U.S. Soccer, Soccer United Marketing and USSF presidential candidate Kathy Carter issued strongly worded denials of significant allegations made by candidate Kyle Martino on Monday in his response to a survey of all the candidates posted by the federation’s Athlete Council.
“Categorically false” and “irresponsible” were the words U.S. Soccer used to respond to Martino’s allegation that SUM—U.S. Soccer’s marketing partner, which is owned by MLS owners—had decided to stage September’s U.S. World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., to prioritize profit by hosting the game in a location that Martino said would draw the most Costa Rica fans.
“Any assertion that Soccer United Marketing has ever decided the location of a U.S. national team match is categorically false,” the federation said in a statement. “U.S. Soccer unilaterally selects the venues for all home national team matches, working closely with our senior team coaches to make the decisions that we believe will provide the greatest opportunity for on-field success. Claims to the contrary are irresponsible and misleading.”
Carter, who was still in her position of SUM president in September before going on leave during the campaign, issued her own statement to SI.com: “As U.S. Soccer has made clear, the federation alone decides where games are played. The U.S. Soccer community deserves leadership that is honest, open, fact-based and responsible. I am bringing those qualities to the campaign and urge all candidates to do the same. As candidates, we have a responsibility to the women and men who have committed their lives, as volunteers or professionals, in service to our game to be accurate and honest.”
Meanwhile, a SUM spokesperson also denied Martino’s claim that “U.S. Soccer and MLS leaders one time sat on SUM board with an equity stake in the company, which could still be the case.”
The SUM spokesperson responded: “Soccer United Marketing is owned by MLS club owners. No U.S. Soccer and MLS leaders have ever had an equity stake in SUM.”
SI.com asked Martino how he acquired the information he alleged in the public survey, which had not previously been reported anywhere.
Martino responded in a statement: “Hosting the WCQ against Costa Rica in New York was clearly the wrong decision, and one I would have never endorsed as president. I made that clear in my answers to the Athlete Council so won’t do it again here, though I will elaborate to say that I know from talking with Bruce Arena that he personally lobbied to have that venue changed and was told no.
“The suggestion that this decision was in part made by SUM is based off several conversations with people close to the decision-makers or included in past decisions. These accounts do not qualify for proof, which is why I said the following in my submission: ‘To be clear, I am not accusing anyone of unethical behavior as I don’t have a complete understanding of the relationships involved. I have a lot of respect for the leadership of SUM, MLS, and U.S. Soccer and their contributions to the game in this country.’ In context, this case was included as an example of the ways in which a lack of clarity of the relationship between SUM and the USSF creates a perception of decisions not being made for the right reasons. In this case, we have a remarkably bad decision but no context or understanding of why it was made (or at the very least reversed after consulting with our national team coach.)
“If what I’ve said is inaccurate as Kathy Carter and U.S. Soccer suggest, I call on them to provide the requisite transparency to debunk this. Those who know me and have worked with me know I am a man of integrity and honesty and I would not have made this comment without the information of credible people. I will be the first to formally apologize if there is no truth to what I wrote. In fact, I would find it heartening to be wrong. But even if the information I have received is unfounded, the fact that it is out there circulating at the highest levels of our game is disconcerting and evidence of the corrosive nature of these perceived conflicts.”