ORLANDO — Carlos Cordeiro ascended from U.S. Soccer Federation vice presidency to the president’s job Saturday, besting seven other candidates to lead a 105-year-old organization facing notable challenges in the wake of the men’s national team missing the World Cup this year.
He won on the third ballot, receiving 68.6 percent of the vote and easily eclipsing the 50 percent threshold. In the first two rounds, he had been locked in a close battle with Kathy Carter, a marketing executive whose soccer life began as a youth player in Northern Virginia.
Cordeiro succeeds Sunil Gulati, who, in the aftermath of the World Cup qualifying failure last fall, did not seek reelection. He served three terms in 12 years and oversaw massive off-field growth, several on-field successes and some notable shortcomings as well.
Carter failed in her bid to become the first woman elected USSF president. Carter, a former goalkeeper at Fairfax’s Robinson Secondary School and William and Mary, would’ve become just the fifth woman in international soccer history to head a national soccer federation.
Carter was the perceived front-runner but faced criticism for conflicts of interest with the company she runs, MLS-owned Soccer United Marketing. Because of those ties — and because Gulati and MLS supported her — she and Cordeiro were labeled the “establishment” candidates.
The other challengers pounced on Carter’s SUM-MLS role, defining themselves as agents of change. Eric Wynalda and Hope Solo, outspoken former players, were most vociferous in their campaigns, and while Wynalda gained traction at the grass-roots level, Solo did not garner much support.
In her pre-election address to the membership, she attacked Carter and Cordeiro by name and aired several grievances.
Wynalda took a conciliatory tone, saying: “We started a conversation. At times, this has looked like a fight. . . . The fight stops now. And not until we stop fighting with each other and start fighting together are we going to be a soccer nation and are we going to be able to achieve and realize our potential.”
The other candidates were former players Kyle Martino and Paul Caligiuri, and two attorneys with soccer backgrounds, Steve Gans and Michael Winograd.
In the days leading to the election, those six were in regular communication in trying to forge a united front to defeat Carter or Cordeiro. But they faced an uphill battle as much of the membership was more inclined to support someone with business experience to run an organization with a $150 million budget, $120 million surplus and 160 employees.
On the first ballot, Cordeiro and Carter combined to claim more than 70 percent of the vote, ending the prospects of a “change” candidate winning. Caligiuri, with less than 1 percent, dropped out after the first ballot. Winograd and Gans withdrew after the second round.
Before the several hundred delegates in four councils (youth, adult, pro and athletes) cast their weighted votes, Gulati addressed the membership. He ran down several notable moments since 2006, and when he got to 2017, he bombed on an attempt at a joke, saying, “We won the Gold Cup and, as far as I can remember, nothing else happened last year.”
With a 2-1 defeat to last-place Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, the U.S. squad missed the World Cup for the first time since 1986 — an embarrassing shortcoming in a lightweight region of the world and one that will cost the federation tens of millions of dollars in revenue.
In addressing the men’s program, Cordeiro will have to oversee the hiring of a head coach in the coming months. Beyond the men, he will need to address issues with player development, engagement with the Latin American community and the federation’s fractured relationship with the sport’s grass roots across the country.
“Maybe there were a lot of simmering things that some of us on the board [of directors] and I missed it,” Gulati said. “Or maybe it’s the one loss to Trinidad, which got a lot of light on those things. But there clearly wasn’t a lot of unity over the last couple months, and that to me is disappointing. . . . Elections are messy. But that’s okay. We’ve taken the sport to a place where eight people actually want to do the job without compensation.”
USSF president is an unpaid position. Gulati, a senior lecturer in economics at Columbia University, will continue to serve on the FIFA Council and is expected to remain in charge of the effort to bring the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Mexico and Canada. FIFA will choose between the North American bid and Morocco in June.
The USSF will need to conduct an election to fill the vice president void.
More to come . . .
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