U.S. Soccer presidential candidate Eric Wynalda revealed to SI.com on Wednesday that he has received campaign funding from Riccardo Silva, the owner of the NASL’s Miami team, but he denied reports that he had received money for extensive campaign travel around the country from billionaire Rocco Commisso, the owner of the New York Cosmos and the chair of the NASL.
There is nothing in U.S. Soccer’s rules against receiving financial support for the campaign, including travel costs, but Wynalda said he wanted to provide transparency about his campaign funding and clear up questions that had emerged about the support of Commisso.
“I have received funding from several sources, one of which is an NASL owner,” said Wynalda, who confirmed that owner was Silva. “I am not receiving funding from Mr. Commisso, nor am I being bankrolled or flown around the country in a private jet. But I would say this: I value my friendship with Mr. Commisso, and I do reserve the right to work with anyone in the future who I believe has the best interests of soccer in this country in their heart.”
Commisso told SI.com: “With respect to me, we had one meeting [with Wynalda] where we financed the hotel [in New York]. Other than that, I haven’t given him a private check saying, ‘Here’s $100,000 you can go out and spend.’ Period. End of story. And that’s the truth. That doesn’t mean I won’t going forward, but that’s what’s happened to date.”
Wynalda also said that other than the one hotel stay in New York, Commisso had not funded his campaign travel.
Wynalda responded to SI.com for an upcoming story on transparency, in which all eight U.S. presidential candidates were asked if they have funded the entirety of their campaigns out of their own pocket, and if not, who their top three funders are and whether those funders have any business before U.S. Soccer.
Wynalda said he was self-funding his campaign until early December, when he went on leave from his job at Fox Sports. He said two of his top three funders are family members, whom he preferred not to name. The third is Silva, whose funding Wynalda called “minimal.”
Silva, the founder of the global sports agency MP & Silva, has been the most public proponent of introducing promotion and relegation to club soccer in the United States. In August, Silva was part of a group that brought a claim to the Court of Arbitration for Sport asking for FIFA, CONCACAF and U.S. Soccer to require an opportunity to be promoted. In July, Silva publicized his $4 billion offer to MLS for its next rights deal, an offer that required MLS to accept promotion and relegation. (MLS said it couldn’t even consider the offer until a non-exclusive period starts for negotiations on the next deal for post-2022.)
Last week, Wynalda spoke about best practices for leagues at a conference in Dubai that included FIFA president Gianni Infantino, Atlético Madrid manager Diego Simeone and Fabio Capello, currently the coach at China’s Jiangsu Suning. The conference is part-owned by Silva.
Silva and Commisso are the most powerful owners in the NASL, which has an ongoing legal case against U.S. Soccer over the federation’s refusal to grant second-division status to the league for 2018. Commisso told SI.com that NASL owners recently voted unanimously to support Wynalda in the U.S. Soccer presidential election.
The NASL is still awaiting a decision on its appeal of a judge’s refusal to grant an injunction on U.S. Soccer’s division sanctioning for the league. Commisso said he hoped the league would compete in 2018. “I think April is finished and May is finished,” he said. “We don’t know what the decision from the court is, so we’ll defer and stay tuned.”
When asked if he had offered to give Wynalda money to support his campaign, Commisso said: “We talked about what help he needs, and so far, frankly, he hasn’t asked for anything. To the extent he has greater needs, he’s unemployed, the poor guy. He’s got a family of six people. He’s going for a job that doesn’t pay anything. It’s nothing wrong with private citizens, private organizations, private companies, supporting candidates. It’s legal in this country, and to the extent it’s legal I’ll do whatever I want to do, frankly. I was already spending millions of dollars on this lawsuit [against U.S. Soccer].”