In the aftermath of that dreadful night in Couva, Trinidad, I, like many other US Soccer supporters, felt a wide range of emotions. Anguish and despair, over not being able to see the first true American star on the game’s greatest stage. Embarrassment and confusion, over how a country with our size and resources could be bested by the smaller nations in CONCACAF. Rage and betrayal, over those in charge who allowed such a travesty to occur. In my mind, it was time for heads to roll at US Soccer, and for a new regime to come in to make the sweeping changes we needed to help soccer reach its full potential in this country.
Needless to say, my initial reaction to the election of Carlos Cordeiro as US Soccer President this past Saturday was one of disappointment and frustration. However, upon further reflection, I think US Soccer fans need to trust the decision of the US Soccer Federation, and allow Cordeiro to rule before casting him aside as a continuation of the past regime that is bound to fail.
One of the biggest gripes about Cordeiro among his critics is that he is not a “soccer guy.” Cordeiro never played soccer in any competitive capacity, and plied his trade in business working for Goldman Sachs. This has caused many to question his ability to diagnose and treat soccer’s biggest problems in the country. This view fails to recognize that Cordeiro has been working for US Soccer since 2007. While his knowledge of playing the game may fall behind those he was running against, his institutional knowledge of US Soccer as an organization is second to none. Additionally, over the last 10+ years it has been his job to help the game of soccer progress in this country. You don’t take on this sort of challenge without learning a bit about the game along the way. Finally, the athlete council, worth 20% of the total vote in this election, voted unanimously to support Cordeiro. These are some of the greatest soccer players to come out of this country; if they believe he has enough knowledge of the game, why shouldn’t we?
Another problem many have with Cordeiro is that he somewhat of a continuation of the past regime. He was brought into US Soccer by and served as the Vice President to former US Soccer President Sunil Gulati, who has long been criticized for focusing too much on financial gains and not enough on developing world-class talent. This has left many, including myself, who think changes must be made to bring US Soccer to the its full potential, worried for the future. While this wariness is warranted, it’s also important to note two things: the progress made by US Soccer during Gulati’s tenure, and the financial effect of missing a World Cup.
While the argument can be made that the talent level of US Soccer has dipped since Gulati took over, you must not discount the financial stability that he has brought to the professional club game in this country. Since Gulati took over, MLS has grown from a measly 12 teams in 2006 to 23 in 2018, along with three other franchises set to start by 2020. A league that was once hemorrhaging money is now steadily growing, with cities fighting over scarce expansion bids. Even lower-tier leagues like the USL and NASL have had immense success stories recently. Though he is not directly or solely responsible for MLS’s growing success, Gulati surely played a significant role in securing soccer’s foothold within the country. If electing Cordeiro means keeping MLS and American professional club soccer on this upward trajectory, I don’t think he poses much of a problem.
Finally, we must not discount the effect of missing the World Cup on Cordeiro and the other powers that be in US Soccer. That dreadful night in Couva left so many desperately calling for change. Though Cordeiro might not necessarily represent the comprehensive change in philosophy that many were yearning for, it doesn’t mean that he will not make requisite reforms. Those who are worried that Cordeiro will care only about the bottom line financials of the organization must realize that missing out on the World Cup is estimated to cost US Soccer up to $100 million. American companies who broadcast and sponsor the event will also likely lose money without the US in the World Cup, as 20 million more Americans on average watched World Cup games featuring the US than those without the US in 2014. This doesn’t even include the missed opportunity of creating more fans of the game through the tournament. If anything, missing out on the World Cup will have made the financial pressure on Cordeiro to make changes stronger so that this doesn’t happen again.
After the qualifying debacle, it is obvious that something needs to be done at US Soccer to right the ship. I had always thought that his meant bringing in a new voice to lead the organization, with radical ideas that fundamentally change the way the game is played in the US. While Cordeiro is not who I would have picked to lead the charge, I’m not convinced he is going to halt the progress of the game either. His election and his future policies may warrant criticism, but we should recognize what he and the old regime have done for the game in the US, and give him the respect he is due as he tries to bring us out of the abyss. We have a long four years ahead of us, filled with opportunities for Cordeiro to make necessary changes. Let’s let him rule before casting away the election as a failure.