Today’s the day we’ve all been waiting for. US Soccer will vote for the next president of the federation, and the expectations are huge. I’ll spare you the hyperbole about the importance of this election. If you’re reading this column, you know the stakes.
It is important though to take stock about where soccer in the United States is before throwing support behind a candidate. I realize that most of you reading this are like me and unable to vote. We are passengers along for the ride. But I am hopeful that this and other articles and opinion pieces are contributing to the greater overall dialogue and getting the attention of the men and women who will not only vote today, but for whomever eventually takes the reins of the Federation.
Realistically speaking, with eight candidates running chances are good (87.5 percent to be exact) that the candidate you like won’t win. That’s okay. US Soccer fans should however try to be patient with whomever wins. The problems run deep and were in need of attention long before the infamous loss to Trinidad and Tobago back in October. These problems won’t be fixed by next October, but you should be diligent in making sure the problems are at least being addressed. If they’re not, make a ruckus. Cause a scene.
Fans and voters should realize that the United States has been able to go from a soccer backwater into a world power in a short amount of time. The country didn’t have a first division to speak of 25 years ago. It didn’t have a women’s program. Or a Paralympic program. It took a lot of foresight and work to turn this country from one that couldn’t name two domestic teams into one that was incensed when its run of seven straight World Cup appearances was broken.
The top professional league in the United States is thriving, something that was a new feeling during the last World Cup. There’s a stable second division, a stable women’s league, and for a great number of players there’s a clear path from playing youth soccer to going pro. These are all new developments in this country. Bear that fact in mind when judging the status quo.
That said, I’m not naïve. Sunil Gulati isn’t stepping down because everything is working perfectly. The Federation is facing some enormous and important obstacles that need to be addressed quickly and aggressively. The level of engagement in communities that aren’t largely suburban and white is a scandal. That it costs as much as it does for a kid to play soccer - even recreationally - in this country is an embarrassment. Price gouging for meaningless friendlies is shameful for all involved. But it’s imperative to take stock of everything - not just the bad or the good - and make a judgment based on that.
Like most good politicians, the eight candidates have all said what they’re going to do differently. Some of the things that have been promised make sense and as a fan of the game in the United States I hope these changes are implemented. Other suggestions would be laughable if they hadn’t been proposed with a straight face. But what will the candidates do to continue the largely upward trajectory of soccer in the United States over the past 20 years? The answer to that question is as important - and perhaps even more so - than how the candidate will break the system in order to fix it.