Sunil Gulati addresses various topics

February 6, 2013

U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati met with about two dozen reporters Wednesday morning and discussed numerous subjects. Some highlights:

Landon Donovan‘s future with the national team…..

“I had dinner with Landon a few weeks ago in New York. … I have no doubt he will play at some point. We’re going to go on without Landon at some point, whether it’s today, six months from today or two years from today. We had the best record in our history last year and he didn’t play much. … I am certainly hopeful he will come back.”

World Cup qualifying home venues…..

“I think you will see us play in this round in five MLS venues and four soccer-specific stadiums. I think that is how it is shaping up. And none of the soccer-specific venues will be in New Jersey or in Los Angeles and so on.”

Denver is set for March against Costa Rica. Kansas City, Salt Lake City and Columbus are strong candidates. That would appear to leave Seattle, which has the best support in MLS by a large margin, as the fifth. Washington (RFK Stadium or FedEx Field) is tentatively set to host a U.S.-Germany friendly June 2. Cleveland reportedly is the front-runner for a U.S.-Belgium game in late May.

On the timetable for finalizing the home qualifying venues…..

“It has taken longer than we would have liked, to be quite honest. There have been a few twists. It’s not only the MLS schedule; it’s a college graduation on a field that we would like to play at [Seattle], it’s a concert that forced an MLS game to move, which had a domino effect. It’s things like that. We will play generally in venues where the U.S. team has been successful in World Cup qualifying before.”

Expectations when Juergen Klinsmann was hired in 2011…..

“I said to Juergen in New York the night before, ‘You understand right after this press conference is finished, people are going to expect you to walk across the East River. That was never going to be the case. We weren’t going to play like Spain the next morning. We don’t have the players to play like Spain. We weren’t going to play like the Brazil ’70 team. He knew that. But a big part of what Juergen has tried to do is instill in players the confidence they can do more than they are doing, the confidence in taking risks — maybe not in our back third in the 90th minute if we are up 1-0 today — and I think you have seen that.”

Reflections on investigations into the voting for the 2022 World Cup host country and the possibility of a future U.S. bid…..

“I read the same stuff you guys read about investigations. It doesn’t make any sense to comment on that. Would we bid in the future? Sure. When in the future, I don’t know. And under what rules, I don’t know. The rules are going to have to be different. The rules need to be much stronger, much stricter about what it is okay and what is not okay [in lobbying efforts]. It’s clear — and this is a tough one for the U.S. and we’ve discussed this at length with the U.S. Olympic Committee  – the role of nation states has become even more critical, that it’s not about a bid committee only. That’s always been true up to a point with governement guarantees. But we are never going to have a situation where the U.S. is going to be able to try to influence a World Cup or Olympic bidding decision that are a matter of our foreign policy or geopolitics. It’s just not that critical to the U.S. Hosting the World Cup or Olympics doesn’t change the face of the U.S. economy. … Can you imagine an American president ever saying, ‘Okay, we will sign a new treaty with a country because they have a voter for something.’ It’s just not the way it works. So that is all going to have to shake out. We have a lot of advantages. We have a country that doesn’t have to virtually build any facility for a World Cup, plus we have a country that could sell 40 to 50 percent more tickets than anyone else could, given the size of our NFL stadiums. We have a country that could host a World Cup several months from now if we needed to do. … In a day where world growth rates are down and economic issues are important, FIFA and the IOC need to understand asking people to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure, unless it has long-term use, is a pretty big ask.”

Does it still bother you about the 2022 decision?

“We always knew it was an election and not a computer-generated result. It wasn’t a test; it was an election. Yeah, sure, it is still a huge disappointment. We haven’t gotten past it.”

On the possibility of the 2016 Copa America being played in the USA and incorporating CONCACAF teams…..

“CONMEBOL keeps announcing a tournament without talking to us. … We haven’t had more serious discussions. The biggest challenge to it is that it is not on the FIFA calendar, which means the U.S. can’t get our European-based players. That’s a big problem. The European clubs are saying, ‘Wait a minute: You’ve got the Gold Cup in ’15, the Gold Cup in the middle of ’17, and now you want this thing in the middle of ’16. We’ve got the Olympics in ’16. So when [do the players] get a break?’ That is not an easy answer. If you get past that — and our team can play with a full roster — then you work economics and venues. We are only going to do it if it makes sense for us, meaning we can field a good team, we don’t have to shut down MLS, which plays in the summer. Until we’re much further down the road and have more information — and frankly, better information — it’s on hold right now.”

On the importance of the Gold Cup…..

“The Gold Cup is extraordinarily important to CONCACAF and its resources and it’s ability to run its programs. It is a money-maker. The U-17s, U-20s, girls, the Gold Cup funds everything. There is discussion about making the two Gold Cup winners play each other for the right to go to the Confederations Cup, which offers a lot of credibility to the off-year Gold Cup, which is this year. That decision, I think, will be made in the next month or two.”

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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