Sunil Gulati will not resign as U.S. Soccer president despite the men’s national team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Bruce Arena stepped down from his position as manager on Friday, but Gulati said on a conference call Friday morning that he will not follow in Arena’s footsteps.
Gulati also said he has not yet made a decision on whether he will run for re-election in February. “It’s not the right day for me to talk about my future plans,” he said. He said that decision will be made in the coming weeks.
Gulati did confirm, though, that he had reached out to people involved in the voting process about endorsing him or nominating him “in the last few weeks.” And when asked why he deserved to be rewarded with a fourth term, Gulati said, “I don’t think that’s a decision that you or I get to make, that’s a decision that people that get to vote make.”
He continued with a defense of his track record over his 12 years in charge: “If I look at the totality of where we’ve come from, and where the game is generally now, with our professional leagues, with player development, with our economic resources, all of those things, those things didn’t happen overnight. Those things didn’t happen on their own. So I think if you look at all of that, then I’ll make a decision, and voting delegates can make a decision.”
Many have called for Gulati’s departure in the wake of Tuesday’s loss in Trinidad and Tobago. He will have at least two challengers for the presidency – Steve Gans and Paul LaPointe – in February. He has run unopposed for the position ahead of each of his first three terms.
When asked for his reasoning for not resigning, Gulati pointed to the North American bid for the 2026 World Cup, presumably as a process he wants to see through. The official bid is due in March. Gulati is the chairman of the bid committee. But that’s a position that does not require him to remain in power as president of the U.S. federation.
When pushed to further explain his reasoning, Gulati said, “Because of everything – where the sport is now, and the role I’ve played in it, and the role I think I can play going forward if I choose to run. … The sport is in a very, very different place than it was 10 years ago, or 30 years ago when I first got involved. So it’s all of that.”
Gulati said a short-term replacement for Arena would be appointed in the next 7-10 days for November friendlies, and that he would be part of a three- or four-person group that decides on that short-term replacement. But he said that there is no rush to appoint a long-term successor to Arena, and seemed to hint that decision could wait until after February’s election.
“We’ve got two different processes, one is a short-term process about who’s going to take the team in November,” he said. “And then a longer review of the program, and decisions about long-term planning for the coach. We don’t need a long-term, four-year commitment to a coach by February or March.”
One of the lines of questioning Friday poked at flaws in the U.S.’s player development model and youth system. Gulati acknowledged the problems, but seemed to defend the federation’s lack of effective action by pointing out the difficulty of the task.
“First, we have to figure out what solutions are in those areas,” he said. “Let’s just look at the pay-to-play model. It would be great to say that no one playing recreational or competitive soccer will pay anything. That’s not going to happen in the current environment, and by the way, it doesn’t happen in most countries that players pay nothing. That’s a misnomer. Now, what we have to do is make sure that players aren’t prohibited from playing, but if you can afford it, you pay for it, whether it’s a piano lesson or soccer.
“Our resources would be greatly taxed if you said we’re not going to have any pay-to-play models. But what you want is, as things become more expensive, where there is a roadblock, you’d like to do something about that. MLS, through its programs, the academy program, through its scholarship programs, have done that at one level. But we need to go deeper than that.”
Of broader changes within the federation, Gulati said, “We are going to look at everything we do on the technical side … And it’s something we do after every major competition, whether we’ve been successful or unsuccessful. This will obviously be a much deeper dive … But we’ll look at everything, from our player development programs, to our coaching, to our refereeing, to our facilities, to the pay-to-play model, to the role of education and universities; all of those things.”
“Where we need to make major changes, we’ll do that. Where we need to make incremental changes, we’ll do that. We’ll take our time with that. We will take a deep dive into that. We’ll probably get some external help, so as not to be insular in how we look at these things. But basically everything will be looked at.”
Gulati said the federation has already looked into its governance structure, among other things. “We will look at all those things again, whether it’s additional resources in the technical area, whether it’s some different structure, the compensation structure of our staff, all of those things.”
When asked specifically about the technical director role, and whether it’s one he’d like to re-introduce – U.S. Soccer has not employed someone under the title of technical director since Jurgen Klinsmann was fired – Gulati said it was a possibility.
“We ideally would like to have a technical director,” he said. “Most of that responsibility over the last year has been filled by Tab Ramos. He’s had the title of youth technical director, but since so much of what we do is under the age of 23, in terms of player development, Tab’s had quite a wide role, in addition to coaching the under-20 team.
“We do see having two distinct roles [as potentially beneficial], if we can find the right people. That role is a very unique and specific role, and frankly in many ways harder to fill than the national team coach role. And it also, in terms of measuring the success or failure of that role, is harder because it’s a long-term situation.”
When asked about the men’s national team’s schedule between now and the 2019 Gold Cup, its next tournament, Gulati said the federation would continue to organize friendlies. “I expect us to play on all the FIFA dates, as well as games prior to the World Cup,” he said. “We’ll have a full calendar of games.”
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.