A partial clarification on the U.S. Soccer anthem policy (not bylaw)

“Why didn’t we know about this national anthem bylaw before U.S. Soccer voted to approve it yesterday?”

First up: It’s not a bylaw. It’s a policy. One big difference between the two is that bylaws — such as the one approved yesterday setting term limits on the president and vice president — don’t exist until they go before the National Council says yea or nay at the Annual General Meeting. See duties (2), (8) and (9) here, from the bylaws:


Bylaw discussions have been surprisingly contentious in past years, even if the bylaw is something along the lines of “rename the Audit Committee to the Audit and Compliance Committee.” (That’s not a real one, but if you go back through the transcripts, you’ll find something close. And you can see all those transcripts, along with the bylaws and policies, on the U.S. Soccer site. In fact, let’s look at how picayune these bylaw changes can be, while also taking a look at who’s included in the National Council. It’s not just the bigwigs. This is from this year’s book with the AGM agenda, showing some proposed changes …)


Policies are set by the Board of Directors (bigwigs) throughout the year, and they’re often things that can’t wait until the next AGM. Last year, it was the new Open Cup policy banning teams whose rosters are controlled by a higher-division team (in other words, USL or NPSL teams that are literal or de facto reserve teams for MLS or NASL clubs can’t play). The National Council, as you see above, can either affirm these policy decisions or reject them.

In the case of the national anthem, the National Council was affirming a policy set at a February board meeting. The minutes for that meeting are not yet posted.

But I was still kicking myself a little when I saw the uproar over the national anthem policy (again — not bylaw). I read the whole AGM book as part of the three months of research that went into this Guardian story. I managed to spot a bylaw amendment (as part of a general overhaul, not a separate vote like the term-limit bylaw) that would remove the Hall of Fame and Society for American Soccer History as U.S. Soccer historian. I alerted the unofficial membership of the Society for American Soccer History, which includes people who worked for the Hall of Fame, and they seemed a bit alarmed. But no one made the case that the vestigial Hall staff or the ad hoc Society (I’m one of two people to attend our last two meetings) had actually been serving as U.S. Soccer historian in recent years. So I still don’t know what it means, and I’m … digressing. Back to the point …

As it turns out, the national anthem policy was not in the AGM book. (Unless I’m reading over it, and unless my PDF reader’s search function is broken.) I still have a vague memory of reading about the anthem policy, but I simply can’t find any such reference now.

The only source we have for this is Stuart Holden’s Twitter account. I’m not supposed to be on Twitter until Easter, but I did check out his timeline to see if he mentioned anything about the discussion or the vote. He did not.

So I guess I’ll have to get in touch with some people who were at the AGM in Hawaii. I’ll start calling and emailing on Monday when they’ve flown back to the mainland.

If you were there or can shed some light on this, please let me know.

Meanwhile, please don’t overlook the fact that Val Ackerman is now on the board. Or that the term limits mean it’s “put up or shut up” time for people who want to steer U.S. Soccer a little differently. Maybe start by glancing at the bylaws and trying to figure out how the federation works, because I’m starting to think Sunil Gulati and a few staffers in Chicago are the only people who know — and that’s our fault, not theirs.

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”