In October 2017, U.S. Soccer reached a low point that many Americans did not think they would ever see: the U.S. men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup. This failure came at a time where viewership and popularity of soccer was growing immensely in the U.S., and America was showcasing the teenage sensation Christian Pulisic as a world-class footballer.
In the wake of the disappointment, USSF president Sunil Gulati announced he would not seek reelection, meaning new leadership would be tasked with reinvigorating the landscape of American soccer.
On Feb. 10, the federation elected Gulati’s deputy, Carlos Cordeiro, became president after an election process that featured eight candidates, four of which were former players. The former Goldman Sachs executive was one of two business oriented candidates, the other being Kathy Carter, the CEO of Soccer United Marketing (SUM).
Due to the desire for reform, opponents of Cordeiro and Carter labeled them as the establishment, with business as their top priority. Hope Solo, a candidate who epitomized anti-establishment with her playing history and checkered past off the field, which included domestic violence and DUIs, made her sentiments known in a speech prior to the vote.
“The two establishment candidates, Carlos Cordeiro and Kathy Carter, haven’t just been part of the system, they have created and shaped U.S. Soccer into what it is today,” Solo said according to ABC News. “A vote for either one of them is a vote for the status quo, disunity, discord, and more failure.”
While Solo’s comments are brash and voice a clear opposition to Cordeiro, some of her fellow athletes did not share the same sentiment. Despite being the only candidate to never play soccer internationally, professionally or collegiately, the Athlete’s Council, a bloc of mainly former but current players, were the deciding voters who chose Cordeiro through all three rounds of voting.
According to Athlete Council member Stuart Holden, the bloc debated the candidates for hours.
“Getting behind Carlos Cordeiro as a candidate, we felt [better] with his skillset to be able to change some of the governance, to be transparent, to be open to working with different groups and still have international relations and the business side,” Holden said according to Sports Illustrated.
To assume Solo is correct in believing there will be no change is utterly false, as each candidate’s platform called for widespread changes to youth development and the federation’s structure. If the Athlete’s Council did not believe in Cordeiro’s platform, they could have easily united behind another candidate with a more transformative vision. Cordeiro also announced his candidacy almost a month before Gulati said he would not seek reelection, distancing himself from his former boss and shedding the “right hand man” moniker.
His platform is also incredibly transformative, calling for greater transparency and a heavy emphasis on youth development. One of the federations’ biggest flaws is that once a player reaches a certain level, they usually have to pay for coaches and a roster spot. Kevin Payne, the CEO of U.S. Club Soccer, said that roughly 70 percent of the 500,000 registered players spend at least $3,000 each year on the sport. This “pay for play,” system puts many low and middle-income families in a difficult position, especially if their son or daughter is talented enough to have a future in the sport.
Cordeiro’s platform website says they will “invest more resources in youth soccer, including scholarships and grants, so that more young people—especially in cities and under-served and diverse communities—can afford to play; subsidize coaches and coach education programs; and increase support for the grassroots volunteers who help identify and develop players at the youngest ages,” according to ESPN.
Cordeiro is focusing in the right area, as more money needs to be put into developing players if the U.S. wants to raise the level of its national team. Germany, the 2014 World Cup champion, is known for its outstanding youth development programs. In 2016, the Deutschland Football League (DFL), reported that its 36 clubs spent an average of $5.5 million on youth development. According to SI’s Grant Wahl, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Philadelphia Union’s $4 million academy budgets were the highest in the MLS that year.
If Cordeiro succeeds as the next USSF president, it will be because of an improvement in youth development across the spectrum. To do that, more money needs to be spent to ensure no talent is left behind. In the meantime, Cordeiro has more immediate issues to resolve, such as finding the next USMNT manager.
Andrew Lombardo is a journalism major from Middletown, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lombardo_andrew.