ORLANDO — Most of Carlos Cordeiro’s opponents in the U.S. Soccer Federation’s presidential election had tried to portray him as an insider who, as vice president for two years, contributed to the problems in the organization.
Cordeiro, though, ran his campaign as both an insider and outsider in aiming to build a coalition in a complicated voting procedure. On Saturday, his strategy paid off as he bested seven other candidates to lead a 105-year-old federation facing enormous challenges in the wake of the men’s national team missing the World Cup this year.
Cordeiro, 61, won on the third ballot, breaking out of a tight race with marketing executive Kathy Carter to earn more than 68 percent of the vote and easily break the 50 percent threshold for victory.
“There was a sense perhaps that I was an insider,” he said after the festivities at a hotel ballroom across the street from Sea World. “I’ve tried to make the case that in order to hit the ground running, you need a certain amount of experience and a degree of familiarity with the functioning of the federation. It’s a very complex organization.”
He succeeds Sunil Gulati, who, in the aftermath of the World Cup qualifying failure last fall, did not seek reelection. Gulati served three terms in 12 years and oversaw notable off-field growth, several on-field successes and some shortcomings as well.
Cordeiro will have to address not only the men’s national team but the needs of state youth and adult associations that felt ignored during Gulati’s reign; gender equity and player development issues; the affordability of youth soccer; and greater inclusion of immigrant communities.
He will play a key role in the effort to bring the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Mexico and Canada. (In June, FIFA will choose North America or Morocco.)
“We’re at an inflection point in soccer history in this country,” he said. “We have an opportunity to really transform it into a number one sport. The demographics favor that. The reason is why millennials identify with soccer. So that is very much in our favor, but we have to do a number of things ourselves to make it happen — and to make it happen more rapidly.”
Cordeiro boasts 30 years of business experience. He was a partner at Goldman Sachs and worked for several global firms. After joining the USSF in 2007 as an independent director, he became the treasurer. He has also represented the USSF in CONCACAF (the regional governing body) and FIFA (soccer’s world governing body).
The Harvard Business School graduate was the only candidate without a soccer-playing background. Ironically, the key to victory was gaining the support of the Athletes Council, which carried a 20 percent share of the final tabulation.
Leading to the election, many observers figured the group would back, to some degree, one of the four former national-team players in the race: Eric Wynalda, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo or Paul Caligiuri.
However, “at this moment in time, Carlos was the most qualified across the board and felt like the right person,” said council member Stu Holden, a former World Cup player who is now a Fox Sports analyst.
“A number of these athletes [in the race] have brought some phenomenal ideas and their passion really shown through. That’s why I hope a number of them stay involved, and then in four years I think that would be a completely different story.”
Solo, the outspoken goalkeeper who never broke 2 percent in the three stages of the election, claimed the Athletes Council was pressured to support one of the so-called establishment candidates.
Holden defended the group, saying, “I take massive offense to that, that someone would question our integrity.”
He said the athletes decided to vote as a bloc in order to flex their muscle.
“Right now, with all the different conversations around U.S. soccer and ideas and vitriol,” Holden said, “it was more important than ever that we showed as an athletes’ group that we were united.”
Carter, who has run MLS-owned Soccer United Marketing, had almost unanimous support from the Pro Council, led by MLS. But after the second ballot, when she slipped further behind Cordeiro, it became clear she couldn’t win. So the league switched allegiance to Cordeiro, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.
“There were two candidates in our view who had an optimistic, visionary view in how to take the federation forward,” Garber said, “and we’re very pleased ultimately one of those two won.”
Wynalda, who ran the most aggressive anti-establishment campaign, garnered support from the Youth Council and Adult Council but lost ground after the first ballot. Martino, an NBC Sports analyst, also failed to gain traction.
Carter missed out on becoming the first woman elected USSF president. The former goalkeeper at Fairfax’s Robinson Secondary School and William & Mary would have been just the fifth woman in international soccer history to head a national soccer federation.
“We started a conversation,” Wynalda said of the six candidates aiming to thwart Cordeiro and Carter. “At times, this has looked like a fight. . . . The fight stops now. And not until we stop fighting with each other and start fighting together are we going to be a soccer nation and are we going to be able to achieve and realize our potential.”
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