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The Angle

Minnesota Youth Soccer Gathers Consensus Before U.S. Soccer Presidential Vote

by on 2 February 2018

As U.S. soccer gears up for next week’s U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) presidential election, Minnesota Youth Soccer Association’s (MYSA) president, Steve May, is trying to organize the state’s five votes as a bloc. The election occurs on February 10th at the U.S. Soccer Annual Meeting.

May has asked for a lot of election opinions over the last few months, and he says he often starts with, “Who don’t you want us to vote for?” In talking to Directors of Coaching (DOCs) around the state, the two names that keep coming up are Hope Solo’s and Kathy Carter’s.

On Solo, May explains that she is “the only one who is going out rogue and not being a professional politician. She’s way out there and doesn’t care what people think.”

That listening part is key for him as he says he isn’t interested in “someone who is talking at me versus talking with me.” MYSA (and its fellow state associations) don’t serve the federation, he explains, it’s the federation’s job to support U.S. Youth Soccer (USYS), which in turn supports its state organizations. May says the people and organizations he supports — clubs, parents, coaches, and players — they need to feel like they have a president beholden to their interests and needs.

“[Hope Solo is] way out there and doesn’t care what people think.”
-Steve May

In Kathy Carter, the President of Soccer United Marketing (SUM), May says you have a very capable business leader. However, May says, there are questions about her independence. “Sunil [Gulati] (out-going USSF President), Don [Garber] (MLS Commissioner), and Kathy [Carter] have all done a lot of good things together,” he says, “but MLS and USSF should be supporting us, not us supporting them.”

Carter’s candidacy came with Gulati’s blessing, he says, and “her affiliation with MLS creates a perception that everything is going to serve USSF and MLS.”

May says he has had a number of conversation with Kathy Carter, in part at the behest of Minnesota United FC. Both United’s owner, Dr. Bill McGuire, and its CEO, Chris Wright, have called May to encourage him to support Carter. Last month, Grant Wahl reported that both Gulati and Garber were actively campaigning for Carter.

May is quick to note that Wright never put any “undue pressure” to vote for Carter, “but he’s definitely made sure that Kathy and I are talking.”

A spokesperson for Minnesota United confirmed McGuire’s support for Carter, but not active campaigning for her. When asked for comment, McGuire said, “We have known Kathy for a long time and believe she would make a great USSF president.”

Core principles

With eight candidates, May expects the presidential election to run past the first ballot. As candidates are eliminated, the Minnesota votes will have to move on to the next most viable candidate and so he is preparing for the election by trying to gauge feelings for or against candidates.

May has heard a good amount of interest from DOCs about Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino, two former men’s national team players-turned-broadcasters, but there has also been support for Boston attorney Steve Gans and current USSF vice president Carlos Cordiero.

The biggest — and perhaps only — issue on May’s mind is that “the Federation should not be competing with youth organizations.” He notes that proposed changes to the Development Academy (DA) system would put the DA programs in competition with other youth organizations. If USSF gives the DA programs preferential treatment, then it is favoring MLS over the rest of youth soccer.

As an example, May points to the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which he says has been starved and neglected. “The DAs don’t play by the same rules as us and [USSF] made ODP a second-class citizen.”

This is where May comes back to the importance of being listened to and brings up the birth year eligibility change that went into effect last year. The move was controversial for many youth clubs and organizations throughout the U.S. “They just did that. There was never any discussion with us.”

“They’re all politicking…. All eight of them are saying what we want to hear.”
-Steve May

Some of the candidates, he says, have been good listeners. MYSA initially nominated another former player, Paul Caligiuri, because “his platform is really driven by ODP and we wanted to make sure his voice was heard.”

Cordeiro also impressed him at the recent United Soccer Coaches convention in Philadelphia. After a USSF presidential forum, Cordeiro approached May in the hallway to talk. May introduced MYSA staff member Ivan Woyno and Cordeiro instantly recognized the name from a conversation a month before and Woyno’s role in helping a new MYSA initiative. That level of unprompted interest impressed May.

With Wynalda, May also worries about being listened to. “Eric doesn’t talk with you, he talks at you,” May says. “His platform is good, but his delivery and leadership are suspect because he is really negative and attacking.”

May believes that Martino, on the other hand, “seems like he’s ready to work with people and we need to work with whoever wins.”

National issues

One thing May never mentions is the U.S. men’s national team failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018. When the subject is finally brought up, he says, “The president of U.S. Soccer has nothing to do with the U.S. not qualifying for the World Cup.” Instead, May is looking forward.

The day after the election, the winner will need to head to Zurich as part of the 2026 World Cup bid and May wants a president who can “represent us on an international stage” as well as having the organizational acumen for helping direct the bid process.

If the U.S. lands the 2026 World Cup, then the country and all its state associations need to be ready to reap all the benefits of the biggest tournament on the planet coming here. “It will make a big difference in youth soccer,” he says, not only for the recruiting and growth of the game, but also for having a target to develop toward. Kids today will be training toward a home World Cup.

In the end, May expressed a frustration at the whole election process. “They’re all politicking,” he says. “All eight of them are saying what we want to hear.”

In his opinion, he wishes there was a way to marry the business-oriented candidates with the exuberance of the former players. He rejects the framing of some of the candidates as “soccer people” and others as not (“All of them are soccer people”). But he also worries about the organizational and leadership skills of candidates like Martino and Wynalda.

“If I could wave a magic wand and look at the future,” he muses, “I’d like to see Cordeiro become the president and have a special election with Kyle as the vice president. Kyle and Eric have great agendas, but they need some mentorship and development on the business side. If you have Carlos with one of them, preferably Kyle, then you can do a succession plan.”

But that’s May’s imagination. The reality is that the election next week will be “weird and fun” and who knows how it will turn out?

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