Ever since the US Men's National Team lost to Trinidad & Tobago last month, thus eliminating them from the 2018 World Cup, the dialogue about change within US Soccer has reached a fever pitch. The realization that a country of 300 million people, which has incredible resources, can fail to reach the World Cup has shook the sport here and is mobilizing people to do something to affect change within American soccer. A change at the top is being demanded by many - and that means that the next US Soccer presidential election is going to be much more interesting and possibly more important than we have ever seen.
Just as reference - Sunil Gulati has run opposed for president of US Soccer the last three times he has been elected. The fact that nobody would even run against him in the past makes absolutely no sense - but that's a conversation for another day.
We now see the next election almost overflowing with candidates who will be making their case to be the next president of US Soccer. We have former players - Kyle Martino, Eric Wynalda and Paul Caliguiri. We have attorneys in the race and we even have Gulati's right hand man, Carlos Cordeiro, running. We're also still waiting to hear if Gulati will be running again. All of this is a good starting point as it brings people from different worlds, with different skill sets and different philosophies to the table.
Besides the men's failure to reach the World Cup in 2018, there are other key areas in which much attention is needed. Be that the treatment of our Women's National Team and women's soccer in general. Transparency at the top levels. The incredibly high cost for kids to participate in youth soccer. Talented kids getting passed over or not looked at at all. A fundamental lack of developing better players. And a complacency that trickles down from the top.
These are all complex issues with no easy answers. These issues will take a team of forward thinking people to not only address, but to attempt to solve, or at the very least make progress with.
While there are clearly issues that need addressing, there are also some positives with US Soccer. The business side of things has grown immensely with reports that US Soccer is sitting on a $100 million surplus and it is looking very likely that the US will host the 2026 World Cup in a joint bid with Mexico and Canada.
We'll be taking a look at many of the issues that the next president of US Soccer can expect to encounter. The first issue that should be addressed is a division of duties.
From the outside looking in, it seems that US Soccer has three prominent areas of focus that require attention on a daily basis:
The commercial side
The soccer side
The political side
These are all incredibly important areas that need the right people in place to ensure that US Soccer is advancing in each of these specific areas.
The business and commercial side seems to be doing well in recent years. The $100 million surplus that keeps being talked about is a sure sign of the success that US Soccer has been enjoying. Dan Flynn seems to be the guy that is in charge of this side of US Soccer and there seems to be success here. Not sure if the treatment of our women's national team and the issues surrounding their pay should fall in this particular bucket. But that is something we will talk about more and absolutely needs addressing.
The soccer side of the sport is where we are struggling on a variety of levels. It is this portion of the job that is critical to advancing the sport here in the US, and this aspect shouldn't be left to someone who also handles the political or commercial side of the sport. It is also what is driving so much passion and has former players interested in becoming president of US Soccer. We need a person who understands the game in the US at all levels. From youth and amateur all the way through our senior national teams. This person needs to have the singular mindset of helping to create systems that will develop better American soccer players. That will support our players (men's and women's) with their best interests first. This is the area that is going to be the most difficult as we move forward and try to figure out how we develop better soccer players with the end goal of really competing at the highest levels.
The political side of the sport also seems to be an area where we have made some strides. From hosting the world Cup in 1994 and now being on the brink of hosting again (with Mexico and Canada) in 2026. Sunil Gulati has done a good job navigating the murky waters that can be FIFA and CONCACAF and there should be a person within US Soccer that handles the political side of the sport. This person, whoever it is, shouldn't be responsible for what goes on with youth development, and dealing with our national team programs and hiring national team coaches.
These three key areas need to have different people in place that will allow the commercial, political and soccer side of the sport grow to the maximum potential. We can't have one person oversee them all and have their hands in all the pots. Each of these is it's own ecosystem that requires full time attention. Until we ensure a division of responsibilities at the very top of US Soccer, it seems that we will never reach the potential that we have as a country.
This division of responsibilities should be the very first step that takes place regardless of who is our next president of US Soccer.