Kathy Carter, 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 Kathy Carter had to say.
The U.S. men have failed to qualify for not only the World Cup but also the past two Olympics. What needs to be done to get the program back on track?
U.S. Soccer currently lacks a cohesive vision and strategic plan. For too long, we've operated without a shared vision, and this needs to change to get the USMNT back on track and maintain the dominance of our USWNT. I will engage the U.S. soccer community to develop a long-term, strategic plan to guide the federation going forward to evolve the soccer culture in this country. We need to define success before we endeavor to achieve it, and this strategic plan will establish key performance indicators to evaluate the efficacy of the federation's programs and investments and hold federation leadership accountable for making progress. We must prioritize investment in the soccer side of the federation. This includes improving facilities and playing conditions, reducing costs for kids and adults, improving educational opportunities for coaches and referees, hiring additional technical experts including a general manager and improving our scouting and talent development infrastructure.
What makes you qualified to run an organization with 170 full-time employees and an annual budget of around $100 million?
U.S. Soccer has grown from a small organization to one with a large budget and significant potential for growth. Therefore, the most important criteria for this role is experience to lead an organization of that size and complexity, in addition to firsthand experience with going through the system as a player. In my previous job, I managed more than 100 employees and a business that was significantly larger than the federation's. I also led efforts to recruit and retain high-performing talent. I have a track record of being held accountable for achieving results and building the organizational structures necessary to ensure every federation employee is empowered and motivated to perform at the highest level. I have also worked with many federations, confederations and FIFA as part of various committees and built the relationships, trust and diplomatic skills required to advocate for our interests on the international level.
To what extent are outside sources financing your campaign, and who is contributing?
My campaign has been and will always be 100 percent self-funded by my boyfriend and me.
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?
I agree with this move completely. As I have previously stated, I believe the role of president is as the chairperson of the board, not the CEO. The president should be charged with leading the board and the membership in the federation's quest to deliver against a shared vision, mission and strategic plan. Further, the president must be visible and accessible, with their finger on the pulse of the game here at home and abroad. It is critical to have a strong president with the experience and capabilities required to lead, govern and advocate for the interests of the federation and the game in the U.S. And most importantly, the president should be responsible for overseeing the recruitment of talented people, providing them with the right resources and measuring their success against key performance targets set by the board.
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?
An emphasis on the elite pathway has shut the door on kids who have the potential to develop into world-class players. Additionally, the youth system is extremely difficult for kids and families to navigate. This leads kids to leave soccer and play other sports or to families spending money on the wrong programs. With the help of a youth soccer commission, which I will establish, the federation must define and implement a vision that is supported by our soccer leaders at all levels. I believe there are potential Christian Pulisics in the system already. We need to dedicate more resources and hire more scouts to scour the country to make sure we don't miss out on talented girls and boys. Whether kids decide to go overseas, which is the right choice for some players, or stay in the U.S., the federation needs to ensure the path to success is clear.
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?
Eliminating cost-related barriers to participation begins with a fundamental change needed throughout all levels of the federation. The federation is in a position to dedicate significant resources toward developing solutions that ensure participating in the youth system is affordable. The federation must ramp up funding of scholarship programs, grants and other programs that have proven to be effective. We also need to develop a plan for diversifying the revenue that youth organizations generate. They are currently too reliant on families for the funds needed to administer the game, and this is a contributor to our affordability crisis. We should look at how other youth sports and Little League Baseball in particular have been innovative in generating more resources so that we can make our game more affordable for everyone. Additionally, we have to get better at competing for top youth players, as evidenced by the federation's failing with Jonathan Gonzalez.
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?
Today, if a talented girl or boy is not identified by 12, they get left out of the system and have very few opportunities to continue on a development path that could lead to a professional league or one of our national teams. We need to find ways for kids at 13, 16 or older to have more opportunities to filter into the national team system. Players develop at different times and at different stages, and we need to evolve our system to account for that. We also need to do more work across the federation to understand the other reasons kids disengage with soccer. It could be that we don't have enough diverse and bilingual coaches or that parents can't get their kids to practice or games. These are the problems we need to identify and develop solutions to fix so we bring more kids into the system.
What are your thoughts on promotion/relegation? Do you think it's viable, given that MLS is against it?
As a fan, I love promotion/relegation. That said, in the current structure, I do not believe that implementing promotion/relegation is a viable option at this time. Our professional leagues have grown but are still in the development stage. But I do think that the ongoing dialogue around promotion/relegation is important to the growth of the sport and that someday it could become a reality. It is critical that the federation consistently and proactively engages in and encourages conversation about promotion/relegation and other issues that matter to the membership.
What other changes would you make to the pro game in the U.S. to foster growth and interest?
I believe that our professional leagues, and MLS in particular, should do more to encourage and emphasize the development of American players. Our professional leagues should showcase the most talented and promising American players, and right now this is not a top priority. In terms of the NWSL, the federation should commit to a longer investment in the league to spur the owners to increase their investment into players, playing conditions and facilities so the league continues to grow and expand.
Do you think the domestic game should change its calendar to match that of the international game?
We need to evaluate this decision by considering what schedule provides players with the best conditions to develop their game. As president of U.S. Soccer, it would be my role to facilitate a discussion about what is in the best interest of our players, national teams and professional leagues so that we continue to grow the U.S. fan base and interest in the game across the country.
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 decision to hire any national team coach should not be made by one person, including the president of U.S. Soccer. This decision should be made through an open and transparent process that involves a general manager and their technical staff, athletes, former athletes and other experts. The president and board of directors' role is to evaluate the recommendations and come to a collective decision based on a clear vision for the program and specific objectives that the manager will be held accountable for achieving.
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 relationship with SUM has been beneficial to U.S. Soccer, the game and the broader soccer community, given the resources generated that have been and will be invested back into development. The structure of the deal provides guaranteed annual revenues, while the federation maintains upside opportunity. It also protects the federation from losing money associated with any sponsorship, consumer products and/or media rights when events like the failure to qualify for the World Cup occur. It is important to understand that the agreement was evaluated by independent members of the board of directors and then approved by the full board. I provided greater detail on this topic in my responses to the Athlete Council questionnaire to clarify misperceptions. Additionally, I've committed to instituting an open and competitive bid process for future deals to bring even more transparency to how the federation operates.
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?
I'm committed to working within current labor law to find an agreeable solution so that training compensation and solidarity payments are made in the U.S. We have to be open to all possible solutions to increase the amount of resources available to the youth system and clubs who dedicate their lives to working with and developing players. This is one of those opportunities to spur greater investment in player development and properly reward the youth and club community for their vital work. Additionally, should more resources be available to the grassroots, we could make progress in reducing costs for kids and families and ensure we provide opportunities to kids from all backgrounds who want to play soccer.
How would you ensure that the men's and women's national teams get equal pay?
I am 100 percent supportive of equal pay. I believe it starts with respecting each program equally, and I look forward to working with the players and their representatives to figure out the right structure for both teams that provides for equal pay. And I won't stop there. We need to eliminate all inequities that exist between the women's and men's teams. I will also work tirelessly to advocate on behalf of our women to increase the size and scale of the bonuses paid by FIFA so that prize money is bigger for our women and women around the world. And finally, I believe we should dream big: Our women's national team program should set the standard for equality in women's sports. I plan to work with our current and former women's players to use the platform of the U.S. Soccer presidency to advocate for equality around the globe.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.