No, I’m not going to fact-check every sentence. I’m relatively sure Paul Caligiuri and Eric Wynalda played in Germany.
I’m also not going to try to transcribe the whole thing, though I did find myself summing up pretty much everything. You can find all that at the bottom of this post. The summary of the summary — basically, the most extraordinary things I noticed — is at the top.
And a quick reminder: While transparency could be improved in many aspects of U.S. Soccer, there is a considerable amount of information on its governance page, including bylaws, the policy manual, and (part) of the election procedures.
So here are the surprising/dubious things, then the whole thing.
Disclaimer up front: While this is a fact/reality check steeped in appropriate journalistic skepticism, these people all seem like the sort of person we’d love to see involved with U.S. Soccer. Only one can be president, but I hope the others find a role.
Paul Caligiuri tossed out the astounding estimate that more than 500,000 kids in Southern California are not part of U.S. Soccer because of pay-to-play. We know he’s not just talking about travel soccer because he suggests a possible solution of “Friday night soccer” pickup games. Seems staggering to suggest 500,000 kids are being missed by every program, particularly the hundreds of clubs with recreational programs that are cheap and usually offer financial aid.
The ever-popular promotion/relegation discussion drew some reasonable takes and some off-the-wall takes. Caligiuri somehow segued into youth futsal. Paul Lapointe suggested piloting pro/rel in top amateur leagues including his own, the UPSL, but most elite amateur leagues have had pro/rel for generations. (And my indoor league. I didn’t get those two championship T-shirts by winning the Upper Division.)
I have a belated follow-up for Mike Winograd about his plan to have a USSF training center in each state. How does this complement the requirement for each state association to have a director of coaching with an A license?
Several candidates imply U.S. Soccer isn’t doing things it most definitely is — overseeing futsal, hiring independent auditors and governance reviewers, etc.
THE WHOLE THING
Joe Cummings, himself a rather good candidate if he had so chosen, moderates the forum and kicks things off at the 11:15 mark of this video:
I’ll continue to give timestamps throughout, and I’ll give the order in which each candidate answers so you can go through and find specific comments. The format is formal, and candidates answer each question in a different, pre-assigned order. Each candidate gets two minutes for the intro and their answers to specific questions, then four minutes for a closing.
Take a moment to applaud GotSoccer and Cummings here — this is done very well.
My comments are in italic.
Cummings first explains the absentees: Carlos Cordeiro is at a CONCACAF meeting, Sunil Gulati (not yet announced his bid for re-election) is away on U.S. Soccer business (?!!!), and Kyle Martino had vacation plans before he announced his bid. (We’ll hear from Martino soon enough.)
Frankly, it seems clear that Gulati has no interest in appearing alongside other candidates. That might be why he has delayed announcing his intent to run for a final term under USSF’s new term-limit bylaws. He is appearing at functions as the USSF president, not as a candidate.
Or maybe he’s not running.
The order: Lapointe, Caligiuri, Gans, Wynalda, Winograd.
- Caligiuri went rogue. The intros weren’t supposed to be about the issues, but that’s he discusses. He actually gives more of a personal intro in some of his answers. But he does state here that he was a USSF board member, which I’d forgotten because it wasn’t recent. He served from 2005 to 2007, during which time the board was reduced from 40 to 15. (That may seem sinister to some, but other sports federations have been doing the same thing under guidance/direction from the U.S. Olympic Committee.)
- Three candidates — Lapointe, Gans and Winograd — played professional indoor soccer at some point, a bit ironic given that the indoor game isn’t affiliated with USSF right now.
QUESTION 1: Actually two questions — why do you want to be president, and what’s your position on whether the president should be paid? (23:30)
- Winograd, not for the first or last time, says he is not a “burn it all down” guy.
- Caligiuri makes the first of many references to his DNA.
- Gans twice says he has “graciously declined” to run for president in the past.
- Most candidates don’t give direct answers on paying the president. Winograd says he wouldn’t want to be paid but thinks the next president (not him) should be paid to broaden the pool of qualified candidates. Wynalda sees an advantage to paying the president to make that person more accountable. Gans sees an issue with nonprofit law but doesn’t have time to explain it in full.
Lapointe doesn’t care whether president is paid but thinks it should become a full-time position. This is an interesting point that deserves a bit more attention. One criticism of Sunil Gulati has been that he’s too involved with every phase of the game, and that he should let staff and other board members handle their jobs. Lapointe is going the other direction.
QUESTION 2: What are your thoughts on pay-to-play? (33:30)
- There’s some discussion here of applying the USSF surplus, but Gans notes that an upcoming question covers that in more detail.
Fact/reality check, in order:
Caligiuri worries that pay-to-play excludes many players. He says “perhaps millions,” then says by his estimate, more than 500,000 kids in Southern California are not part of U.S. Soccer because of pay-to-play. That’s an extraordinary claim. It doesn’t seem verifiable, and I wonder what he means by that. Are there really 500,000 kids who aren’t playing for USSF clubs at all, not even on the generally affordable rec level? He further confuses it by suggesting one answer could be “Friday night soccer” — basically, supervised pickup games. Does Southern California really have 500,000 kids who have no access to anything like this?
Wynalda is paying about $3,300 a year for his 8-year-old. He concludes that it’s too much. For his older daughter, farther up the ladder, he has to pay more. By the time it’s done, people pay more on soccer than they could possibly get back in a college scholarship. That’s certainly true.
Winograd laments the fact that someone finishing up a college career has to spend $1,000 or so to get coaching licenses. Not sure which licenses he means here — the early licenses generally cost less (unless you have to travel), the late licenses generally cost more. Take “$1,000” as a very rough estimate of preliminary costs.
Lapointe says no one’s going to be able to tell independent clubs that they can no longer charge their players. We’ll rate that “true.” He then says he’s the only candidate talking about inner cities and futsal. We’ll rate that “false.” Winograd had just mentioned programs like that. He wants to stop the poaching of players for free, where another club sells a family the Kool-Aid to convince a kid to switch. He wants payments for that.
Gans jokes that all the answers have been made. He agrees with everyone. He says clubs need to be reined in a bit with “Good Housekeeping standards.” We’ve seen some attempts to create club standards, but they’re neither widely known nor universal, so his point is valid.
QUESTION 3: What’s your view on promotion/relegation? (44:30)
- Lapointe works in the UPSL. Caligiuri coaches in it.
Fact/reality check in order:
Lapointe is the big pro/rel champion here. But it’s hard to conclude that he understands the issue. He starts out saying this has been a big issue for months now, which may surprise the people who’ve been talking about it for years. He says it has not been in our culture, which isn’t really true — amateur leagues have done it as long as I know. He works in the UPSL and touts their pro/rel stance as a fresh start — again, I don’t know that it is. He wants to test pro/rel in UPSL, NPSL, PDL and state organizations — again, a lot of leagues already have it. The USASA lists 13 “elite amateur leagues” — including the UPSL — some of them a century old. At least half of them have pro/rel.
Caligiuri talks about his experience in Germany with teams that went up and down. He mentions the excitement it brings fans and the pressure it brings players. I’ve argued many times before, based in part on conversations with Scandinavian soccer veterans like Brian Dunseth and Bobby Warshaw — pressure depends on the soccer culture, not simply pro/rel.
Caligiuri continues with a strange suggestion about futsal for ages 6-12, suggesting that’s a place we could test pro/rel. Traditional youth leagues already have pro/rel, but they don’t do it at younger ages because they want the focus to be on development, and they worry that coaches under relegation pressure will start playing direct at U8. Ontario youth soccer quit keeping scores and standings — a decision I actually argued against on a Canadian radio show a few years ago. Then he talks about doing pro/rel in USASA leagues — which, again, already exists.
Winograd says he’s going to assume we’re talking about the pro ranks. He says it would be exciting, but as a practical matter, “we’re not there yet.” Franchise fees, contracts, etc. He wants to start building it at the lower leagues, and then he touts his alternative plan to have “guest clubs” in the top division in the near-term. I prefer my system, but he’s reality-based on this point, and he goes on to talk about USSF’s power and limitations. USSF shouldn’t be ramming things down people’s throats, he says in conclusion.
Wynalda believes we are ready, and he points to parachute payments and so forth as a way to make sure clubs are better off financially in the long run. Sort of, but when you see English clubs curtailing their academies, you have to wonder if the long-term picture really is better. If I trusted economists, I’d love to see an economic study on that.
Gans says everyone’s watching the last day of the Premier League not to see who wins the league but to see who goes up or down. Is that a feature or a bug? Then he says the passionate promotion/relegation people have made a really good point, which is that players develop more of a cutting edge in pro/rel systems — again, the Warshaw/Dunseth experience and some common sense would say otherwise. Then he offers his own reality check — he remembers the late 80s and early 90s when everything had fallen apart, and given that, he doesn’t think USSF can simply impose it.
QUESTION 4: What do you think of the nomination process, and please explain the election process. (54:45)
Fact/reality check in order:
Gans gets to go first. That might be coincidence, but it’s appropriate. He was the first candidate to declare, so he’s been laying a lot of the groundwork here. If someone other than Gulati or Cordeiro is elected, that candidate owes Gans a debt. He is concerned that he was not given a list of delegates, which he believes should be freely given by a nonprofit. I don’t know enough about applicable law to know whether that’s true, though I can verify that I also asked for that list and was denied. The election procedures call for candidates to receive this list 120 days before the election, then again (because the delegates may change) 60 and 30 days out. He also points out rules have been changing a bit midstream, which is absolutely true.
Winograd sees a lack of clarity and sophistication, and he says his law firm frequently works with companies on their election process. He says he read the bylaws with help from someone at his law firm, a sign that they’re not really clear. He worries about seeing “blocs” form, especially where votes are heavily weighted as on the Athletes Council. (Indeed, I’ve spoken with someone on the Athletes Council who says they do indeed tend to vote as a bloc so their voice isn’t diluted. That said, I have no idea how you change that. USSF can’t change the rules that give athletes 20% of the vote, and I don’t see how you stop them from voting as a bloc.)
Caligiuri says the election rules are against the Roberts Rules of Order. He doesn’t say how. He cites his board experience and says he understands how the councils (Athletes, Pro, Youth, Adult) work. He cites it as a positive that USSF answers to the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Stevens Act, specifically because it mandates athlete representation.
Wynalda says the rules were built as an attempt to represent everybody but that they ended up being built by one man — Sunil Gulati. He’s critical of the process but doesn’t offer much detail.
Lapointe notes he was told two days ago that an association can rescind a nomination — that was indeed recent news. He isn’t happy that he has only three months between his declaration of intent in September and the deadline to present his three (minimum) nominations in December. That’s an odd complaint. Nothing prevented him from declaring his intent as early as Gans did.
All five candidates correctly described the election process itself in varying detail.
QUESTION 5: What are you going to do with that $100-$150 million surplus? (1:04:45)
Wynalda asks where the money is coming from and gives an astonishingly precise figure — 49% of $94 million is coming from television. Looking at the Form 990 for the year ending March 31, 2015 (not 2016) — there’s a figure of $94.8 million for program service revenue. “Sponsorship and royalties” is $39.7 million of that. In 2016, both numbers increase. I’m not sure where he gets that figure. Then a lot comes from the national teams, and 2018 is going to be an odd year with no major event. He segues into the “registration war” and referees, and I’m not sure I follow. When he visits the podcast, I’ll follow up with him. (You are planning to be on the podcast, right Eric?)
Lapointe says it’s not the Federation’s money — it’s your money (meaning the GotSoccer crowd). “We’re going to give it back to the states and regions,” he says, through coaching education and infrastructure. Then comes a baffling statement: “We don’t have a defined player identification system and a recruiting system thereof.” He wants to allocate those funds to send people out to find players. The USA does have a player identification system — actually, several: the Development Academy, ODP, id2, etc. Does he mean they’re not coordinated?
Gans mentions fields — inner cities, futsal courts, etc. — and pay-to-play. Then opportunities for women — he represented the Boston Breakers at one point.
Winograd says two places: Pay-to-play, not just kids but coaches. Then clearly defining a path to the national team, specifically, training centers in each state — a building with two fields. I should’ve followed up with him on the podcast about this — how does this differ from existing infrastructure? The interesting part is coordination — he wants to have blackout dates for leagues and tournaments, then bring kids into training on those.
Caligiuri wants to keep registration fees with the program that paid them — if you pay $1 to register a youth player, that goes for youth soccer. Same for adult soccer. Then a big proclamation to get all coaches involved: Every high school coach, he says, will be an Olympic Developmental scout. “How many high school players do not participate in your states?” he asks. That surely varies widely by state. In any suburban area, it’s tough to make a high school team if you’re not already on a top travel team. But are we missing some players in rural areas? Frankly, it raises the question of why college coaches aren’t scouting these areas.
QUESTION 6: What would be your plan for the organizational structure of U.S. Soccer? (1:15:15)
Fact/reality check in order:
Gans wonders if the organization is so big that positions need to be split — maybe a general manager of soccer, separate from the CEO. He promises a top-to-bottom review, and as he’s said often, he wants the main office in Chicago to deal more respectfully with the states and other organizations. He’s heard too many stories of disrespect. I’d like to hear some specifics at some point, but does anyone doubt him?
Wynalda cites his dear friend Hank Steinbrecher, the USSF General Secretary through the 1990s, talking about many people arguing for the same thing but opposing each other. He wants to have paid positions to delegate responsibilities (somewhat the opposite of Lapointe).
Caligiuri wants to create a culture. First, fund the Athletes Council and help them understand concerns of other councils. He says this is the only council that isn’t funded. What does this mean? I’m looking into it. And he wants to raise the standards. Second, hire a technical director. Third, look to Silicone Valley. It’s Silicon. (Sorry, pet peeve.)
Winograd sees serious fracturing — overlapping, competing and unclear structures. He says he couldn’t figure out, as a parent, what team is for what. (On a related note: Watch for the Ranting Soccer Dad Guide to Youth Soccer in 2018.) But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution — same solution in one state may not work in another. We already have reps in each state, he says, which again raises the question of how they would function alongside a USSF center in each state.
Lapointe says he’ll peel back the layers. He’ll want an outside firm to take a look, and he’ll want an outside audit. Both of which have been done, repeatedly, as is evident from board minutes. In fact, an outside review (along with the USOC) is why the board dropped from 40 people to 15. Then, he says, we have to remove conflict of interest, which will peel back the layers. He hints that Dan Flynn’s salary as CEO could be split among a couple of people, but we need to peel back those layers. I don’t mean to harp on this, but I have to say again — it sounds like a lot of the information he’s seeking is readily accessible. In some cases, though, it’s not, and there are some layers to peel back.
Quick check of highest-paid USSF employees for year ending March 31, 2016 (according to the Form 990):
- Jurgen Klinsmann, MNT coach: $3,050,813
- Dan Flynn, CEO: $694,745
- Jay Berhalter, CCO: $531,601
- Andreas Herzog, assistant MNT coach: $398,993
- Jill Ellis, WNT coach: $306,407
- Tom King, managing director admin: $300,101
- Brian Remedi, CAO: $287,329
- 4 WNT players (Holiday, Klingenberg, Krieger, Heath): $225,450
- Lisa Levine, legal counsel: $208,095
- Eric Gleason, CFO: $188,086
QUESTION 7: What would be your process for selecting a men’s national team coach? (1:25:40)
Wynalda says we’re operating under the assumption that the president is the sole selector, which isn’t always true. He says we asked Jurgen Klinsmann to do 3-4 jobs, but the national team coach should do just one — not technical director, not youth development. He thinks we did that with Klinsmann so we could justify his salary. Maybe, but was it also a false belief that Klinsmann would be able to singlehandedly bring Das Reboot to the USA? In any case, he says we need to wait until after the World Cup, then jokes that he skated out of the question.
Gans wants a committee of former players and those involved with the youth game. The latter seems like an awkward reach to the people in the room. Then he talks about the Philadelphia Atoms of the NASL and how their star players took different approaches — some committed, some not. Back to the committee — they would come up with the questions and vetting process, then selection.
Lapointe notes some of the best players in the world aren’t the best coaches or business people. He suggests a director of coaches — “I don’t think there is one in the federation.” The next president, he says, won’t hand-pick the next coach. He wants a coach who leads players into the game rather than just teaching the game. At this level, is a national team coach teaching anything? In the last two World Cup qualifiers, he says, it doesn’t look like the players had leadership and wanted to be there. I’m not going to nit-pick on the second-to-last qualifier, the 4-0 rout over Panama that made us think everything would be OK. The last two qualifiers seared in our memory are the home loss to Costa Rica and … well … the last one.
Caligiuri wonders if it was the national team coach for futsal, beach soccer or the men’s national team, saying we need a coach for all three. Futsal isn’t Keith Tozer any more? He was the coach as of June. And Eddie Soto has been serving as permanent beach soccer coach, though he had to hand the reins to Francis Farberoff for a tournament that conflicted with Soto’s college duties. But, of course, given the World Cup qualifying debacle, he realizes we’re talking about the latter. And that’s about going out and listening to other people’s opinion. Hiring a sporting director or technical director would assist with that, he says. But as president, he would take 100% accountability for that decision. He also points toward looking at coaches at the World Cup, so the next person would likely be interim.
Winograd says this goes to one of the central failings in U.S. Soccer today — decision-making. Whether it’s this or going to birth-year age groups, these are all about the decision-making. We don’t know who made the Klinsmann decisions or how those decisions were made, but we know we need future decisions to be transparent. You have to have a committee with former players, former coaches, business people.
SPECIFIC QUESTIONS FOR EACH CANDIDATE
GotSoccer attendees came up with these.
For Gans: Based on failing to make Olympics and World Cup, what grade would you give the Development Academy and would you continue it? Gans has two kids who’ve been in the DA and sees a lot of positives, but he doesn’t care for the edicts that come down from Chicago, such as the high school prohibition. (“Chicago” has replaced “Washington” as the scapegoat of this political realm, which might not really fit given the dispersed group of people that makes these rules.) He’s seen kids who didn’t even want to play college soccer after playing in the DA because they’ve had the joy sucked out of them and turned into robots. Grade: B-minus.
For Wynalda: What are your expectations for the men’s and women’s national teams? He doesn’t consider finishing 16th in a World Cup to be success, and he doesn’t think we’ve gotten better on the men’s side. We don’t have specialists, he says. He references Gans’ comment on robots and says we need to embrace personality. His expectation is to be a serious contender by 2026, and he thinks we can solve it in eight months rather than eight years. On the women’s side, he says they’ve represented us better than anyone, and staying on top is difficult.
For Winograd: What role should U.S. Soccer play in CONCACAF? What the hell is this question? Winograd gamely gives it a go and says we should take a leading role in getting the respect for CONCACAF that it deserves.
For Lapointe: With so much focus on obtaining college scholarships, how do you intend to influence the college game “in the alignment process”? I don’t understand the last part. Lapointe says the USSF president needs to pick up the phone and call the NCAA because we don’t have a relationship. Not sure what’s he basing that assumption on. Not sure how to prove it one way or the other.
For Caligiuri: What skillsets do you bring that qualify you to lead a national governing body? DNA. Playing experiences. Coaching. Athletes Council and board membership — felt rushed to vote at times and didn’t have complete information. One thing he did on Athletes Council and board — when we have three board members, if it’s a male chair, then it would be a female co-chair. We didn’t have things like that — I learned the Councils can make rules like that on their own.
Gans: A recent report gave every candidate a one-word summary, and his was “businessman.” He cringed. He’s a soccer person who became a lawyer.
This is a complex job. It involves someone who has a deep background, leadership, organizational skills, deep business skills, consensus-building, conflict resolution, negotiation. I’m the one candidate that combines all that.
There’s a platform he’ll be disseminating soon. But one of the first things he’ll do (he’s said this on my podcast) is to form a task force to solve the divisiveness in youth soccer. There are two State Cups in Massachusetts. Why? Because sanctioning organizations are fighting. That doesn’t help.
There’s an attrition rate at age 13 that’s higher than other sports. I didn’t find figures to confirm or dispute that statement. On a related note: I’m a little disappointed no one has mentioned Project Play in this forum.
“I have no ties to FIFA. I’m glad to say that.”
Finally, WNT conditions will be evened out right away. Paralympic, futsal and beach will be treated with respect.
Winograd: We have made great strides over the last 20 years, but in a lot of areas, we’ve lagged behind, and there’s an increasing fracture at all levels.
Three key initiatives: First, decision-making must be inclusive, merit-based and transparent.
Second, equality in women’s soccer. He calls this “something we haven’t talked about,” which is mostly true in this forum. He repeats here what he’s said on the podcast — travel and field conditions will be equivalent. If the women want to keep their salary structure, fine, but we’ll still make things equivalent.
Third, reducing cost barriers. Again, not a one size-fits-all solution. Can have competing organizations but there needs to be integration.
Uniquely situated to do this — perseverance, stamina, ability to bring people together and sit and synthesize interests to find a path forward. He’s been doing this throughout his career. You need the business side and the soccer side — I’ve played, I’ve coached.
Caligiuri: Conflict over the years has been promoted in an interesting way. U.S. Club Soccer and U.S. Youth Soccer (not to disregard AYSO and SAY) — those two have Olympic development programs: id2 and ODP. We could reform the Development Academy. Keep those registrations in those national youth organizations rather than channeling them into U.S. Soccer. Waive those fees of $1 per kid. Instead of promoting conflict, we create unity with two organizations that are doing meaningful things and have great volunteers.
We talked about pay-to-play. The Academy has increased it for many. It has narrowed the path for youth soccer players. His plan is broader. Keep your registrations, or everything is going to be run through.
Repeating from opening: “If you don’t want change, then I’m not the right person.”
When he was on board, he asked about girls for Development Academy.
Lapointe: The next president has to have integrity, transparency, honesty and business ethics. I have all five of those. (Yes, I rewound and double-checked. He listed four things, then said he has all five.)
“American soccer is not broken. It needs a reboot. It needs new software.”
“I would rather be knighted or hung on the success of a 3-year-old that puts the ball under their foot for the first time and the parents that go along with that child and the system that they’re going to belong to to make sure it’s proper and to make sure it’s not confusing for them and to make sure they’re on the right path to support the very culture and the very things we’re talking about today.”
He then promises inclusion and equal pay for women. He says he’s also looking at the inclusion of an Open Cup for women. This hasn’t gone over all that well with women’s soccer fans — also there has indeed been an Open Cup in the not-too-distant past, but it suffers from a distinct lack of entries.
He also wants to peel back the layers and remove conflict of interest.
Futsal is near and dear to his heart, and he claims to be the only person to have reached out to AMF and the futsal national team. “We have a national futsal team, and we don’t even sanction the sport in this country.”
Multiple problems here — by AMF, does he mean the World Minifootball Federation, the successor to FIFRA (Federacion Internacional de Futbol Rapido)? That’s more small-sided soccer and indoor soccer — now renamed “arena soccer” and under the same general umbrella as the Major Arena Soccer League. It’s not futsal, which is under the governance of U.S. Futsal (USFF) — a USSF affiliate.
OK, let’s try this fact-check again. There IS indeed an AMF — Asociacion Mundial de Futsal — which used to be FIFUSA (the last three letters are NOT United States of America) — that holds its own futsal championships, including the upcoming Women’s World Cup. The rest of the initial check is still correct — there is a WMF (formerly FIFRA) that organizes small-sided and indoor (boards) soccer, and the Major Arena Soccer League (Baltimore Blast, Milwaukee Wave, San Diego Sockers, etc.) is an affiliate. It’s still not quite accurate to say the USSF doesn’t sanction futsal because it includes U.S. Futsal (USFF).
Back to Lapointe’s closing …
I hope I’d be considered to be part of the federation even if I don’t get elected.
Wynalda: A couple of things we don’t have — a clear vision. We’ve been left to our own devices to an extent. We can’t even tell ourselves who we are. It’s not broken. It’s a very unique part of our history that we need to fix it and fix it now. The president’s job is to build a culture that makes sense for all its members, to have an understanding of “who are we? What are we trying to accomplish?”
We’ve been teased. We always say we’re the sport of the future. We can’t rely on an outside sources for Holland or Belgium — YOU know how to do soccer. The federation’s relationship with organizations is the only thing that’s broken. And when we’re fighting with ourselves, how are we supposed to beat the rest of the world.
“They ruled us by fear and then expected us to do great things.”
Commends all these gentlemen (other candidates) on their bravery.
The advantage I have is I understand this game. My job is to help you understand this game.
One thought on “Fact/reality-checking the GotSoccer U.S. Soccer presidential forum”
Steve Gans did not play professional indoor soccer, no matter how much he allows that falsehood to propagate.