedsheet gives the simple agenda: “PRORELFORUSA,” or promotion and relegation.

And the pro/rel folks are trying to get that issue higher up on the USSF to-do list, though “pay current and former coaches” and “figure out how to counter the 60 Minutes piece on the women’s team” are going to be pretty tough to top for the next few weeks, at least.

The current agitation over pro/rel is a result of the decline or possibly even demise of the NASL, the league that managed to pitch itself to pro/rel zealots even while (A) never taking any tangible steps toward even thinking about working in such a system and (B) reviving brand names of the least traditional professional league for which we have any records. The New York Cosmos of 2016 were the improbable banner behind which pro/rel fans marched. The New York Cosmos of 1978 played on thin artificial turf covering narrow fields, with ties decided by alternating 35-yard shootout attempts, little to no interest in traditional cup competitions (which today’s NASL fans ironically accuse MLS of neglecting), and league standings riddled with “bonus points.”

Yes, it’s a bit like Garth Brooks doing an album of disco covers. We’re not dealing with the most-informed set of protesters here.

All that said, with all the issues facing U.S. Soccer today — the women’s pay, support for the NWSL, the chaos of the men’s lower divisions, the Girls Development Academy vs. the ECNL, the shocking performances by U.S. youth teams, the poorly received youth soccer mandates, etc. — perhaps it’s time for a broader discussion?

To that end, I’m immersing myself in all sorts of U.S. Soccer arcania such as Annual General Meeting transcripts, which are mostly discussions of Robert’s Rules of Order, bylaw revisions, and long roll calls.

I did not attempt a screen capture of the 2003-04 showdown in which youth groups accused the pro representatives and the athletes (who are required to have at least 20% of any vote, per U.S. Olympic Committee rules) of voting as a bloc to deny them any ability to challenge anything. That went on for many pages, and that’s just in the approved minutes and transcripts of the meetings.

Here’s what I hope to find out:

  1. What can change within U.S. Soccer?
  2. What should change?
  3. How can that change be made?

I hope the final results will shed some light on an organization shrouded in mythology. The conspiracy theories are a bit silly; the issues are not.

In fact, we may on the verge of a real opportunity for pro/rel. If the USL takes Division 2 status, then maybe what’s left of the NASL teams can join a few others and start proposing Division 3 leagues that include pro/rel. Some people think the federation should simply impose pro/rel on all the existing leagues, which would be a good way to make sure every dollar spent on U.S. soccer in the next 10 years goes to someone’s law firm. Much better to come up with an actual, feasible proposal and force the federation to either support it or oppose it. (The USL did limited pro/rel way back when, but the league standards and the process for gaining the federation’s sanction have certainly changed since then.) And we’re starting to see reasonable people trying to find a way to make pro/rel work instead of just collecting funds for no defined purpose or shouting at people on Twitter all day.

Make no mistake — U.S. Soccer might be a difficult boat to rock, and perhaps some people should be careful what they wish for. Over the past 10 years, a lot of line items in the budget have roughly tripled — sponsorship, national team revenue and national team expenses. That’s a robust organization, quite a change from the days of irrelevance in the 60s, 70s and 80s. (Not coincidentally, the USA did not qualify for a World Cup in those decades.)

But this seems as good a time as any to peek into USSF governance. If you have any questions (or better yet, some answers), just holler. Please don’t hang any sheets outside my house, though — I like my neighbors.


The U.S. Open Cup, women’s soccer and “data points”

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is an economist by trade — which is good, because if you see the financial documents linked later on, you’ll remember that he doesn’t get paid for his role with the federation. (Perhaps it’s a little unfair that the person making the big bucks, CEO Dan Flynn, rarely has to face the media while we pester Gulati all the time. But I digress.)

So when we pestered Gulati before Sunday’s USA-China women’s game, he made one telling statement: “I’ve been doing this too long to get too up or down by individual data points.”

Whether you agree with everything Gulati does or not, this statement is one thing that separates his thought processes from most of us who yap about soccer on the Internet. We in the virtual soccer community can “prove” lots of things from single data points:

  • Hey, it’s 50 degrees in Chicago today! That proves MLS can play through the winter!
  • The Rochester Rhinos won the Open Cup! That proves the A-League is better than MLS!
  • We sold a lot of tickets for one exhibition game between Manchester United and Real Madrid! That proves that if MLS teams simply spent themselves silly, we’d have crowds like this every game!
  • The WPS games immediately after the World Cup drew huge crowds! That proves WPS has made it!
  • The U.S. men won in Italy! Why aren’t we ranked in the top 10?

In the long run, it’s a good thing the powers that be don’t make decisions based on isolated data points. They might see a few hundred people gathered for one of last spring’s WPS games and figure women’s soccer is dead. They might see empty seats in MLS cities — even in places like Toronto where the seats are apparently sold but not occupied — and figure MLS is struggling. They might notice that ratings trumpeted as big numbers for European broadcasts are in the same ballpark as the numbers that have fans of The Ultimate Fighter on edge.

Let’s look at a couple of data points and see how the situation is a little more complicated than it appears:

Continue reading The U.S. Open Cup, women’s soccer and “data points”

Book review: ‘Chasing the Game’

I’m thrilled to see two books on American soccer history being released in the same month. I’m absolutely biased in saying that, of course, because one of them is mine.

The other is Filip Bondy’s look at the U.S. men’s national team, Chasing the Game, which weaves recent and ancient history to tell the story of the team as it heads into the World Cup.

Bondy uses the same narrative device Jere Longman used in The Girls of Summer, flipping back and forth from chapter to chapter between the main story and background pieces on a particular player or some piece of history. It can be a little hard to follow, especially if you put the book down for a few days and come back to it, but it’s more interesting than giving a few chapters on history and then getting into the 2008-09 qualifying campaign.

Adam Spangler has taken Bondy to task for a few bits of questionable analysis. Such is the subjective nature of a sport that can’t be easily quantified in stats, though some news junkies may also disagree with his depiction of the Honduran political crisis of 2009. (Yes, it’s relevant to his story.)

Spangler also points out something else that brings us to the Great Dilemma of the Soccer Writer in Mainstream Media (GDSWMSM?): Am I writing for soccer fans, a more general audience or some mix of the two? Those of us who have been compelled to write an explanation of the U.S. Open Cup every time it’s mentioned in passing can empathize.

Bondy splits the difference, and it’s hard to argue with that. Heading into a World Cup, fans need different levels of edumacating. Some fans have no idea about the 1950 USA-England game or the intricacies of World Cup qualification. Some already know Landon Donovan’s and Walter Bahr’s biographies in detail.

What I always tried at USA TODAY was to include some detail, some anecdote or some quote that was unique. Bondy offers plenty of that. He fleshes out our image of U.S. coach Bob Bradley, showing him to be even more detail-obsessed than any of us imagined. For each qualifying game and each player described in detail, he has something most people didn’t know or hadn’t considered.

And Bondy is nothing if not thorough. He saw the qualifiers, and he interviewed the key participants. He goes back in history and talks with 1950 World Cup star Walter Bahr about the USA-England matchup of that year and this year. As U.S. World Cup histories go, he has a word from everyone except Bert Patenaude, who passed away 35 years ago.

Having been through the publishing process, I’m impressed that the book has come together so quickly. Six months before the review copy arrived, we weren’t even sure if the USA would make the trip to South Africa. In the book world, particularly outside the major publishing houses, six months is a tight deadline.

If the book seems rushed, though, it’s still worth the effort. It’s a great way to relive the ups and downs of qualifying while learning a bit more about what happened.

I’m again a little biased in the sense that I enjoyed reading about a few things I had witnessed first-hand, particularly the ad-hoc viewing party in which several reporters gathered around Sunil Gulati’s laptop in a Beijing sports bar to watch the USA win in Guatemala. But a lot of fans have their own memories that they’ll enjoy revisiting. And if you don’t remember anything that was written here, you need to read this book before June 12.