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The Angle

What Carlos Cordeiro’s USSF Presidential Victory Tells Us

by on 12 February 2018

Editor’s note: This past Saturday, the USSF presidential election in Orlando yielded longtime USSF board member Carlos Cordeiro the winner by a comfortable margin on the third ballot. Cordeiro led every stage of balloting and increased his vote total on all three ballots.

In this guest editorial, prolific soccer writer Kartik Krishnaiyer offers his own thoughts on what the results meant after a contentious campaign that saw eight candidates vie for the position.

Author/writer, soccer communications, former NASL Communication Director, and MCFC World Soccer Talk senior writer.

After a campaign reminiscent of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it was in fact the middle lane that won.

The reaction to Cordeiro’s election has ranged from relief, to disappointment, to exhilaration. That helps to describe the Cordeiro candidacy and the personality of the new president himself — truly independent and not wed to any specific ideology about the sport, Cordeiro seems the right person to institute internal reforms regarding governance of U.S. Soccer without rocking the boat and blowing up the professional and youth structures.

Here are a few things the Cordeiro electoral victory clearly tells us:

Youth and adult soccer ranks don’t want to be put under the direct domination of the pro game

But they don’t want to rock the boat and tear up a structure many have worked their entire lives to build. The most prominent change candidates in the media, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino, both could have threatened the current structure of youth and adult soccer. On-leave Soccer United Marketing (SUM) president Kathy Carter simply didn’t seem to understand youth and adult soccer. Carter’s experience in the pro game dates back to the beginning of the modern professional structure in this country. But her lack of knowledge about the rest of the sport in the U.S. beyond the talking points in investor presentations she’s put together, became obvious to many. This sentiment was real among many delegates I spoke to in Orlando and those around the game.

Those same youth and adult soccer leaders wanted someone who would listen to them but offer some knowledgeable suggestions and leadership

They didn’t want to be talked down to by ex-players or be used as pawns in a game to elevate MLS under Kathy Carter or perceived rouge pro leagues under Eric Wynalda. My reporting indicates Cordeiro had a greater comfort and knowledge talking to youth leaders than the other candidates with the exception of Steve Gans, a Boston lawyer whose candidacy fizzled out on election day, but was tantalizingly close to being something more than that, and Mike Winograd, who just didn’t have enough institutional backing to make a real go.

After a campaign reminiscent of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it was in fact the middle lane that won

The safest lane was the winning one. Why? Cordeiro was comfortable talking to youth soccer leaders and wasn’t too threatening to the leaders in the professional game with a few exceptions. The former players that make up the athletes council voted as a bloc for him in a surprise to many but as I had previously reported on Twitter many players were leaning towards him weeks ago. Cordeiro’s leadership traits, including listening attentively, were important in his success since his predecessor Sunil Gulati had a much different style of management.

MLS’ attempts to directly control the USSF have failed. MLS as the nation’s top professional league will continue to have a key role going forward but no longer will they be able to treat the federation as a private playground and have a president that essentially acts like an MLS employee. Cordeiro, as an establishment figure whom Don Garber I am told has always liked and respected, will work well with MLS, but he won’t be controlled by them the way Kathy Carter probably would have been. This was a key determining factor for delegates.

The “reformers” or “Gang of Six” were somewhat hopeless. Despite having at least in theory similar goals, the inability to put ego and personal insecurities aside and unite for the greater good exposed the fundamental problem with the USSF reform movement. It’s built around personalities, anger, and a certain degree of victimization. We see this every day on Twitter and in the manner which those seeking reform gravitate to out-sized personalities be it Aaron Davidson, Peter Wilt, Seamus O’Brien, Rocco Commisso, Eric Wynalda, Robert Palmer, or Kyle Martino. The motives of these individuals are different; I genuinely think Commisso, for example, is a bit of an idealist seeking to right what he perceives as a wrong. But others are simply using the passion and anger of a group of vocal individuals to advance their personal profiles or even profit off this sentiment.

While a lot of good idealistic people are involved in the push for reform, many don’t have a deep understanding about the structure of soccer in this country. Nor do they have the commitment and institutional knowledge that many who are involved with the sport day in and day out have had. It became obvious to me that since the January Coaches Convention in Philadelphia that most of the “reformers” had no idea how to actually obtain power and probably would do a poor job exercising power if they somehow gained control of the institutions that control soccer in this country.

A movement can be built around throwing stones, but when you actually have to organize, mobilize, and make tough choices including compromises, not just on substantive issues but on personalities, it can fail.

Lots of spin and rumors came from those in the reform camp in the immediate aftermath of underwhelming electoral performances from Eric Wynalda, the chosen candidate of most reformers, and Kyle Martino, who made a late play for those same individuals. I’m not trying to pull rank on the activists whose idealism fueled a movement that could dictate American soccer’s future and whose issues are critically important to improving the sport’s viability and uniqueness in this country. But I know most of what went on in the reform camp the last few weeks, and much of the spinning is just that. I could write a  book on the tactical errors (and by extension arrogance) of the reform candidates and movement the last four months, but for now will pass on describing everything that transpired. But it does not reflect well on the movement, and demonstrated a certain selfishness and immaturity among some of the leaders wanting reform.

Since Cordeiro’s election, the reaction on social media from reform activists just confirms much of what I have observed, and my fear if they had actually gained power. Perhaps, despite wanting reform, the best thing we got is a steady hand in office. But without a doubt, the platform items advocated by the likes of Paul Caligiuri, Steve Gans, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo, Mike Winograd, and Eric Wynalda need to continue to be pushed in the near future if we are to truly achieve the potential for our sport that we have in this country.

But in the near term, Cordeiro represents a safe middle path as the USSF and American Soccer in general try to escape the doldrums of the past several years, and return to the spirit that lifted the women’s program to the top of the game and the men’s program toward the upper echelons of world football, before it all came crashing down in the last 30 months.

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