ORLANDO, Fla. – Carlos Cordeiro insists he’s the right choice to lead the U.S. Soccer Federation, which must chart a new course after its men’s national team failed to qualify for this year’s World Cup.
The 61-year-old business executive won the governing body’s presidential election Saturday. He succeeds Sunil Gulati, who led the organization since 2006.
Cordeiro was Gulati’s right-hand man the past two years. Now, he’s charged, among other things, with running the U.S. end of a bid with Mexico and Canada for the right to host the 2026 World Cup.
Other priorities include the hiring of a general manager for the men’s team, a position Cordeiro said must be filled before launching a coaching search.
He reiterated the ultimate goal is to help soccer realize its vast potential in the United States.
“I think we have an opportunity to really transform it into a No. 1 sport. I think the demographics favor that,” Cordeiro said. “There’s a reason why the millennials identify with soccer, so I think that’s very much in our favor. We have to do a number of things ourselves to make it happen, and make it happen more rapidly.”
Cordeiro, a former Goldman Sachs partner, was elected on the third ballot with 68.6 percent of the vote. The field initially featured eight candidates. Cordeiro pulled away from Kathy Carter, who is on leave as president of Major League Soccer’s marketing arm.
Carter had the backing of MLS Commissioner Don Garber and narrowly trailed Cordeiro on the first ballot. MLS, as well as the National Women’s Soccer League and United Soccer League, shifted their support to Cordeiro after the second ballot.
The other candidates were: former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Kyle Martino and Eric Wynalda, lawyers Steve Gans and Michael Winograd and former U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo.
All the challengers to Cordeiro and Carter – both with close ties to Gulati – campaigned for change within the organization. All eight were given five minutes to address delegates before voting began.
“The two establishment candidates, Carlos Cordeiro and Kathy Carter, haven’t just been part of the system, they have created and shaped into what it is today,“’ Solo said. “A vote for either one of them is a vote for the status quo.”
Cordeiro, however, said he was the only candidate with the experience and plan to “hit the ground running on day and deliver the change we need.”
“We have made progress, but we need to make more. Today, the status quo is unacceptable,” he said. “U.S. Soccer needs to change, transformational change. This vote comes down to one simple question: Who can actually deliver that change?”
Cordeiro immediately takes over for Gulati, who decided against seeking a fourth four-year term after the U.S. was unable to make the 32-team World Cup field in Russia. Gulati will retain a role as a member of the USSF board and the FIFA executive council, and as chairman of the North American bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
Carter’s support among delegates attending USSF’s annual general meeting slipped each round – from 34.6 percent to 33.3 on the second ballot, to 10.6 on the third, when the field had shrunk to five.
Cordeiro’s percentage increased each round of the body’s first contested election in nearly two decades, rising from 36.3 to 41.8 on the second ballot.
To win election, Cordeiro needed a majority of the weighted vote. Under U.S. law, 20 percent of the vote is from the athletes’ council while the professional, adult and youth councils have 25.8 percent each.
The remaining 2.6 percent represents other constituents, such as board members, life members and fan representatives.
Caligiuri withdrew after receiving less than 1 percent on the first ballot. Winograd and Gans bowed out after the second ballot, leaving Wynalda (10.8), Martino (10.2) and Solo (1.5) in the race with Cordeiro and Carter. Martino drew 10.6 percent on the final ballot, while Wynalda and Solo received 8.9 and 1.4, respectively.
“I said winning this election is going to be about building a coalition,” Cordeiro said. “It’s not about any one council. It was the youth, the adult, the athletes and the professionals. No one council has enough votes to get you across the line. You need really a coalition of support. I think my numbers speak to that.”
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