U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati Will Not Run For Re-Election As Pundits Call For Change
U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati will "not seek another term as head of the federation," bringing to an end his 12-year run in the position, according to Sam Borden of ESPN.com. Gulati said, "The best thing for me personally, and for the federation, is to see someone new in the job." Gulati's decision will end his association with the federation that "stretches three decades and covers multiple positions." He oversaw "incredible growth in the sport" in the U.S, but was also in charge when the USMNT "crashed out of qualifying" for the '18 FIFA World Cup. That failure, ultimately, was "impossible to move past." If the U.S. "hadn't lost to Trinidad and Tobago in the final qualifying game in October, Gulati almost surely would have run again." Whoever fills Gulati's position "will almost surely have plenty of interaction with his or her predecessor," as Gulati "still has a seat on the powerful FIFA Council." He also is overseeing the joint U.S./Canada/Mexico bid to host the '26 World Cup. Gulati: "I'm going to spend a lot of time over the next six months trying to win an election, and that election is to bring the 2026 World Cup here." He said that at this point he is "not supporting any other candidates." However, Soccer United Marketing President Kathy Carter this morning made it official she will run for the U.S. Soccer President position, and Borden cited a source as saying that she "would run at the urging of Gulati and MLS Commissioner Don Garber as their preferred choice" (ESPN.com, 12/4). NBC Sports' Kyle Martino, who also is running for U.S. Soccer President, called Gulati's decision not to run the "right move." He said in a statement, "It’s an indication that Sunil has recognized a need for change, and he can now focus on the 2026 World Cup bid, which is critical for the growth of the game in the U.S." The deadline to "submit names for the election is Dec. 12, with the vote coming in February" (USA TODAY, 12/5).
GROWING USSF'S FINANCIAL STANDING: In N.Y., Andrew Das notes Gulati was "responsible for a significant increase in the global profile of American soccer and for the swelling of U.S. Soccer’s bank accounts." The federation "now sits on reserves" of about $100M. But the USMNT's failure to qualify for the World Cup "allowed long-simmering complaints about Gulati’s leadership and his style to burst into public view" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/5). SI.com's Grant Wahl wrote the business side of U.S. Soccer "certainly expanded during Gulati’s tenure -- though much of that is due" to USSF Secretary General & CEO Dan Flynn. One area where Gulati’s achievements are "unquestioned is his raising of the U.S.’s status at FIFA." He "helped swing the FIFA presidential election to Gianni Infantino" in '16, and even though losing out to Qatar on hosting the '22 World Cup was a "crushing defeat, Gulati is in position to gain redemption" with the '26 World Cup decision coming in June (SI.com, 12/4).
NEW CHALLENGES AHEAD: ESPN.com's Jeff Carlisle wrote Gulati not running is the "right move." He has "overseen a period of unprecedented growth for the USSF in particular and the sport of soccer in general" and has "represented U.S. interests well in political circles due to his spot on the FIFA Council." But Gulati has "been in charge of the USSF for nearly 12 years" and that is a "long time for anyone to run a single organization." Following the failure of the USMNT to qualify for the World Cup, the "time has come for fresh ideas and a change in leadership." The challenges "facing the USSF are different to when he took office" in '06. Back then, there was a "need to increase the federation's financial clout in terms of sponsorships, ticket sales and overall media profile." Gulati has "done that and then some." But with the "pain of the World Cup qualifying debacle still fresh, the challenges are more specific to the sport itself." they include how to make "coaching classes more accessible and affordable, as well as solving some of the thornier player development issues" (ESPN.com, 12/4).
SOMETHING NEW TO THE EQUATION: In N.Y., Andrew Das reports Carter, who is now the eighth person to announce their candidacy, "brings to the presidential race something truly uncommon -- an accomplished woman with an enviable resume in both soccer and business." She also offers "something all too common: ties to the status quo." For critics of "tight relationship Gulati forged" between the USSF, MLS and SUM, Carter is "merely a symbol of the group of insiders who have controlled the federation for years." Carter has "taken a leave of absence from her position at SUM" and "would resign if elected." Carter said that she had "consulted Gulati ... on her decision to run." However, she added that the "presence -- or absence -- of any other candidate did not affect her conclusion that she was the best person for the job." Carter: "I don't believe that any other candidate has the unique skill set that I do. I've got 25 years of walking the hallways with soccer as my business. This is not about anybody else. This is about me being the most qualified person to lead the federation into the next generation" (NYTIMES.com, 12/5).
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE: In DC, Steven Goff notes an idea for the U.S. to host a tournament next summer with notable countries that also did not qualify for the World Cup, like Italy, Netherlands and Chile, is "looking less and less likely" to actually happen. It "faced long odds from the start because of logistical hurdles, scheduling challenges and, from a soccer standpoint, a sensible reason for doing it." It was more about "exploiting a marketing opportunity than anything else." Goff: "After all, MLS-owned Soccer United Marketing was the primary force behind it" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/5).