Rarely have we seen a week in the American soccer landscape when there has been as much back-channel chatter as this one. “It’s the Wild West,” said one of the two dozen U.S. soccer insiders I spoke to over the past seven days.
The reasons are simple: The U.S. failed to qualify for World Cup 2018, producing the most embarrassing moment in the history of U.S. Soccer, and everyone is jockeying for position ahead of what could be a chaotic and nasty campaign for U.S. Soccer president culminating in an election on Feb. 10 in Orlando. Each official candidate for that election will need at least three formal nominations from delegates by Dec. 12.
This is an ongoing story, of course, and in the coming weeks we’ll take a closer look at a number of topics, including: The debate over what needs to change in U.S. soccer; how power works, formally and informally, in American soccer and in the U.S. Soccer federation; who votes in the election; and the chain of command and responsibilities of the various positions at U.S. Soccer.
But for now, here's what we are able to surmise as of Friday about potential candidates for U.S. Soccer president:
WHO HAS ANNOUNCED THEY’RE RUNNING AND SAYS THEY HAVE THE REQUIRED THREE FORMAL NOMINATIONS?
Who is he? A Boston-based lawyer who has been in soccer for more than 25 years, Gans has been involved in the playing, legal, management and consulting sides of the sport.
Supporters would say: That Gans has an ethical reputation and is right when he criticizes the judgment of Sunil Gulati, the incumbent, over some of his most prominent decisions on national team coaches (including the pre-2014 extension of Jurgen Klinsmann’s and keeping him in the position of USMNT coach for too long).
Critics would say: That Gans isn’t a big enough presence for a position that needs one and doesn’t have enough of the respect needed to make big decisions on the technical soccer side.
Who is he? A Western Massachusetts-based regional director of the UPSL, a national amateur league. Lapointe told SI.com on Thursday that he has the necessary nominations to be an official candidate.
Supporters would say: That Lapointe has some intriguing ideas on things like proposing promotion and relegation in U.S. club soccer for every tier below MLS, but not including MLS.
Critics would say: That Lapointe is taking far too big a leap from the UPSL to become the president of U.S. Soccer.
WHO IS LIKELY TO RUN?
Who is he? The incumbent who has been U.S. Soccer president since 2006. Gulati has not announced whether he is running again, but he is expected to do so.
Supporters would say: That Gulati has presided over 11 years of immense growth in U.S. Soccer, including a 2015 Women’s World Cup title, two USWNT Olympic titles, two knockout-round berths in the men’s World Cup and the establishment of U.S. Development Academies for men and women. He has also increased the power of the U.S. inside FIFA.
Critics would say: That Gulati shouldn’t be rewarded with four more years as U.S. Soccer president after the disaster of missing World Cup 2018; and that U.S. Soccer leadership under Gulati has moved too far in the direction of administration and money and too far away from the soccer itself.
Who is he? One of the greatest forwards the U.S. has ever produced. An outspoken critic of Gulati and many other facets of U.S. Soccer, Wynalda has worked in recent years as an NASL coach and in the media for Fox Sports and SiriusXM. He is expected to announce his candidacy as early as this weekend.
Supporters would say: That Wynalda is the charismatic figure of sweeping change that U.S. Soccer needs who could ride a Trump-like wave of anger toward the current regime to victory. As someone who knows soccer, Wynalda would certainly be an anti-establishment candidate open to instituting promotion/relegation and creating a more open market in the United States.
Critics would say: That Wynalda doesn’t have the temperament to be U.S. Soccer president and doesn’t have enough experience in management.
WHO IS CONFIRMED TO BE CONSIDERING RUNNING?
Who is he? One of the greatest players in U.S. soccer history.
Supporters would say: That Donovan cares deeply about the sport and has the hardcore soccer background to re-balance the soccer and business sides in U.S. Soccer. It’s also likely that Donovan could gain the support of the MLS-based voters who would be uncomfortable supporting any of the other candidates.
Critics would say: That Donovan hasn’t demonstrated any previous ability to hire coaches or manage an organization.
Who is he? The chair of Relevent Sports, which organizes International Champions Cup summer preseason games for top European soccer teams in the United States. SI.com has called Stillitano “the best-connected American in European soccer.” He also hosts a show on SiriusXM.
Supporters would say: That Stillitano is a soccer guy who knows the biggest names in the sport and also know how to stand up to the U.S. Soccer establishment, having clashed with them for years over his summer tournaments; and that Stillitano would make sweeping changes without being as potentially volatile as Wynalda.
Critics would say: That Stillitano wasn’t successful as the GM of the MLS MetroStars and has too many antagonists in U.S. Soccer to get things done.
WHO ARE POTENTIAL REALISTIC CANDIDATES WHO ARE CONFIRMED TO NOT BE INTERESTED IN RUNNING?
Joe Cummings (current consultant, former head of National Soccer Coaches Association of America, former member of New England Revolution leadership).
Julie Foudy (two-time World Cup winner, former USWNT captain, former president of Women’s Sports Foundation, current ESPN journalist).
Nelson Rodriguez (Chicago Fire general manager)
Claudio Reyna (NYCFC sporting director)
Brad Friedel (U.S. men’s Under-19 coach)
Rocco Commisso (owner, New York Cosmos)
Rishi Sehgal (NASL interim commissioner)
John Motta (president, U.S. Adult Soccer Association)
Angela Hucles (member of U.S. Soccer Athletes Council, two-time Olympic gold medalist, former president of Women’s Sports Foundation)
Mia Hamm (two-time World Cup and Olympics winner, part-owner LAFC)
Kyle Martino (former USMNT player, current NBC Sports analyst)
Dave Checketts (former owner Real Salt Lake, former NBA GM)
Alexi Lalas (former USMNT World Cup player, current Fox Sports analyst, not interested in U.S. Soccer presidency “despite the undeniable fact that I would be awesome. Besides, they can’t afford me.”)
WHO ARE QUALIFIED, POTENTIAL CANDIDATES WHO HAVE YET TO DENY OR ACKNOWLEDGE INTEREST?
This is a fluid list, and the lack of confirmation is connected to different factors that include an inability to reach them. The list of potential Major League Soccer/Soccer United Marketing nominees are people who the MLS/SUM power structure might turn to at some point if they feel they want a favorable candidate who isn’t Gulati.
Tim Leiweke (former AEG chair, currently working to confirm David Beckham’s MLS team in Miami)
Mary Harvey (management consultant, World Cup and Olympics winner, served on U.S. Soccer board for 12 years, former FIFA director of development)
Potential MLS/SUM power structure nominees (Portland owner Merritt Paulson, Seattle owner Adrian Hanauer, Dallas owner Dan Hunt, Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter, New England owner Jonathan Kraft)
Ali Curtis (former New York Red Bulls sporting director)
Chris Klein (LA Galaxy president)
Garth Lagerwey (Seattle Sounders president of soccer)
WHO ARE SOME INTERESTING SUGGESTIONS I HAVE HEARD FROM TOTALLY OUTSIDE THE SOCCER WORLD?
(One person suggested the creation of a GoFundMe page for a member of the American Outlaws supporters group. The fund would support the member if they won the presidency, which is an unpaid position.)