Eric Wynalda, 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 Eric Wynalda had to say.
The U.S. men have failed to qualify not only for the World Cup but also for the past two Olympics. What needs to be done to get the program back on track?
This question highlights the need for a president who understands how to assemble a team that can handle soccer decisions. For example, in the past, coaches were hired independent of the types of players at our disposal. We need to flip that order and hire coaches based on the talent available.
What makes you qualified to run an organization with 170 full-time employees and an annual budget of around $100 million?
In my years of experience leading youth clubs, adult amateur clubs, semi-pro and professional clubs, I have learned that the business of soccer is really about people. I excel at building high-performance, world-class teams, and I believe our federation needs to be built around the philosophy of "we" and "us." Working with our board as well as with other advisers will help us go farther faster as a federation.
To what extent are outside sources financing your campaign, and who is contributing?
We have received support from a wide range of contributors, including Ricardo Silva. Our support stretches across all levels of the U.S. Soccer landscape and includes companies and private donors who believe in making US Soccer FIFA-compliant and open to all.
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?
We don't need a president who micromanages our federation. What we need is vision from a president who understands the global business of soccer and how that positively affects all levels of American soccer. The U.S. Soccer president needs to be a builder and leader of teams.
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?
Step one is making U.S. Soccer FIFA-compliant. When we create a healthy business of soccer environment, the development of soccer soon follows. Solidarity payments and training compensation, participation in the transfer market and improved commercialization, through better TV deals as a result of following the FIFA calendar as well as promotion and relegation, will begin to provide more opportunities to players across the country. This is the business of soccer we don't currently do, and it affects the grassroots as much as the professional level. We will see more departures from the system, similar to Jonathan Gonzalez's exit, if we do not change how we treat and develop our players.
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?
In addition to the comments above, we need to unify youth soccer. Parents have shown that they are willing to invest in their kids, and that's a great thing. What we need to do to make youth soccer more accessible is working together to reduce travel distances and find ways to reinvest in the grassroots across the country. One way we can do this is through an endowment fund.
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?
Kids stick to what they are good at and what brings them joy. We have plenty of athletes. What we don't have are the right environments. Improved resources that include grants, coaching education and parent education will help us develop healthier environments for our players to learn and enjoy the game.
What are your thoughts on promotion/relegation? Do you think it's viable, given that MLS is against it?
Promotion and relegation are mandated under FIFA's Article 9, and our federation has defiantly ignored this rule in order to benefit Major League Soccer, its owners, Soccer United Marketing (SUM) and leaders of U.S. Soccer. U.S. Soccer has the power and authority to implement promotion and relegation at any time, but this will only happen with a leader willing to comply with FIFA on all levels and in all ways.
What other changes would you make to the pro game in the U.S. to foster growth and interest?
Broken record here, but I continue to go back to FIFA compliance. When we are FIFA-compliant, our players will have more rights, the ability to earn more and the ability to transfer with much less restrictions. These things lead to better player quality and thus improved quality of play. We need to improve the product on the field. Otherwise, we are left with more of the same: mediocre local entertainment outlets.
Do you think the domestic game should change its calendar to match that of the international game?
Yes, and for myriad reasons. First, we don't participate in the business of soccer during the biggest transfer market of the year, which is summer. Second, our final occurs in bad weather with a lot of TV competition. Last, it's much better for our players to be playing colder weather than 1000-plus heat. We can grow our revenue and improve the quality of play by switching to the FIFA calendar.
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 president of U.S. Soccer should be building and leading teams. In the case of hiring or firing coaches, that decision should be made after consultation and input from people involved in the game. Only then should a president be announcing the hiring or firing of a coach.
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?
Soccer United Marketing is owned and controlled by the MLS owners. They consolidated power and profits without the standard business practice of a three bona fide-sealed bid process of not-for-profit organizations. We are literally sending U.S. Soccer profits to MLS through SUM, and this relationship should be fully vetted and reviewed.
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?
U.S. Soccer should be FIFA-compliant in all things and in all ways. This includes training compensation and solidarity payments. In order to implement this, we will need to clarify the operational and implementation procedures and processes.
How would you ensure that the men's and women's national teams get equal pay?
The issue here goes well beyond equal pay. The U.S. Soccer Federation should be a global example of equal treatment for the men's and women's national teams. This includes lodging, transportation, licensing, hospitality and more.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.