Landon Donovan is seriously considering running for U.S. Soccer president as a challenger to Sunil Gulati. 

By Grant Wahl
October 18, 2017

The nominations for U.S. Soccer presidential candidates are due on Dec. 12, and SI.com has learned that Landon Donovan is seriously considering running for U.S. Soccer president.

Donovan, who had no comment, has been asked by a number of respected figures in American soccer to contemplate running. They’re concerned about Sunil Gulati continuing to control decisions on the technical side—including hiring head coaches—and think Donovan is better qualified to handle the soccer aspects of the job.

If Donovan were to run, it would be a game-changer in the campaign to become the elected leader of U.S. Soccer.

Donovan, one of the most decorated players in the country's history, holds a share of the U.S. men's all-time scoring record with Clint Dempsey (57) and is the USA's all-time men's assist leader with 58.

Elsewhere in U.S. Soccer:

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For the first time since 1998, U.S. Soccer will have a contested presidential election. SI.com has learned that Boston lawyer Steve Gans has received the required three letters of nomination that he needs to be an official candidate in the February election.

It’s expected that the incumbent, Sunil Gulati, will run for his fourth term despite the U.S. men’s World Cup qualifying failure. Gulati refused to confirm he would run again in addressing reporters last week, but he did concede that he had reached out to constituents about endorsing him or nominating him in recent weeks. In a blow to democracy, the last four U.S. Soccer presidential elections have had only one candidate. But that will not be the case this time around.

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Sunil Gulati said he hoped to be able to announce an interim coach for the U.S. men’s national team by the end of this week ahead of a friendly next month at Portugal. But the process hasn’t gone as smoothly as Gulati would have hoped. He wanted Under-20 coach Tab Ramos to take the job on an interim basis. And while Ramos would love to have the job on a non-interim basis, he’s not so sure he wants to have an interim label right now.

It’s expected that Gulati will continue to push for Ramos and the interim label. If Ramos doesn’t end up taking it, look for it to be offered to another coach who’s currently on the U.S. Soccer payroll. Keep in mind, Bruce Arena’s assistants—including Dave Sarachan, Pat Noonan, Matt Reis and Kenny Arena—are still technically on the payroll of U.S. Soccer and could be options to coach in the Nov. 14 friendly against Portugal, which will reportedly be the only match the U.S. plays during that FIFA window instead of the usual two-game slate.

Much has been made of the current financial surplus of U.S. Soccer, which has been reported to be around $100 million following the success of the 2016 Copa America Centenario. But a source with direct knowledge of the situation says the actual number on the surplus is significantly higher: Between $130 million and $140 million.

While a significant portion of that surplus needs to be kept in reserve, U.S. Soccer has yet to decide on what to spend the rest of that money. Board discussions have centered on capital investments in infrastructure, youth development and new uses of technology to identify talent. But everyone has their own idea on what they think the surplus should go toward.

In May, SI.com reported that part of the surplus was being earmarked for a project called the "Innovate to Grow Fund," which would stimulate growth among membership at all levels, from the grassroots and up. U.S. Soccer was also engaged in talks over building a national training center with the surplus funds.

The biggest barrier to entry for potentially qualified U.S. Soccer presidential candidates is that the job is an unpaid position. Former USMNT player and current NBC analyst Kyle Martino told SI.com the time for change is now and he seriously considered running for president, but he decided he couldn’t afford to give up his TV commentary role and take a full-time position for no money.

Several other potential candidates have said the same. Gulati earns money from teaching at Columbia University and his six-figure salary as a member of the FIFA Council. I’m told that the board of U.S. Soccer has had discussions—though not serious ones—about making the presidency a paid position, but that change likely won’t happen until after Gulati leaves office.

Martino, whose interest in the U.S. Soccer presidency was first reported by Bleacher Report, sent this statement to SI.com:

“I, like most U.S. fans right now, am heartbroken. I’ve loved this game and this team all the way back to the Hugo Pérez days and am feeling very protective of it in this moment. This historic low point for the program, along with the encouragement of some I respect greatly in the soccer community, has led me to seriously consider running for U.S. Soccer president.”

“The time for change is now, but unfortunately some of the aspects of the U.S. Soccer structure that I would want to change prevent people like me—and others who may be more qualified than me—from running. One such example is how the position not being a full-time salaried one acts as a deterrent to those with the qualities to run but not the financial means.”

“Not only does the lack of salary shrink the pool of potential presidents, it also diminishes the accountability of the current one. The irony is if I did run, one of the issues I would run on is changing the pay-to-play model to increase participation among an incredibly important demographic being priced out, but the reason I can’t run to do that is because I can’t afford it.”

“I want to make it clear that I’ve decided to go public about wanting to run not to bring attention to myself, but to bring attention to the first problem that could easily be fixed to increase the quantity and quality of those who step forward during such an important juncture in our game’s history. Little steps can make big strides, but the pressure to make these steps doesn’t exist unless people create that pressure by continuing to draw attention to the stagnation.”

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