Sunil Gulati: U.S. switched support to Gianni Infantino in second round
The United States voted for new FIFA president Gianni Infantino in the second round of Friday's election after initially supporting Prince Ali of Jordan, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati confirmed.
On the eve of the vote, Gulati announced that the U.S. would back Prince Ali, who finished a distant third to Infantino and Sheikh Salman of Bahrain in the first voting round on Friday.
When no candidate acquired the necessary two-thirds threshold of votes, a second round was required and Infantino was elected.
Gulati said the U.S. delegation always planned to support the UEFA secretary general after the first round if it was clear that Prince Ali could not win the election.
"We decided to support Prince Ali last night and made that public. I met with Gianni Infantino last night as well and told him that's what we were going to do," Gulati told ESPN. "One of the reasons we announced our support so late in the game is we've had two candidates we've been very impressed with.
"We met with all of them yesterday but it was a touch decision. And in the end it came down to being loyal to Prince Ali. We'd supported him previously. But Gianni understood very well why we did that, and that if it came down the way it did, that he'd have our support later in the rounds."
Gulati said Infantino believes in the importance of the growing market for soccer in the United States, an important consideration with the U.S. expected to bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
"I've known him for a long time. UEFA is an extraordinary successful organization," Gulati said. "He knows the soccer side of things, he knows the business side of things, he obviously showed off his linguistic abilities today, and he's a good man. He's committed to the reform issues that have been very important to us.
"He understands the U.S. market as well, and how important the U.S. market could be not only for FIFA but how important it could be the sport, more broadly speaking."
Gulati acknowledged that Infantino and Blatter have similar backgrounds -- their hometowns in Switzerland are six miles apart -- but said that he expected the new president to be able to enact change, particularly with the help of the sweeping reforms passed earlier on Friday.
"The organization has to be different. The temperament has to be different. The attitude at the top has to be different. I have no doubt you're going to see that," Gulati said.
"As important as the election was today, this morning set the stage for that with a complete overhaul of the statues. You've got a guy who was an impressive administrator, I think he'll do very well in that, and he'll have a backup in those statutes to force change.
"It'll take time, it won't happen overnight, and the reputation of FIFA won't be regained overnight. But I think he's the right guy to get that done."