From controversy to personal attacks and lawsuits, U.S. Soccer's presidential campaign has featured it all. Here's what you need to know entering Saturday's election vote.
ORLANDO, Fla. — The historic campaign for U.S. Soccer president, which will end here with Saturday’s election, has had a bit of everything.
It has had the longtime president, Sunil Gulati, decide not to run in the wake of the U.S.’s stunning failure to qualify for the men’s World Cup. It has had eight candidates (eight!) vying to replace him. It has had Gulati’s former right-hand man, USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro, announce his candidacy before Gulati had exited, a move Gulati viewed as a betrayal.
It has had a leading candidate, Kathy Carter, who could become the first woman to serve as U.S. Soccer president (and just the fifth female national soccer federation president ever globally)—but who has faced skepticism about her commitment to women’s soccer from players on the U.S. women’s national team.
It has had two lawsuits filed against U.S. Soccer by the lower-division NASL, which may end up folding but still has a vote in the election and is supporting candidate Eric Wynalda—whose campaign has been partially funded by NASL club Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva, who has brought a different case against U.S. Soccer before the international Court of Arbitration for Sport.
It has had another candidate—Hope Solo, perhaps the greatest U.S. goalkeeper of all time—bring a formal complaint to the U.S. Olympic Committee over what she calls U.S. Soccer’s illegally favorable treatment of MLS at the expense of women’s soccer. It has had the two most powerful figures in U.S. Soccer (Gulati and MLS commissioner Don Garber) say they were not lobbying for a candidate, only to have one influential voter say he thought Gulati and Garber were lobbying him behind the scenes for Carter.
It has had plenty of controversy around Soccer United Marketing, a for-profit company owned by MLS owners, which has made millions for and off U.S. Soccer (a non-profit) on a contract that didn’t involve competing bids—raising questions over conflicts of interest from several candidates and answers from Carter that SUM has been a financial boon for American soccer, a win-win.
It has had two charismatic TV analyst former players, Kyle Martino and Wynalda, make explosive allegations against the current federation leadership, not all of them based on evidence. It has had another candidate, the lawyer Steve Gans, make a formal complaint that U.S. Soccer couldn’t be trusted to oversee a fair election process.
And it has had far too many Twitter conspiracy theories and mud-slinging allegations, both public and private, with Gulati delivering an acid response—caught on video at a youth soccer dinner, of all places.
Yes, there have actually been some productive proposals and discussions, too, which is a good thing for an American soccer culture that needs them. But whoever wins on Saturday will have to mend a fractured soccer landscape. Presumably that will include uniting behind the North American bid to host World Cup 2026, which will almost certainly be decided on June 13 in Moscow. But there’s a lot more to the path forward than hosting a World Cup.
As for Election Weekend, you’ve likely got questions, and we’ve got some (but not all) of the answers. Let’s dive in:
WHO ARE THE CANDIDATES?
Paul Caligiuri, Kathy Carter, Carlos Cordeiro, Steve Gans, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo, Michael Winograd and Eric Wynalda.
All of them, except Solo (who was invited), appeared on the Planet Fútbol Podcast to discuss their platforms and campaigns.
HOW DO YOU WIN?
By getting a majority of the overall weighted vote. The election, which will be live-streamed on U.S. Soccer’s website, is set to start at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday. If no candidate gets a majority of the votes in the first round, a 10-minute break will take place before another round of voting.
The Athlete Council, made up of 20 current and former national team players, has 20 percent of the overall vote. The Professional Council (25.8 percent) and the state associations that make up the Adult Council (25.8 percent) and the Youth Council (25.8 percent) also have a big influence. The remaining votes—around 2.6 percent—will be taken by national associations and affiliates, federation board members, life members (up to 12 votes) and two fan representatives.
WHO IS GOING TO WIN?
Nobody who has followed this campaign closely knows, nor do I. It’s that close. In recent days, it appears the top three candidates are Carter, Cordeiro and Martino. Carter has the advantage of coming into Saturday’s election with the support of nearly the entire Professional Council.
Cordeiro, the only candidate who has been through a federation election before (for vice president two years ago), has the contacts from that process and has been gaining support among the state youth associations. Meanwhile, Martino may have a path to victory through being seen as a compromise change candidate who isn’t as extreme as Wynalda.
Wynalda has drawn support from several state associations, especially on the Adult Council, but he has little support on the Athlete Council (and significantly less than the other three candidates). It’s hard to imagine Wynalda having a path to victory that doesn’t include significant numbers of Athlete Council votes.
WHICH VOTERS WILL LIKELY SWING THE ELECTION?
The Athlete Council. If the AC decides to follow what it has often done in the past and vote as a bloc, delivering 20 percent of the overall vote to one candidate, it will likely decide the outcome. But there’s plenty of division within the group heading into its key meeting on Friday afternoon in Orlando, so voting as a bloc is by no means guaranteed. Carter and Cordeiro appear to be the leading preferences of AC members heading into that meeting, with Martino not far behind and Wynalda having small but vocal support. Winograd is seen by some parts of the AC as impressive but not in a position to win the election.
The members of the Athlete Council are: Chris Ahrens (chair); Angela Hucles (vice-chair); Carlos Bocanegra (vice-chair); Shannon Boxx, Brian Ching, Cindy Parlow Cone (advisor); Brad Guzan, Stuart Holden, Lauren Holiday, Lori Lindsey, Will John, Kate Markgraf, John O’Brien, Heather O’Reilly, Leslie Osborne, Nick Perera, Christie Rampone, Gavin Sibayan, Lindsay Tarpley and Aly Wagner.
20-member Athletes Council could swing US Soccer election (20% of overall vote, still undecided). Have to be in Orlando to vote. Members Brad Guzan (ATL preseason friendly) & Leslie Osborne (just gave birth) won't be on-site, increasing weight of other AC members' votes.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) February 8, 2018
One intriguing possibility: If the Athlete Council were to agree to vote as a bloc, it could announce its candidate choice publicly on Friday night. Doing so might serve to 1) place some internal accountability on AC members to do what they say they’ll do and vote for the group’s choice when they have the secret-ballot clickers in their hands on Saturday, and 2) Influence other voters in the election to go with the choice of the Athlete Council on Saturday, knowing that voters tend to want to go with a candidate who’s likely to win.
At this point, though, nothing is certain, and you can expect plenty of news ahead of Saturday’s vote.