For some time, Carlos Cordeiro was considered by many to be Sunil Gulati’s heir apparent.
The well-traveled, Harvard-educated former finance executive was cut from similar technocratic cloth and had risen through U.S. Soccer Federation ranks since his 2007 nomination to the board of directors. Cordeiro became treasurer the following year, served as vice chairman on the ill-fated 2022 World Cup bid committee, led U.S. Soccer’s budget committee and in 2016, he was elected executive vice president. Cordeiro also is a member of the CONCACAF Council.
He’s been called Gulati’s “deputy,” his “confidante” and his “protege.”
But now, Cordeiro is a potential opponent. Despite the pressure facing Gulati following the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup—which set fire to a pile of problems or bad optics that already included the NASL antitrust lawsuit, friction with the U.S. women’s team and the pricey extension and buyout of former coach Jurgen Klinsmann—the long-time president has refused to resign or announce he’s not running for a fourth term in February.
As Gulati twists, there are USSF board members who’ve become increasingly frustrated or concerned. Meanwhile, several potential candidates have stepped forward to run for Gulati’s job, which was uncontested in previous elections. Cordeiro now is among them—he officially announced his candidacy Wednesday. There was a time when Cordeiro likely would’ve run only with Gulati’s blessing. That time is past, obviously and U.S. Soccer clearly is uncharted waters. Cordeiro, a former Goldman Sachs executive, met with Gulati this week in New York City, as well as MLS commissioner Don Garber (a USSF board member), among others. Cordeiro then went public with his intentions.
“The whole thrust of this is, this is something I've been thinking about for quite some time. This is not a reaction to a loss or not going to the World Cup,” Cordeiro told SI.com. “Essentially, I think we had a very good 25-30 year run. But the sport is at a critical juncture and I believe it needs new leadership.
“This is not about one year," he continued. "It’s not about one qualifying campaign. I’m looking at it in a much broader sense. It’s not about qualifying for 2022, either. It’s about where you want to be in 10, 15 years' time."
In a nutshell, Cordeiro feels U.S. Soccer must become genuinely globally competitive. He wants to host both the 2026 World Cup (that will be determined next June) and the 2027 Women’s World Cup. He wants the world champion women’s team to maintain its dominance and be a model for what American soccer can achieve. He wants to increase the federation’s financial strength by multiples. And he wants men’s national teams “that are competing with Germany, France and Spain and the powerhouses of football globally. We need five times the resources or 10 times the resources we have today. It’s not about beating Trinidad. That’s the message.”
A year or two ago, Cordeiro would’ve been considered a genuine successor to Gulati—an establishment candidate. But the decision to come forward before Gulati steps aside, and the fact that Cordeiro is running after meeting with Garber—it’s probably safe to infer the commissioner didn’t say “No, the pros are firmly behind Sunil. You have no shot.”—suggests a break and an option somewhere between the status quo and blowing it all up. There already had been hints that the relationship between Gulati and Cordeiro isn’t what it once was. Cordeiro was clear Tuesday: he believes Gulati has done plenty of good for American soccer and that he should finish out his term. But the time for change has come.
“We’ve had a reasonably successful decade and a very successful 25 years if you go back a generation. But we’re at a plateau and point is that we need to grow the base in order to strengthen the top of the pyramid,” Cordeiro said. “That requires significantly more resources at the grassroots, and at all levels to elevate the quality of the game. We’re the richest, most developed country in the world. Why can’t we have a top-five competitive soccer program for men? Why aren’t we competing at the highest levels?”
Cordeiro calls his plan “Mission 26/27,” and it’s designed to “align all levels of U.S. Soccer operations." It identifies the federation president as, “A consensus builder with a focus on sound governance, who can bring stakeholders together toward a common goal.”
Here are the highlights:
- The days of empowering one man to make the final call on national team managers would end under Cordeiro. If elected, he said he intends to establish a technical committee that reports to the USSF’s CEO, not the president, and which would recommend coaches to the board for approval. All coaches would report to the CEO or to a new “General Manager for Soccer,” essentially a national technical director, who would report to the CEO in turn.
“I don’t pretend to know everything and I’m certainly not a soccer expert, nor am I proposing myself as a technical guy who’s going to find these magicians that are going to take us to the next level,” Cordeiro said. “We need a federation that’s governed by a board, that’s collaborative, and where decisions aren’t made by one person. My job as president would be a sort of executive chairman of the board, and in that role it’s to facilitate discussion, to make sure to hire the right technical people who will then go out and hire the right coaches and start the right programs.
“There will be people who know a lot more than I do recommending who those people should be. That’s not the job of one individual, no matter how smart you are,” he added.
- His platform calls for a “team-based, transparent and collaborative approach that I believe has been lacking.” The much-publicized reserve of $100-$150 million, a good chunk of which came from hosting last year’s Copa América Centenario, Cordeiro said, will be used “in an intelligent way so you can sustain investment over time.”
He said, “I think we are trying to work through, and will over time, how that reserve should be invested. This is about my whole approach to leadership. It’s about being inclusive, about being open, about being even more transparent. And that’s the approach—the team approach—to making decisions.”
- Mission 26/27 calls for increased spending on youth coaches and coaching education, creating more participation “particularly in underprivileged and diverse communities,” engaging adult players with tournaments and events that “drive membership,” working to ensure that the National Women's Soccer League “continues to prosper,” and recruiting more athletes to be involved in federation governance and programs, among other initiatives.
“What I’m saying is, I think the opportunity for whoever the president is come February is a one-time opportunity to do a comprehensive, almost fearless review of all our major requirements,” Cordeiro said. “Whether it’s kids or whether it’s the adults playing in evening leagues, they’re starved of resources and we owe as much to them as we owe the national teams.
“Running a federation which is where we’re at, at $100 million [in assets], isn’t going to get us there.”
Cordeiro is the most prominent American soccer administrator to confirm his candidacy. At the moment, Boston attorney Steve Gans and long-time youth, indoor and amateur coach and executive Paul LaPointe have the required nominations to enter officially. Eric Wynalda, a former player and current Fox Soccer broadcaster, and Michael Winograd, a New York attorney who played professionally in Israel, have said they intend to run. Landon Donovan also reportedly is considering a bid. The nominating deadline is Dec. 12.