Paul Caligiuri, USSF presidential candidate, answers ESPN's questions
Ahead of the United States Soccer Federation presidential election on Feb. 10, ESPN FC asked the eight candidates running to succeed Sunil Gulati to address a series of questions, in 150 or fewer words per answer.
Here is what Paul Caligiuri had to say.
The U.S. men have not only failed to qualify for the World Cup, but also the last two Olympics. What needs to be done to get the program back on track?
The U.S. Development Academy has failed. It has increased, not lessened, the cost to play soccer in the U.S. We must build a stronger, more effective development academy structure, one that allows us to maximize opportunities for elite players. The Olympic Development Program is our greatest resource, but has been completely ignored by U.S. Soccer for 10 years. Let's pump resources into the Olympic Development Program. That would raise the competitive level and keep competition more localized while creating a gateway to enter into untapped multicultural communities. This broadens the player base, eliminates direct competition with U.S. Youth Soccer or U.S. Club Soccer for player registrations. It decreases travel costs, which keeps so many qualified, talented players out of our system. My plan will provide more access to unregistered high school-aged players and provide a platform that breaks down barriers to develop and prepare our top players for international competition.
What makes you qualified to run an organization with 170 full-time employees and an annual budget of around $100 million?
Simply put, my collective experiences. I have played the sport at the highest level. I received my undergraduate degree from UCLA and have served U.S. Soccer in various governance and coaching roles: I played in MLS and German Bundesliga and for the U.S. men's national team. I served on the U.S. Soccer's Board of Directors (two years) and Athletes' Council. I coached at the university level, the club level and in the NPSL and UPSL. I'm founder of the U.S. Soccer Players Association. I'm currently manager for a semipro team. I've led teams and organizations and I've managed operations at all stages of amateur and semiprofessional soccer. Two of the four most recent presidents of FIFA were former athletes. Being a former athlete is not a handicap; it's an asset. Everything I have accomplished in my life has prepared me to lead U.S Soccer as its president.
To what extent are outside sources financing your campaign and who is contributing?
As a sign of my earnest commitment to U.S. Soccer, I have funded my campaign personally and relied upon the support of friends and colleagues for counsel and input. Under my leadership, U.S. Soccer will be ethically centered and set an example to national organizations across FIFA.
During his time as president, Sunil Gulati operated in more of an executive/hands-on role. The USSF Board of Directors is moving to make the position more of a chairperson role with less power. Do you agree with this move?
Many have questioned the timing and rationale for the hasty decision to appoint a general manager, just weeks before the presidential election. There is a chorus of voices calling for this action to be tabled until a new president is elected. I was the first candidate to call attention to this development. See my letter to U.S. Soccer.
What can the USSF do to help create more Christian Pulisics? What needs to change on the youth development side and is it a problem if more players follow his lead?
Our U.S. Development Academy has increased, not lessened, the cost to play soccer in the U.S. We need a system in place which helps U.S. Soccer to identify and nurture talent at the local level and vastly expand the pool of players (the average cost for players has increased to $5,500 annually). We must build a stronger, more effective development academy structure so we can maximize all our resources. By doing so, we will provide more access for players and eliminate many barriers that are holding development back. This raises the competitive level. It keeps the competition more localized while creating a gateway for U.S. Soccer to enter into untapped multicultural communities. It broadens the player base. It eliminates direct competition with U.S. Youth Soccer or U.S. Club Soccer for player registrations. It also localizes soccer and decreases travel costs, which keeps so many qualified, talented players out of our system.
How would you reform the youth system so that the cost to families, which often runs into several thousand dollars annually, isn't so prohibitive?
The costs associated with playing soccer limit our ability to be anywhere near as inclusive as we're capable of. Today, many players from lower income and in some cases minority and immigrant communities are being priced out of playing the game. As a coach in Southern California, I witness this trend every day. U.S. Soccer has a role to play and a variety of different solutions are required. Many clubs and academies add unnecessary costs when they choose to travel and/or join leagues outside their immediate communities. I would launch a variety of outreach development programs that will assist with the cost to play soccer and that will reduce the barriers to entry for nonregistered players. If they're good enough and we keep track of them, they'll get picked up by clubs or academies. These outreach programs will be in line with Olympic Development Program and the Development Academy reform efforts.
There is a perception in some circles that many of the country's best athletes leave soccer for other sports. What ideas do you have for ensuring that more stick with it?
At the end of the day, it's really about fielding a U.S. team (men's and women's) that will be competitive on the world stage. If U.S. Soccer is in a position to showcase the kind of talent which currently exists on pitches around the U.S. -- amateur, semiprofessional and professional -- I have no doubt that soccer will become the pre-eminent sport in the nation. That will drive interest and visibility. Other sports are popular because they've got championships to point to. If we're winning with great talent, we will retain and attract our nation's best athletes.
What are your thoughts on promotion/relegation? Do you think it's viable given that MLS is against it?
Having played in the German Bundesliga, I understand why promotion/relegation is exciting both for players and fans. It is a system that is best understood throughout the world. I believe it's a viable option but there is a lot of growth, planning, aligning, adjustment and agreement for promotion/relegation to come to fruition. Frankly, as USSF president, I am more likely to focus my energies on issues that will develop our young players and get the U.S. back to a World Cup.
What other changes would you make to the pro game in the U.S. to foster growth and interest?
If we grow the pool of great amateur players, it stands to reason that we'll increase the number of talented professional players to join MLS, NWSL and the other high-level league ranks. That means television revenue grows, kit and stadium sponsorships grow and our MLS teams (most of whom do not operate in the black) become profitable ... all ships rise together. But it all begins with knowing what our product is: the player. That's where the investment has to begin. Those elements will drive interest, drive support, drive ratings, drive sponsorships and move U.S. Soccer into the pre-eminent role we're tasked with achieving, according to our mission.
Do you think the domestic game should change its calendar to match that of the international game?
The most important adjustment to make, if any, should be done as we're entering the final year of World Cup qualifying stages. While this issue is an important element of that planning, as USSF president I am more likely to focus my energies on issues that will develop our young players and get the U.S. positioned to win a World Cup.
Gulati had considerable power over how national team coaches were selected. In the future, how should these decisions get made and who should have the final say?
The hiring process should include a comprehensive review of all the talent available. There should be a technical director to assist with the hiring process. I would want to hire that technical director, make the decision on hiring and have the board ratify that decision. I'm not a marketing guy and I'm not a banker. I'm a soccer expert with global experience and I'm currently a manager and coach. I know what to look for. I have international relationships, I have a vision. We have many talented U.S. coaches, working domestically and internationally. There is talent out there. I believe the new president of U.S. Soccer should have a clear vision for how we lead our national program to excellence. The CEO should share and support that same vision and the two of them should work together seamlessly and transparently with technical experts to hire the best coaches possible.
The USSF has a tightly coupled business relationship with Soccer United Marketing and MLS. How big is the SUM/MLS/USSF conflict of interest here and what, if anything, should be done to address it?
The call for transparency is typically a call for clarity around where, how and with whom our resources are spent. Generally speaking, transparency means shining a bright light on business operations and transactions. It means making sure no one person or entity profits unfairly from policies or decisions. It means an open and competitive bidding process for tools and resources needed. It means providing players and parents and associations with a clear accounting of where and how money is spent. It also means providing sound and reasonable justification to the entire organization when key decisions are made -- primarily to be sure that no "special interest" is in play. As president, I will guide the organization's decisions and policies on the disclosure of information to all member organizations. We will conduct ourselves on a value system that will make all of America proud.
FIFA training compensation and solidarity payments mandate professional clubs to reimburse a player's youth teams for development costs. The system is not being enforced in the U.S.; should it be and, if so, how should this be done?
It seems to me we can't pick and choose which FIFA mandates we follow and which ones we don't, so long as we're not breaking any U.S. laws. We should also be careful to not grant advantages to one club over another. I'm in favor of fairness. If that means we reimburse youth teams for development costs, that makes sense.
How would you ensure that the men's and women's national teams get equal pay?
Salaries should be equal. Period. I would not wait until the CBA is renegotiated (in 2021) to address this issue. If elected, I would immediately create a 2026 bid committee for the Women's World Cup. I would focus on aligning the NWSL, the WPSL and UWS and ensuring they are guaranteed financial support from U.S. Soccer. I'd propose launching a Futsal league for women and to lobby FIFA to start an Official FIFA Women's Futsal World Cup. I am committed to working as hard as I can to secure broader TV coverage and sponsorships along with an equitable revenue-sharing plan: these elements bring financial stability and generate funding for higher salaries. There's great opportunity for our women players and we should do all that we can to support their global leadership.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.