Steve Gans and Eric Wynalda make pitches to be U.S. Soccer president
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nevada -- Steve Gans and Eric Wynalda stated their respective cases to replace current U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati on Saturday.
Speaking before the National Council of the U.S. Adult Soccer Association, both candidates were given five minutes to lay out their vision, and then answered several questions.
Gulati was in attendance, but declined to make a formal presentation, having spoken earlier in the day to smaller, region-based groups. Another announced candidate, Paul Lapointe, was unable to attend due to a prior commitment. Landon Donovan, who has been reportedly mulling a run, wasn't in attendance.
Gulati, who told ESPN FC he had yet to decide whether to run for re-election in February, did make some brief remarks in which he said that despite the U.S. men's national team's failure to qualify for the World Cup, he thought the USSF "is in pretty good shape."
That provided an opening for Wynalda, a former U.S. international and now a broadcaster with Fox Sports. He said he agreed with Gulati that things were OK, but said the "problem is that's not good enough anymore."
Wynalda added: "[Gulati's] work is appreciated, but we might have hit the ceiling here and it's time to build a couple of new floors, and I really do think I can get you there."
Gans seated on the left, Wynalda to right of podium. Sunil in back listening in. pic.twitter.com/8ottaAYb3U— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) October 21, 2017
As the lesser-known of the two candidates, Gans spent more time talking about his background, and why that makes him qualified to lead the USSF.
Gans spoke of his passion for the sport growing up as a youth player, and the work he's done around the game as an attorney that has consulted soccer organizations both in the U.S. and abroad, at youth and professional level. He is also the father of two children who took part in the development academy.
"I think I understand all segments," he said. "My larger point is I respect all segments of this game."
He added: "This job is bigger than just the national team. This is about leading an organization, growing the pie. It's about business deals and consensus building."
The candidates were asked what made them qualified to run the USSF. Gans pointed to his business background. Wynalda indicated that vision and direction were what the USSF needed.
"It needs people that are able to implement that vision," he said. "It's a lot of money, and how we allocate that money to help this organization get better is paramount. However, we need this to be about the soccer."
Wynalda pointed to the fact that there is a cultural problem, and that the federation's relationship would be more of a two-way street rather than the USSF dictating what its members should do.
"And as bad as it was for the men's national team... it was 10 times worse for the women," he said. "The federation is here to provide guidance, it's to serve, not the other way around. We want people to be a part of our membership, be a part of the 'we.' I don't feel that right now."
Gans responded that the culture has increased exponentially, especially in terms of interest in the national teams. But he also said "the common theme from my listening tour is that people feel ignored and marginalized. It's extremely palpable here and at youth level."
He added: "If youth and continuing players aren't happy and aren't playing with joy and not staying in the game, than that is going to affect the top."
Both candidates said they would address the expenses involved in youth soccer. Gans said he would use some of the current surplus -- reportedly $130 million -- to provide more opportunities to disadvantaged children.
"That would be a symbolic and substantive way to help participation," Gans said.
Wynalda said the USSF needed to do more for the youth players already in the system.
"Our goal as a federation needs to be a voice, we can't come into the conversation at age of 12, flash a badge and say, 'Now are you ready to spend some real money?' That can't happen anymore," he said.
Another question was whether either candidate could live up to the USSF presidents of the past.
Wynalda answered: "The money that we've been able to create this surplus, is because we were success. We have just taken a massive hit financially. When we miss out on a World Cup, you miss out on a lot more."
He added: "If we don't take care of the product, it will not take care of us. We have a soccer problem, not a business issue."
Gans responded: "The federation is a complex organization. I think I've run complex organizations. I know how to be inclusive and respectful.
"This is not just about the disaster of last Tuesday which is painful for all of us. These are representative of systemic problems that we've been talking about for a while. From a straight business person, I think I'm up to it."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.