ESPN's Sam Borden reported today that Sunil Gulati will not be seeking re-election as the president of U.S. Soccer. This news comes as a slight surprise as many pundits had though that Gulati would run again but it seems as though the current head of soccer in the United States of America is ready to move on to the next chapter of his life.
Gulati has a lot of mixed emotions about his decision
Speaking to ESPN, Gulati revealed that he had "mixed emotions" about his move to not seek re-election and that it had been a "very, very hard decision" for him to make. Gulati spent "a lot of time thinking about it" and "talking about it with people in many different positions", most of whom asked him to run again. However, he felt that the best thing for him, and the federation as a whole now was to "see someone new in the job".
Gulati oversaw a lot of growth on both the men's and the women's side of the game. Both national teams, the United States Men's National Team and the United States Women's National Team, made great strides under Gulati which probably allowed him to run virtually uncontested every time re-election came up. Until now. A lot of people feel that both programs are stalling and/or regressing and after seeing the USMNT fail to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the clamour for Gulati to go became a roar. The man born in India before coming over to the US managed see the USMNT qualify for every men's World Cup under his tenure and also saw the USWNT not only win multiple gold medals but also capture what had been an elusive third women's World Cup title.
The last few years of Gulati's tenure have seen some worrying trends
Even with all this success, which also saw the rise of Major League Soccer and, after a few failures, a professional women's league in the National Women's Soccer League, murmurs had started some time ago about how Gulati was more focused on the business side of soccer instead of the development side and that it would end up costing the US in the future. It seems as though those murmurs were right as the USMNT will now be watching the World Cup at home next summer and the USWNT have suffered some previously improbable loses in home friendlies and at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The rest of the world has caught up to the women's team during the time that Gulati has been president and on the men's side, it seems as though the progress first seen is now going backward. Gulati's coaching appointments recently have also come under heavy scrutiny.
Jurgen Klinsmann was heralded as the man needed to push the men's team into the upper echelons of world soccer and he was given full control of not only the men's national team but was also named as the technical director of the federation. Things started off well for Klinsmann but after the 2014 World Cup, things began to go downhill. Klinsmann was given his marching orders earlier this year after putting the USMNT in a precarious position during World Cup qualifiers and Gulati decided to turn to Bruce Arena to steady the ship, much to the consternation of the soccer faithful in the country. Arena did not do his job and his errors reflected poorly on Gulati's overall decision making.
On the women's side, Jill Ellis came in after a shock firing of Tom Sermanni in 2014. Ellis was not a popular choice amongst fans but she led the USWNT to a World Cup title in 2015. Just as with the men's team, after an incredible high, things began to circle the drain. The USWNT went out of the Olympic tournament in the quarterfinals for the first time in their history and performances since then have not matched up to the talent Ellis has in her rosters. This year, the USWNT lost both of their home tournaments to teams that are potential contenders for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup title and so fears are now growing that the women's program has not only stalled but is rapidly descending into mediocrity, something that no one would have associated with the USWNT less than two years ago.
All of this has led to many pushing for Gulati to not seek re-election and allow some "new blood" to not only bring the programs back on track but move them onto the next level. It seems as though Gulati has heard those complaints and decided to heed them by removing himself out of the equation for the next presidential election.
Several names seek to take up the mantle that Gulati is leaving behind
Quite a few candidates have thrown their hats into the ring to become the next U.S. Soccer president. Those candidates include Steve Gans, Kyle Martino, Eric Wynalda, Paul Caligiuri, Mike Winograd, Paul Lapointe, Carlos Cordeiro and Kathy Carter. All of the above candidates have been involved with U.S. Soccer for a long time, whether it be on the field or behind the scenes, and each of them bring an interesting perspective as to why they could be the right fit for the job. Carter, Lapointe and Gans have all worked on the business and administration of soccer, whether it be within USSF itself or for other leagues such as the Premier League and will certainly want to bring that acumen into how the federation should move forward. Martino and Wynalda both played in Major League Soccer and for the USMNT. They both currently work as analysts on NBC and Fox Sports respectively and will again offer a unique perspective on what is needed for the country to move forward as a soccer nation.
Gulati met with all of the candidates and he felt that many of them were in for a "pretty big shock" once they realised exactly what being the president of U.S. Soccer required. Gulati pointed out that it was not just about the national teams but that the included overseeing registered players, referees, medical safety and grass-roots development which he felt "gets ignored sometimes". Many will feel that Gulati himself had forgotten about those aspects the longer he remained as the president and that was why the men's national team program, in particular, was in the state it currently is in now.
Perhaps the most interesting campaign is that of Cordeiro. Carlos Cordeiro was vice president and a confidante of Gulati's for most of his reign in charge of the federation. When quizzed about Cordeiro's choice to possibly run, all Gulati would say was that it had been an "interesting set of discussions". It seems as though things may have soured between the two due to Cordeiro's choice to run but ultimately, Gulati stated that none of the candidates who had arisen recently had pushed him to make his decision. Gulati will still lead the committee bidding for the 2026 World Cup to be held in North America but his time at the top of the federation is now drawing to a close.
Quotes via ESPN.com