It’s easy to say Gulati should go, but is it the right thing for American soccer?

As one of Sunil Gulati’s chief defenders over the years, I think I ought to come out of hiding to discuss the near-majority position of American soccer fans (at least those on Twitter and Bigsoccer), that US Soccer head Sunil Gulati must “go” for his role in the US 2022 World Cup bid failure.

Here’s what I think. The question of whether Gulati should go is almost irrelevant – Gulati recently won his second four-year term and will not face the voters until February 2014. What is relevant is the question of who would replace him. Supposing he did go, who would replace him? Merely saying “anybody” isn’t a real answer.

Here’s the other situation, until FIFA changes its bidding rules to allow the same confederation to host twice-in-a-row, the USA is now the enormous favorite to host the World Cup in 2026. Australia, China, and the whole of Europe (w/Russia hosting in 2022) are out, leaving the US the limited potentially opposition of South America (more to come on them), Africa, and erm, New Zealand.

Now, if you believe the rumors out of FIFA (and my good friend Jon Tannenwald did on Dan Levy’s podcast recently), FIFA wants the centennial World Cup of 2030 to go to Argentina and Uruguay, the two finalists of the first ever World Cup. That almost literally leaves Mexico, New Zealand, Egypt, and Morocco as opponents and that’s only if you accept that FIFA would go to a second Arabic-speaking country in three tournaments before returning the USA.

Here’s what all this means. How big of risk is it to chuck Gulati and his allies out of US Soccer when so many of them have the personal contacts, lessons learned and maybe even dirt on FIFA members that you’d want to win the World Cup in 2026? Is dumping Gulati before 2026 is selected not a case of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater?” While canning Gulati would certainly feel good after the 2022 loss, it doesn’t change the fact that he and his staff’s experience in the process makes them more valuable if you’re going to try again in 2026. If you thought 2022 was a “slam dunk,” then 2026 is setting up as one of those Blake Griffin monstrosities.

[ame=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eRKXGiAAnw”%5DYouTube – Dunk of the Night (11/20/2010): Blake Griffin’s Monster Slam Dunk on Timofey Mozgov[/ame]

Yeah, like that.

By the way, if I have to name the biggest mistake by Gulati’s World Cup bid team it’d be this one. I think they got overexcited and started talking up the bid too early. Instead, they should’ve kept themselves and the rumor mill quiet and once they saw that Qatar and its billions were going after it, simply let Asia have 2022 and possibly even support Qatar in that effort. The problem is that once it became clear that US was bidding, they couldn’t be seen dropping out because of Qatar, it would’ve made US Soccer look bad and would’ve set off the collusion alarms even earlier than they ended up going off.

But getting back to my point, there’s no doubt that Gulati has been weakened politically by this loss. Even I, as a defender of his, will admit that. But behind him is a total void. Who do you want running US Soccer. (And just as importantly, who would want to?)

That’s my point.

Until there is a qualified, motivated figure standing “in opposition” to Gulati, all this talk of him resigning doesn’t matter one iota. Elections aren’t won by “Mr. Else, Anybody,” they’re won by people. And until that someone emerges publicly, all the anti-Gulati noise is just that – noise.

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This is who we want running the US national team?

[ame=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07O6qsZT7lc&feature=player_embedded”%5DYouTube- The Future for U.S. Soccer.MTS[/ame]

So here’s the presumptive next US coach Jurgen Klinsmann spouting about 700 different cliches when asked what American soccer needs to do to improve. It’s nothing but platitudes and generalities, on top of the lovely European anti-middle class attitude that Soccernomics rips apart.

He’s right that too much of American soccer is pay-to-play. I grant him that point unreservedly. But much of what he says is already getting done and believe it or not, it’s being done by MLS. Look at the what the academies have already uncovered in just the short time they’ve been in existence. Look at Andy Najar, for example. Look at Jorge Flores at Chivas. They are working with the immigrant communities and they are finding some gems too.

Spouting populist generalities might be enough to make you sound credible on ESPN, but he better have some “how’s” to go with all those “why’s” or else Sunil Gulati should laugh him out of his office.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. Klinsmann is a charlatan and if we hire him, we’ll be fortunate to qualify for Brazil 2014.*

CLARIFICATION: Since I think I was too vague here, let me say this. I don’t think we won’t qualify for the World Cup, but I could see Mexico-with-Eriksson type situation. If that came to pass, and we were struggling in the Hex, would the USSF be able to swallow its pride and $$ to can him the way the Mexicans admirably did with Sven? If the USSF dumped him, then sure I could see another coach turning it around. But if he were to stay and struggle, what then? Why not pick someone with more experience? Why not set our sights higher?

Name and shame time for the two US fans who screamed profanities at Sunil Gulati

Which two meatheads were responsible for this on Wednesday? (Emphasis mine)

There are plenty of things to disagree with Sunil Gulati about. But have your disagreement by “roaring profanities” and pretty much chasing him off from fans of his own team is really over the line of decent behavior.

Did anyone else see this take place?

Pouring some more cold water on the nerds’ dreams of MLS promotion and relegation

We interrupt this period of the World Cup to bring you news from one of the weirder, darker, lonelier little corners of the American soccer universe. No, not the Red Bulls’ trophy cabinet… worse.

That’s right, it’s the promotion-relegation (pro-rel) debate. For those of you lucky enough not to know what I am talking about, here’s a quick summary. There is a small, but obnoxiously noisy contingent who believe that MLS will never be a “serious” league until it instigated promotion and relegation between it and lower divisions. There are those who take this even further and say that the lack of pro/rel and the use of a salary cap is evidence of MLS being rigged either towards certain teams or (the most wacko theory) towards keeping soccer’s popularity tied down in the interest of the owners’ other business interests.

I disagree entirely with all of that, as I have said quite vocally for some time. Click the previous link for all my justifications, I’m not getting into it again.

But anyway, this weekend, Stefan Fatsis got the nerds into such a tizzy by writing:
This set off a pro/rel nerd feeding frenzy on Twitter as they imagined a world where MLS owners would, just for their Euro-poseur validation, single-handedly destroy their own business model and turn MLS franchise ownership from a fairly safe long-term growth bet into a hugely risky proposition for club owners.

But oh boy, were the nerds excited this weekend – even more excited than they were when they heard that Olivia Munn would be on the Daily Show. That’s a lot of nerd saliva slipping through their collective overbite.

Yet, as I’ve said time and time again, the EPL will get rid of promotion and relegation before MLS ever enacts it. Promotion and relegation decreases league and club stability which, if you’re dealing with a “growth” product such as American soccer, is just unnecessary risk not worth creating.

Despite the nerds’ protestations, that 25 years quote by Sunil Gulati means nothing. Here’s why. In 25 years, Sepp Blatter will be 99, Jack Warner will be 92, and even Mohammed Bin-Hammam will be 86. None of them will be around in any significant capacity. Who knows the hell FIFA, soccer, or sports in general will look like in 25 years? Will they care about MLS playing in warm weather? Will they care that MLS doesn’t use pro/rel? I doubt it, but who knows?

Gulati just gave a classic kick-the-can-down-the-road quote that doesn’t relate one iota to the reality of quote ever coming to pass. The only way Gulati could’ve sounded less sincere about the issue is if he had promised to appoint a “commission to study the matter.” And let me add, Gulati is dead right in doing nothing but mouthing meaningless words over the pro-rel issue.

There will never be promotion and relegation in American soccer nor shall there ever be. If that is simply too much for your finely-honed soccer sensibilities to allow you to support MLS and its clubs, than go back to playing Dungeons and Dragons, building Captain Kirk’s chair or whatever the hell you want to do. But please, for the sake of all the bar patrons you bore, web forums you insist on trolling, and journalists whose emails you fill with garbage, just shut the hell up.

If US Soccer is going to take a stand on one piece of CONCACAF idiocy, let it be this one

The nest of geniuses that is the CONCACAF Executive Committee apparently has looked at the ungodly, two-year, 18-match slog that is South American World Cup qualifying and said, let’s bring that here, but make it bigger.

Please, Sunil, I’ve defended you a lot, I’ve defended your non-oppositional approach to CONCACAF and FIFA. I’ve defended you against American soccer’s worst mouth breathers. But please, please, get together with the Mexicans and at least try to stop this from happening.

What appears to be on the agenda is a 22-match final round replacing the previous 16-game semi/final format. The final remaining 12 teams, after some kind of prelim round, would then play each other twice over an enormous two-year span. Let’s take a look a the 12 teams that made it to the third round of qualifying this time around.

  • Canada
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Jamaica
  • Mexico
  • Suriname
  • Trinidad
  • USA

This means, depending on your ichthyological definitions, at least 6-8 matches against minnows who really have no chance whatsoever qualifying for the World Cup. This includes countries like Cuba, Haiti, Suriname, and Canada (Hi Duane!). Only one of the six additional teams that would be allowed into this gluttonous final round could even be described as “bubble” teams that at least made it close in the third round (Jamaica). The rest are downright mediocre. Using the last cycle’s results as a guide again, they’re teams that averaged -7.5 goal difference with only one of them even finishing their 3rd round with an even zero GD (Jamaica, again).

This then emerges as fixture congestion of the worst sort. Here’s why this matters:

  • Player fatigue: With more and more of the US’ top players playing in Europe’s only league with a restorative winter break, US fans will face an England-style rash of injuries when our Premier League-based players hit the wall after all the additional travel and matches between England and CONCACAF. Also, with our players increasingly playing on teams further involved in deeper European runs, this just further adds strain through even more matches and more travel.
  • Dilution of product: If I’m US Soccer, I’m dreading the prospect of having to sell tickets to World Cup qualifiers against the likes of Suriname and Canada. On one hand, USSF wants to play these matches in big venues to increase revenue and increase the perception that qualifiers are “big deals,” on the other hand, you’re not going to get 20,000 fans for USA-Suriname at typical WCQ prices anywhere in the country. What makes the hex so much fun is that there isn’t all that much of it. It’s tense. It’s difficult. It’s a difficult combination between the proverbial marathon and sprint. This will remove much of the urgency out of many matches, especially road matches.
  • The politics of it: If there is any issue where the big boys of CONCACAF need to step up and stomp down, it’s this one. Mexico and the USA do not need their players called in for more travel and more near-meaningless matches. This would be a great chance for Gulati to show he actually has some heft within CONCACAF by making this plan go away. I understand the need to keep CONCACAF/FIFA feathers unruffled during a World Cup bid, but this is about the players here. As an aside, if I hear that the Canadian Federation is pushing for this, then I’m leading a field trip down to the embassy here in DC where we can all stomp on Sydney Crosby effigies, and burn Barenaked Ladies Albums.

But let’s not mince words as to why this is taking place. This is a move to placate members of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), all of whom are fully paid members of Jack Warner’s kleptocracy within CONCACAF. Only once since 1998 has more than one CFU team even made to the final round (2002). So this is about giving the CFU minnows more TV money and more gate money through near-guaranteed matches with the US and Mexico. It doesn’t take a keen political eye to read between the lines of this quote by Jamaican official Horace Burrell.
See, it’s not even really about CFU teams actually qualifying for World Cups. It’s about them making as much money as possible.

As I said earlier, this would be a great opportunity to see if Gulati is capable of doing anything more than simply pledging fealty to his bosses in the increasingly less likely* hopes of another US-hosted World Cup.

* I’ll get to this in another post, but I think Gulati is about to get out-maneuvered and dramatically outspent by the Qataris.

MLS Rumors “investigation” smacks of racism and stupidity

Today MLS Rumors put it up its much hyped “investigation” into to US Soccer. To call it laughable is an insult to humor. To call it stupid is an insult to stupid people. To even give this much attention is probably a mistake on my part, but I simply cannot let it go by. This is one of the single-most offensive, stupid pieces I’ve ever seen written on American soccer and additionally it includes outright racist sentiments.

Here we go:
Right away, the article, which purports to be about US Soccer, goes right into the usual Eurosnob arguments about why Bradley should never have been coach in the first place. That’s fine, I guess, but these comments could pretty much have been cut and pasted from anytime in 2007. Not a good start.

Next they copy a whole bunch of text from the American Soccer History Archives, who really ought to think twice about attaching its name to a screed such as this one. You’ll never believe this, but the author’s conclusion is that if only the organization that had closer links to England had won a 1912 (really!) power struggle, America would be a soccer power, we’d all spell color with a, “u,” there’d be a meat pie in every pot, etc, etc.

Anyone with a reasonably educated view of the sport knows that one of the things holding this sport back has been the excessive influence and deference to all things British. But for whichever unlabeled, (we’ll get to that later) pimply adolescent yearning for a unique and “authentic” identity, well they feel otherwise.

But anyway, back to the article itself, which at this point delves yet again back into the selection of Bradley as national team coach – which, if I may extend a simile here for a moment, has become to US Soccer fans what the 2000 disputed Presidential election became for folks on the left – a jumping off platform for some of the most crazy and lunatic theories to come through American soccer in a long time.

From everything I’ve read and ascertained about the 2007 decision, Klinsmann wanted control over virtually everything in US Soccer, to include even off-the-field items such as sponsorship. Now, as qualified as Klinsmann may have been to run the on-the-field side of US Soccer, he is completely unqualified to have any say in commercial matters. Klinsmann, like most European players has ZERO post-secondary education, and is qualified for two things – soccer, and apparently being a baker. Neither of those things is enough to warrant the kind of control he demanded out of US Soccer. Oh, and allow me to remind this author, who again remains anonymous, that in the world of soccer, there is at least one and probably two tournaments bigger in importance than the Copa America; 1) the European Championships, and 2) the Confederations Cup, which unlike the Copa America in most years, featured full-blown A-teams from all involved. But hey, it’s really easy to be wrong when you don’t have to put your name on it.

I digress yet again. Let’s return to the gibberish, or “article” to use the polite term.
Sigh… he/she/it is back to the Bradley/Klinsmann debate again. Whether you agree with Bradley or like his work (and goodness knows I’ve been conflicted on this), isn’t this all getting a bit hackneyed, and a bit old now? If I hear one more time about the Gold Cup being “our continental championship” and that it thus must be treated like the European Championships, I am going to puke. If Concacaf wants it to be like the Euros, it knows what it has to do, and that is make it once every four years, not once every two. Until then, we’ll treat the WCQ-year Gold Cup like what it is, a CONCACAF money grab.

I’ll give the (anonymous) author credit, he is successfully rehashing almost every Europoseur argument about US Soccer from the last four years. He might be stupid, racist (keep reading) and a coward (that anonymity again), but he is thorough.

I’ll quickly grant that I was with him on this prediction until Bradley completely and utterly outcoached del Bosque and Spain in that Confederations Cup match. That turned me around to a large degree.

But get ready folks, here is where things really come off the rails.

With regards to him having executive roles in both US Soccer and MLS, I’ll grant that it’s a problem and clear COI. But who does the author thinks sits on Confederation committees? It’s heads of federations. There is nothing out of the norm with Gulati, as the head of a major Concacaf federation, sitting on some Confederation boards. It’s how the governance of international sport tends to work.

Let’s break this bit down further:

Who says US Soccer funneling huge sums of cash to India? That’s not what is suggested at all. It looks like we’re going to sit on some conference calls, maybe have a meeting or two, and maybe send some coaches down there for a shmooze.

Wow, allow me to reel my jaw off the floor at the scale of such graft. Plus, if the child (no proof otherwise) who wrote this article has any sense of politics, he’d know that when you’re in the midst of bidding for the World Cup, it might help to get some allies on your side. Sure, India might not be a major “soccer” power, but it is a major economic one, and if this deal, as small as it seems to me, helps us host a World Cup, then it’s capital extremely well-spent. How would the author like us to bid for the World Cup, exactly? Presumably he’d like us to bid as England did and just stand there arrogantly and say to the world, “We’re the USA and that’s why you should give us the World Cup right now, harrumph.” Well, England lost the 2006 World Cup to Germany, just as we’d surely lose our bid if we followed suit.

Again, the lack of any understanding of politics or understanding of how to win a World Cup bid is galling here.
I have no idea what this is supposed to insinuate, do you?

That is quite simply the single most abhorrent and racist thing I have ever seen written about soccer. So, Sunil Gulati is in fact an agent provocateur from India here to destroy US Soccer from within. So the mere fact that Gulati is of Indian descent and that the region where his family is from is corrupt “explains” how this deal and Gulati himself must inherently be corrupt. This is like reading something from an Obama “birther” website. Did Gulati’s ethnicity probably assist in setting up this arrangement with the Indian FA? Probably, but to then then say that his heritage somehow explains the corruption somehow implicit in this deal is simply racism.

Name one example of a site or article that US Soccer has shut down. Otherwise you’re full of shit.

Now, I can speak with some authority on this matter, because I suspect unlike the anonymous individual writing the article, I’ve been credentialed for US Soccer events. Let me tell you, I’ve never once seen these terms that are being alleged by the author. Below this post, in blue, I have posted the terms that are explicitly posted on US Soccer’s media website. I will comment on them at a later time, but let me tell you that they are in fact more lenient of many new-media strategies like live-blogging and twitter than are many of governing bodies.

Well, I took a quick look at the US Soccer site and did not find the budget either. I did find some older business plan documents that include figures, but not the budget. Fair enough. As for the claim that “this is basic information which is available abroad about other national federations,” that doesn’t standup one bit. After searching the websites for the English FA, Irish (NIR) FA, Scottish FA, Welsh FA, Football Australia, New Zealand FA, South African FA and Football Association of Ireland (Rep. of Ire), I didn’t find a single one of their budgets either. So while it would be nice if the USSF opened its books a bit more, they appear to be in good company in not doing so.

So it appears that the author is now claiming that because a woman that they claim is a USSF press officer dresses well, has nice accessories, might make six-figures, and traveled in a limo or town car, it means that she is somehow an example of corruption. I do not know who that woman is, but I do know that filming and sliming a woman (who the cowardly author also does not identify) is a shocking display out of a web site purports to be taken seriously by American soccer.

Lots of people have nice clothes, lots of people make six figures, lots of people occasionally get into limos – none of this is evidence in the slightest of corruption. The single most corrupt thing I’ve seen so far has been the disgraceful ethics and lack of responsibility shown on the part of the cowardly anonymous author and the website that hosts his/her material. At no time does MLS Rumors show any evidence of the corruption that they slime this unidentified woman with. That is simply unacceptable.

I have been following MLS and American soccer closely since about 1997. For better or worse, I was first credentialed by MLS when I was in 8th grade, since then I have covered soccer as a professional journalist, freelancer, student journalist and now as a blogger – and in that time I have never seen anything published on the subject that is as blatantly racist, shoddily “reported” (and I use that term as loosely as possible), and just overall irresponsible as the piece I outline above. It’s quite frankly a disgrace. It reads like a screed from a fringey (either one) political message board. The site that hosts is has already pretty much been disavowed by any reasonably respectable media outlet as a source of any nonsense it gets it’s hands on. But publishing false transfer rumors are quite different than this piece of racist, sexist, likely slanderous crap that it published today. Every one of us who writes about soccer on the web today has been made to look worse by the article, and everyone is going to have to deal with the fallout as the site’s legions of teenage fanboys find all their mythologies validated.

Everyone out there knows that sports governance, especially in international sports like soccer is quite corrupt. I agree that US Soccer could do awful lot better in many spheres. I too would like to learn more about its workings and to try and impact positive change upon the organization. But one can either do that like an adult, through responsible journalism, investigation, and commentary, or one can do it like a child, using race-baiting, innuendo, and slander. Going the route of the latter, has done nothing whatsoever to advance any of the goals above. It’s probably pushed it in the opposite direction.

American soccer as a community is worse today because that article was published.

It’s too bad.

Finally, a note on anonymity.

My name is Aaron Charles Stollar. I live in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington DC. I work for a large consulting firm in the area, I also write and blog for Bigsoccer.com and occasionally at twofoodiebrothers.wordpress.com. I am reachable at aaron@bigsoccer.com, on twitter at @aaronstol, and on Facebook. That is who I am.

We don’t know who authored the article I talk about above because they themselves are too cowardly to come out and say so. There is no better definition of the word coward than that. I have, both as a pro and as a blogger, written some inflammatory articles both as a reporter and as a commentator. My name was attached to the article every single time. As a poster on BS, I’ve always been very open with who I was, until recently using a handle (aaronstol) that made it clear who I was, and then just changing it to my full name. Why did I always identify myself? Because to not do so 1) eliminates nearly any credibility you attempt to extend to your arguments, and 2) because I am a man, and in my mind, a man always identifies himself when making an opinion. To not do so is craven, soft, weak, immature, and just about any synonym you can think of for the word coward. Remember that the next time you read something posted anonymously, whether from that site or elsewhere. And please, the next time you’re bored at work and want a quick something to read – don’t go to MLS Rumors and give them the pleasure of a hit. Go to another site, any other site, as this article truly shows that they are not worthy of any of our traffic or our attention.

Appendix: Current US Soccer Media Policies.

Please note, I have redacted phone numbers and email addresses.