Monday, January 15, 2018

The USSF Election, Can We Talk Realistically?

What I'm feeling making this post

Many readers (if I have enough readers to be considers "many") are aware that next month the U.S. Soccer Federation will be electing a new President to replace the outgoing Sunil Gulati.  Familiar names such as Eric Wynalda, Hope Solo, and Kyle Martino and less familiar names such as Kathy Carter, Carlos Cordiero, and Michael Winograd have thrown their names into the ring for the position.  The voters in the election are representatives from each state association, each professional organization, and the commissioners of the Youth and Adult councils.  I'm not going to get into details of who these various people are other than to point out the general fanbase is not directly represented and this is essentially an internal election (and that's not meant as a criticism).  I'm also not going to directly endorse a candidate (not that my endorsement is in anyway meaningful but I want to clarify this post is not in direct support of anyone).  In fact I wasn't even going to discuss this election here but I reached a breaking point tonight (thus the image to start this post).

What I do want to talk about is the level of unbelievably misinformed discussion going on in the fanbase about this election.  There's a large segment of fans, on both sides, that have decided this is where the various pro/rel, schedule, and gender equity battles will be won or loss, with no understanding of how the President will be elected and what power they actually have.  For example, the NY Cosmos (a theoretically professional organization who has been the loudest voice in pushing for pro/rel and other changes) tweeted this today.  They immediately deleted it but not before it was screen capped:

Seriously?  Are you f-ing kidding me?  Quoting Martin Luther King to advance a debate on the structure of soccer leagues?  Get you're priorities in order Cosmos!

This is just the worst example (because it came from a professional organization and not a random fan) of some of the discussion you see on social media about these issues.  Clearly many of these "fans" don't actually understand how little power the USSF President has.  I have news for them.  Any USSF President (and largely its Wynalda and Martino pushing major changes) who comes to the MLS Board of Directors with an ultimatum about pro/rel or changing the schedule is (rightfully) going to get laughed out of the room.  They will not have the power to dictate the change to the leagues, at best they can make a recommendation to the USSF board that MLS (and presumably, USL) have their licensing revoked which would make the leagues rogue and unrecognized by FIFA.  Of course that board includes representatives from those leagues, not to mention many other people, most of whom will need more reasoning than the platitudes being thrown out by these candidates in order to gain "grass roots" support, in order to support forcing such a radical change and the idea will go nowhere.

All that said, that doesn't mean the "status quo" side of this debate has clean hands either.  Changes do need to happen.  I mean, the men missed the World Cup for the first time in 32 years and the women are losing the general lead they had over most of the rest of the world, to say nothing of the youth teams results over the last few years.  We need some significant changes, but those changes aren't "change the schedule" or "add pro/rel", things largely outside the USSF's purview.  The changes are "in house" at the USSF, changing how they run their teams, how they do outreach to youth players, how they spend their money, etc.  Going out their as the candidate supported by Don Garber (even if officially that hasn't been stated) isn't a sustainable platform either.

If fans really want the sport to grow in this country we owe it to ourselves to look for options in the middle, because they're the only thing that will work.  Taking up positions at the extreme edges and driving the candidates there means we're either going to get the status quo, or a USSF President that has no ability to work with the professional leagues.  Both will be failures on some level.

And now to clarify my own positions:
1. Pro/rel won't be workable and won't be instituted in any time frame anyone can reasonably project (~20 years).  Beyond that the sporting landscape is too unknown to make a projection meaningful.
2. Anyone who wants to consider a fall-spring schedule is welcome to go sit out at the Dick for 2 hours tonight.  Assuming you don't die of frostbite you can tell us how you plan to sell tickets to fans to do that.  If the solution is "a winter break" any winter break that would avoid the problem would essentially encompass the same time frame as our current winter break, so you wouldn't actually be making any schedule changes.
3. The USSF Presidents first task, whomever they are, should be to hire a TD/GM position for all the national teams and give them the job of improving the on-field results of all the teams.  The President should be responsible for all off-field/business decisions.
4. That new position should look at Germany's plan that brought them back from their low point ~15 years ago.  It involved getting a group of all the stakeholders together from the Federation, the leagues, etc. and setting goals that all could agree to work towards.  The USSF needs some sore of coordination like that.

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