U.S. Soccer Hires Will Wilson as New CEO

The U.S. Soccer Federation announced Monday that Will Wilson will be its new CEO, the organization’s most important daily position, finally ending a search process to replace Dan Flynn that had taken many months longer than expected.

Wilson, 52, comes to U.S. Soccer from the Wasserman sports agency, where he was an executive vice-president and co-head of football for the last eight years. He’s an uncle of Andrew Luck, whom he signed as Wasserman’s first American football client in 2012.

Wilson also spent four years as an executive with Soccer United Marketing and Major League Soccer managing all their international business relationships. The past connection to SUM, which has a deep business relationship with U.S. Soccer, will raise concerns from some critics who have said the federation is too close to a company that financially benefits the owners of MLS. But that didn’t appear to be a big concern for the U.S. Soccer board of directors, which gave Wilson its unanimous approval in a vote on Sunday. (Carlos Cordeiro remains on the board as the immediate past president after recently resigning as U.S. Soccer president following criticism over a federation legal strategy against USWNT players that argued women inherently had less skill, ability and responsibility than men.)

“We are thrilled Will Wilson is joining U.S. Soccer as our CEO,” said new U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone in a release. “He brings an unrivaled set of experience and expertise to soccer in America. His global perspective, background in marketing and growing sporting events and extensive experience in the sports business will be invaluable in growing soccer at all levels. Soccer is the world’s game and Will is the perfect person to help us grow it to America’s game.”

Added Wilson: “I’m very excited to be joining U.S Soccer. I have always admired the federation from afar and have long felt that the U.S. Soccer crest is one of the best brands in the business. There is nothing like harnessing our nation’s support behind our women’s and men’s national teams, and I see significant upside in our ability to work with our membership to grow participation levels, increase our commercial business and drive our ability to compete on the field at the highest level.”

Wilson has worked over the years in Europe, Mexico and the United States and speaks fluent Spanish, according to U.S. Soccer. Before he was with MLS, he held positions in the Arena Football League, the Champ Car World Series and the NFL. His arrival at the federation should help Parlow Cone as she deals with a leadership vacuum. Several of the most influential figures at U.S. Soccer have recently left the federation.

Cordeiro resigned as president. Former president Sunil Gulati is no longer on the board since he is no longer the immediate past president. Flynn left his CEO post after being in it since 2000. And Jay Berhalter, the chief commercial officer, was the most important figure at U.S. Soccer in recent years before not being considered for the CEO job and deciding to leave the federation last month.

The U.S. men’s team still hasn’t won back the American public after failing to qualify for World Cup 2018. And although the USWNT won last year’s World Cup, U.S. Soccer has earned heavy criticism from fans for the way it has handled the USWNT players’ gender-discrimination lawsuit. On the plus side, there will be significant interest from fans and the global business community in World Cup 2026, which will be co-hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

“U.S. Soccer has an amazing fan base and our supporters are waiting for us to get things back on track both on and off the field,” said Wilson. “I’m incredibly energized and excited about the work in front of us to continue striving to become America’s preeminent sport.”

The overly long CEO search process had raised questions about Cordeiro and the board’s leadership. The initial search firm hired by the federation had identified Berhalter as the top CEO candidate, but he came under fire last June in a New York Times story citing concerns about the federation workplace environment from employees there.

Dissatisfied with the first search firm, U.S. Soccer hired a second search firm. Wilson was identified early in that second search process.