Moving forward and making peace with U.S. Soccer’s “change” wing and the Athletes’ Council

I have an important message for the “Gang of Six” supporters:

You made a difference. Really. Your choice now is whether you want to follow through or just take to Twitter and whine about the election result.

peter-elephantHaving spent 48 wild hours in Orlando, I think people in U.S. Soccer are receptive to change. Maybe not the specific solution you want, maybe not at the pace you want. Maybe not with the fiery rhetoric you want. But they’re open to it.

And yes, that includes the Athletes’ Council. They could’ve done things differently, and I’ll get to that. But you can’t write them off just because they voted for an “establishment” candidate (who has only been VP for two years and was an independent director before that).

I realize this post will seem a little pedantic. While in Orlando, someone with one of the campaigns sent me an angry email saying I act like I know everything. But in that discussion, the only things I needed to know were (A) the hotel layout between the sports bar and the Unicorn meeting room, (B) what Sunil Gulati looks like and (C) what Don Garber looks like. And the things I’ll say here are, frankly, just as obvious as those things. As Edie Brickell sang: I know what I know, if you know what I mean.

I’ll dispsense with the preachy stuff early and then move on to some actual ideas …

 

1. Drop the nonsense and get educated

This isn’t just directed at Soccer Twitter and the conspiracy theories of doom. Certainly a bunch of bro/rel dudes should spend most of this Lenten season atoning for everything they said about Kathy Carter, Julie Foudy, Chris Ahrens, Carlos Bocanegra, Sunil Gulati, Don Garber, Nipun Chopra, Kyle Martino, Donna Shalala …

Then consider the sheer ignorance of this BigSoccer post on Carlos Cordeiro: “He was the VP under Sunil during the biggest disaster in the history of US Soccer.” You may have 100 legitimate questions and concerns about the new president. Blaming him for the men’s national team World Cup flameout is a flying leap across the giant atrium in the Renaissance hotel.

Some of the campaigns deserve a bit of blame for the cesspool surrounding the election as well. Consider this non-hypothetical: Given the couple of inevitable last-minute changes to state representation, when U.S. Soccer sends out a list with those changes to candidates, do you (A) thank the staffer who had to dig that up and send it out or (B) go on Twitter to put the federation on blast for telling you these things so late in the campaign, as if it’s a conspiracy rather than an additional level of transparency?

And behind a lot of it is the NASL and its legal challenge against U.S. Soccer, a suit for which I didn’t detect a lot of sympathy in Orlando. It’s gone way beyond fussing with Gulati and Garber. They’ve sued most of the board, and by extension, they’ve thumbed their noses at everyone who elected the board. It’s funny, but a bunch of people who’ve spent much of their adult lives volunteering in the sport don’t take too kindly to being sued by someone who bought the New York Cosmos a year ago and now wants to dictate how professional soccer should be run.

The NASL certainly has a big overlap with the more radical (or factually impaired) wing of Soccer Twitter. And what has it gotten them? A bunch of lawsuits and a plan to prop up D2 by bringing up some NPSL teams.

As promised, there’s another way forward …

2. Work with the states

You may not be able to walk into an Eastern New York adult soccer meeting and walk out as Sal Rapaglia’s replacement as president. Other states, best represented in Orlando by West Virginia’s ebullient Dave Laraba, have openly asked for some new blood.

Even if you can’t get onto a state board, try to work with them. Attend their meetings.

You’ll find many of them are receptive. Yes, Carlos Cordeiro and Kathy Carter combined for a little more than 70 percent of the vote. But we know who many of those voters are. The athletes. The Pro Council. U.S. Youth Soccer, which has a handful of organizational votes as well as being the umbrella group for state associations, endorsed Cordeiro.

Take them out, and you have a bunch of state associations who were clearly split all over the place.

And — this may shock some of you — for some of them, Cordeiro is the “change” candidate.

He’s not Sunil Gulati. If you saw the board meeting Friday in Orlando, you saw a president who, for all his accomplishments, didn’t seem too interested in listening. Cordeiro is the opposite. I actually have a hard time picturing him presiding over a National Council meeting, but they’ll figure it out.

(For that matter, Kathy Carter isn’t Sunil Gulati. But the manner in which she entered the election drew a lot of legitimate questions, as did her campaign-killing idea to have  Casey Wasserman oversee an “independent” commission despite his agency’s deep ties to so many players. She is a “soccer person” in every sense of the phrase. This just was not the right election for her.)

The states, and perhaps some national organizations, are where you can gain momentum for this …

3. Suggest bylaws and policies

Toward the end of the big meeting Saturday in Orlando, Cal South president Derek Barraza stepped up to the microphone with a reminder for his fellow National Council members: We’re not just here to vote. We’re here to do our duty and make policy.

That’s not just academic. If you’ve read my recaps of meetings gone by, you’ve seen bylaws and policies suggested by various parties and approved by the memberships. Louisiana Soccer Association. Bylaw/policy machine Richard Groff. A task force on professional player registrations. Eastern New York Youth Association (not the adults). Athletes’ Council chair Jon McCullough. A policy from a Transgender Task Force.

You may think people in power aren’t listening to such things. The voting records suggest otherwise. And even the weekend’s symbolic effort to cut registration fees in half (something no right-minded person was going to do just before electing a new president who may have another mandate to use or reduce those fees) wasn’t just spitting into the wind. In the board meeting, Athletes’ Council chair Chris Ahrens asked several good questions about how to proceed on that matter. You can bet this issue will come up again.

So along these lines, let’s try this:

4. Lobby to change the Professional League Standards

It’s safe to say promotion and relegation in the pro leagues is not an issue that moves the masses among the U.S. Soccer membership. They’re not necessarily opposed to it — Kyle Martino had support among states and was one of three finalists for the Athletes’ Council votes — but it’s not their top priority. Frankly, there’s no reason it should be. (For reference, see everything I’ve written on the topic.)

The way to get that going isn’t to elect Eric Wynalda president. It’s not a lawsuit or a grievance, where any “victory” would have us racing to find the correct spelling of “Pyrrhic.” Peter Wilt has the right idea — start building toward pro/rel within the lower divisions. If it catches fire and makes MLS owners realize they should be part of it, great. If not, at least you’ve reinvigorated the lower divisions and given more people more opportunities.

The muted response to NISA suggests to me that what I’ve seen for the last 22 years hasn’t really changed — owners have found it’s a lot simpler and cheaper to run a summer amateur team than it is to run a full-season pro club. But aside from pesky things like “workers comp” and “salaries,” there’s one legitimate obstacle keeping clubs from organizing new D3 leagues: the Pro League Standards.

Standards exist for a reason, of course. U.S. Soccer has an interest in making sure its pro leagues are credible. A $250,000 performance bond to make sure a team can make it through a season is certainly reasonable, as are some (maybe not all) of the requirements on fields, stadiums and staffing. (Can we please drop the “media guide” requirement? Are those still printed?)

fuddThe big one is the “individual net worth” requirement. Perhaps a legal or economic authority can explain otherwise, but I’ve never understood why a pro club requires one person to have $10 million. If you have people who can put up the performance bond — perhaps even an increased bond — why would it matter whether the group can find an owner who’s in the top 1 percent?

Can the standards be overturned from within? I think so. At the very least, you can force people to vote yay or nay on the record, which is something you can use in future presidential campaigns and might be more useful than a conspiracy theory.

And there’s one group that really should be interested in such things …

5. Reach out to the Athletes’ Council

This group took a lot of unfair abuse over the past week. First, they were accused of being pawns for Kathy Carter. It was fun to see the conspiracy theorists try to adapt when the athletes announced they were going as a bloc for Cordeiro. It was also fun to see Hope Solo lecture them about not reading bylaws when she demonstrated little grasp of the published election procedures and a few other simple bits of public info. (Again — coaching modules aren’t age-appropriate? Where’d she get that?)

But we still don’t have a good grasp of what issues they were considering. In talking about Cordeiro, they mentioned his experience — which is a legitimate qualification — and Carlos Bocanegra said he felt the candidates’ platforms were similar and vague, which was partially true.

It would be reassuring, though, to hear that the athletes are concerned about the grassroots. Perhaps it’d be nice to hear they’re going to work in concert with states.

And changing the Pro League Standards should be something that would appeal to the athletes. It’s more opportunity, isn’t it?

So look, reformists (genuine reformists, not people who’ve staked their identities on pretending they understand pro/rel while ignorant Americans do not), you have opportunities. One well-connected source told me he thinks we’re going to have fewer unopposed elections down the road.

Change is coming. As it stands now, the federation has voted for incremental change. Maybe if people can push for a few more incremental changes, we’ll be able to look back in a couple of years and see if it all added up to something big.

One thought on “Moving forward and making peace with U.S. Soccer’s “change” wing and the Athletes’ Council

  1. I actually think media guides are extremely important – and for ostensibly professional leagues/teams, crucial. They don’t need to be physical books: most NCAA football and basketball programs have stopped printing them but make them available by PDF, etc.

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